Annareddipalem Cross, Sri Potti Sriramulu Nellore district: In the famous temple town of Jonnawada, the temple priests accompanied by the staff of the much-revered Kamakshi temple came and met me. The temple priests and Vedic Pundits blessed me saying “We pray you come to power.” They poured out their troubles to me. “During your father, the late Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s tenure, hereditary rights of priests were granted and we were treated with great respect. We lived a contented life without a care in the world,” they said.
They received a lot of support and encouragement from the government, they recalled. It was on account of the groundbreaking fee reimbursement scheme introduced by my father that the children of Brahmin families could pursue higher studies, they pointed out. Under the Chandrababu Naidu government, there is a hurdle along every step, they said. The allowance for offerings to the deity of temples, (naivedyam) which was Rs.13,000, has been slashed to Rs.3000, they lamented. Day-to-day living has become a challenge for them and even Supreme Court guidelines and directives were not being acted upon by the TDP government. Their repeated pleas to the Chandrababu Naidu government to restore hereditary rights to temple priests went unheeded. It was indeed very painful to see the hands of Vedic pundits which were meant to bless everyone, stretching out for help. What else can one expect from the Chandrababu Naidu government which has snatched away temple lands! Can the priests and temple staff expect any justice from such a government?
In Penubolu, a 70-year-old toddy tapper Subbaramaiah came and met me. His condition was truly pathetic. At this age, hunger and necessity compelled him to go up the palm tree every single day for his livelihood. He had to support his family including two daughters and therefore had no choice in the matter. At the end of the day, on an average, he managed to earn barely Rs. 200 for his efforts! During my father’s time toddy workers were respected, given homes and the education of their children covered under the fee reimbursement scheme he said. Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s government also took care of their healthcare needs under Arogyasri, distributed cycles and ensured that all their requirements were met, he fondly recollected.
In contrast, there was no one to help them under the current TDP government. The tax meant to be paid by the toddy workers society was hiked from Rs.5000 to Rs.35,000, he complained, with tears in his eyes. “We don’t have anything like pension, he said and added: “When we are struggling to get a pension, the Janmabhoomi committees tend to intervene.” What kind of government is this which neglects completely the plight of people of this segment of society who are struggling to make a living at this age? Is there a government at all?
The auxiliary nurses and midwives who constitute a major support system in the childbirth stage and the neonatal care phase in hospitals came and met me. Though they looked cheerful their hearts were filled with sorrow. ANMs who met me, told me that during my father’s period, their salaries were increased from Rs. 4,000 to Rs.10,000. However, there was no one to support them now, nor to listen to their complaints. To compound the irony, though they spend 24 hours taking care of the newborn child and its mother, they themselves are denied maternity leave!
While regular ANMs are paid Rs.40,000 they are getting a quarter of that amount, they said. They wanted the same pay for the same work principle to be followed and feared that their services would now be outsourced and handed over to a corporate entity, in which case many of them would lose their jobs. Chandrababu Naidu had promised to regularise their services before the elections, but nothing of the sort was done in the four years that his government had been in power they said. Is this not outright deception?
Finally, I have a question for the Chief Minister. Under your rule, temple lands have been encroached upon and if this is the prevailing situation, where do temples get their income from? If the government does not pay attention to their problems how are temple priests and staff expected to survive? In your manifesto you had said that toddy tappers would be given lands and that the tax to be paid by them would be borne by the government. There are seven more assurances. Have you fulfilled at least one of them?