Caught on Camera: Crooks in cahoots with staff take Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 from devotees to bypass long queues at Siddhivinayak temple
Agent 1, who demanded Rs 2,000 to admit four people into the temple (right) The temple staffer who led the team to the inner sanctum
Shirish Vaktania, Anurag Kamble and Apoorva Agashe
Hundreds of thousands of devotees thronged Siddhivinayak temple on October 2 on the occasion of Vighnaharta Sankashti Chaturthi. But, mid-day uncovered a troubling practice: agents offering VVIP darshan in just “2-3 minutes” for Rs 2,000. When these reporters visited the temple on Monday afternoon, they encountered several agents who promised easy access to the temple for Rs 2,000, These agents promised charan sparsh darshan [a chance to touch the Ganesh idol].
(From left) Bhola, who claimed to have connections among the temple’s authorities; Jitu, an agent who runs a nearby sweet and flower shop; the temple staffer who led the team to the inner sanctum
Upon reaching the temple at 3 pm, the mid-day team observed numerous agents stationed outside the temple’s entrance. The agents were seen trying to entice devotees. Furthermore, these individuals seemed to have arrangements with nearby flower and sweet shops. It was also evident that they were collaborating with the public relations office department of the temple. The mid-day team decided to pay Rs 3,000 for the VVIP darshan experience, including Rs 1,900 for darshan itself and Rs 1,100 for the prasad plate. Strangely, despite promising to do so, the agents did not provide any receipts for the same.
Agent: Are you interested in VVIP or regular darshan? The former is available for R2,000 for four people, while the latter costs R100.
Reporter: Is there room for negotiation?
Agent: No, we cannot negotiate.
Reporter: How long will the darshan take?
Agent: It will take approximately 10-15 minutes.
Porter: I will get back to you shortly.
All hurdles crossed, the reporters finally see the lord
Agent 2 [Bhola]
Reporter: We are a group of four people and would like to opt for VVIP darshan.
Bhola: I will charge Rs 2,000 for four people. I have connections among the temple authorities. If you join the regular line, it will take at least two to three hours.
Reporter: The cost is quite high. Can you lower it?
Bhola: The rate is fixed. You don't need to pay in advance, only after the darshan. I will arrange direct entry into the temple.
Reporter: I will inform you shortly, as other relatives of ours are on their way.
Agent 3 [Jitu]
The team met Bhola an hour later and he introduced another agent, Jitu Bhai, who runs a nearby sweet shop. The reporters agreed to pay Rs 3,000, including the cost of VVIP darshan and chadhava, which comprises a coconut, a shawl, flowers and modaks. Jitu escorted the correspondents to the temple gate at 6 pm.
The gate was closed as the premises were being cleaned. Around 6.20 pm when they were opened, the reporters were asked to walk parallel to the regular line and join in before reaching the security counter. Once they were on the other side of the counter, Jitu requested them to go to the public relations officer’s (PRO) office and tell name and registration number. Jitu assured the team that it would get a regular VVIP darshan receipt from the temple but no such receipt was provided. The man at the counter called another employee and told him to the team to the sanctum sanctorum.
The second staffer, who was in uniform, then escorted the team and asked it to get through the crowds to offer the chadhava. He told the reporters not to take videos and photos inside the temple. After making offerings to priests, the correspondents exited the temple within a few minutes. Later, they met Jitu at his shop and paid the amount via a digital transaction.
The following is their exact exchange with Jitu:
Jitu: I will take you inside the temple and you will get darshan in just 3-4 minutes. You have to pay me R2,000 for VVIP darshan and the prasad plate cost is Rs 1,150.
Reporter: It’s too costly.
Jitu: Okay, do the darshan and we can round it to Rs 3,000. Let’s go for darshan.
Reporter: We won’t get into trouble?
Jitu: We have a setting with the PRO of the temple. I will take you inside. Relax. Nobody will catch you. I will take you inside the temple now.
Reporter: Are you working at this shop?
Jitu: No, I have been running a sweet and flower shop and my family has been running this shop since 1985.
Reporter: How will we perform charan sparsh darshan?
Jitu: I will take you to the counter of the PRO office located inside the temple. You only have to give your name and the staff will take you directly inside the temple within 2-3 minutes.
When mid-day contacted the Dadar police station about the racket, Senior PI Rajendra Avhad said, “We will investigate the matter and check what’s going on the spot. Appropriate action will be taken against the accused.” Siddhivinayak temple’s Spokesperson Veena Patil, meanwhile, said, “We are unaware of the incident. I request that you to submit proof. We will ensure that the matter is investigated.”
Amount charged for prasad plate