for The Times of India on Jan. 3, 2009
TIRUPATI: When money talks, `bhakti' takes a backseat. In what could be seen as posing threat to the very existence of a 17th century temple,
unauthorised quarrying works in about 50 acres of the land surrounding the temple are going on at a frenetic pace. The resultant business worth is: a cool Rs 2 crore every year.
For starters, the small historical temple of goddess Vakula Devi is located on a rocky hill in Perur village in Tirupati rural mandal facing the Tirumala hills where the famed temple of Lord Venkateshwara, the goddess' son, is located and frequented by lakhs of pilgrims. Sources said 30 per cent of the rocks has already been flattened in the area.
"If this illegal quarrying is allowed to continue for some more time, there is every possibility that the historical temple might collapse," averred a pujari who has served in the Vakula Devi shrine. "This destruction in the name of clearing the area of rocks should stop immediately," he felt.
What is bothering the archaeologicial conservationists is lack of concern among the revenue and the endowments officials to preserve the ancient temple . "Some officials are in cahoots with contractors to make fast buck by allowing illegal quarrying near the temple," a heritage activist from Chittoor said.
Though the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanams (TTD) had proposed renovation works at Rs 80 lakh by shifting the temple to Alipiri, the works could not be undertaken as villagers staged protests on the grounds that they would lose livelihood. The BJP too has opposed shifting of the temple to Alipiri. "How could mother be seated at the foot of her son?" was how a BJP leader put it.
Talking to TOI, BJP town president S Srinivas said that in spite of continuing illegal quarrying the officials had not bothered to put an end to the row. "We want the state government to include this historical temple in the heritage corridor project recently approved by the central government," he demanded.