A meeting chaired by Chief Secretary Viswas Mehta on Tuesday gave in-principle approval to increase the number of devotees being allowed to undertake pilgrimage during the Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season of the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple from the present 1,000 a day for weekdays.
The increase in the number of pilgrims being allowed daily to the hill shrine will be decided on Friday in consultation with the government, official sources said. The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which had approached the government for an increase in the number of pilgrims, has also not specified the number.
Minister for Devaswom Kadakampally Surendran had hinted earlier that the proposal was to allow 5,000 pilgrims daily.
The Health Department has expressed reservations on the proposal after two police personnel and four TDB personnel posted at the Sannidhanam tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
TDB president N. Vasu, who attended the meeting on Thursday, said the board was of the view that more pilgrims should be allowed adhering to physical-distancing norms as the temple was open for 14 hours daily for worship. Compared to the 50,000 to one lakh daily turnout earlier at the Sannidhanam, only 1,000 devotees were being allowed now on weekdays and 2,000 on weekends.
Mr. Vasu said the number of devotees climbing the holy steps had come down from 90 per minute to below five per minute after the two-month pilgrimage commenced on November 16. The daily income had also fallen from ₹3.5 crore to ₹10 lakh now.
The Additional Chief Secretary, Home, the Principal Secretaries of Devaswom and Health, the State Police Chief and TDB Commissioner B.S. Thirumeni attended the meeting.
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