The Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala, on Thursday told the Kerala high court that the jaggery received by it had 'halal' mentioned on the packaging as they are also exported to Arab countries by the company supplying to them.
The board told the high court that the jaggery received from the contracting company is first tested at Pamba by the food safety department and after their clearance it is stored in the godown there.
From there, as per requirement, jaggery is transported to the main store at Sabarimala and after preparation of vazhipadu (offerings), these too are tested before they are distributed or sold, the TDB told a bench of Justices Anil K Narendran and PG Ajithkumar.
The court listed the matter for further hearing on Friday by when the report of the special commissioner, Sabarimala, would also be on record.
The board's submissions were made in response to a plea by a devotee -- S J R Kumar -- who has opposed procuring of halal certified jaggery for the preparation of 'aravana' -- a payasam made out of jaggery and rice, and appam -- a sweet rice and jaggery based fritter -- which are given as prasadam to devotees at the Ayyappa temple.
In the petition, filed through advocate V Sajith Kumar, the petitioner has alleged that use of halal certified food materials "is not a satwik or pure material" to be offered to Lord Ayyappa and therefore, the actions of the temple administration were "highly illegal and violative of the religious rights guaranteed under the Constitution."
Countering the petitioner's claims, the TDB in its statement has contended that the allegations in the writ petition are absolutely false, baseless and are made purposefully with the malicious intention to stall sale of appam and aravana in Sabarimala and to 'torpedo' the pilgrimage season.
The board has claimed that stalling the sale of aravana and appam at Sabarimala would cause a huge financial loss to it.
"There is a calculated attempt to attack the reputation of Sabarimala and to hurt the religious feelings of the pilgrims and thereby destroying the communal harmony through various posts published and circulated in the social media," the board further claimed and added that a complaint in this regard has been given to the Sannidhanam police station.
The board also said that packets of the fresh supplies of jaggery contained the label 'halal' and on enquiring with the contracting company about this, they replied that they export jaggery to Arab countries and for that 'halal' certification was necessary.
The company said that 'halal' certification was an assurance of maintaining quality standards, as per the Board's statement.
Giving details regarding the procurement of jaggery at the temple since 2019, the Board said a contract for supplying jaggery during 2019-20 was given to Vardhan Agro Processing Ltd from Maharashtra and the company had supplied 19.96 lakh kilograms of jaggery from Mandalam-Makaravilakku festival till Chithira Attavishesham during that period.
During that season 16.59 lakh kilograms of jaggery was used and since COVID-19 restrictions limited the darshans by devotees, aravana and appam were also required in limited quantities and therefore, the balance jaggery of around 3.36 lakh kilograms remained at Sannidhanam for a long period, it said.
Subsequently, a contract for supplying jaggery in 2020-21 was given to Maharashtra-based SP Sugar and Agro Pvt Ltd which started supplying it from April this year and till now has supplied 5 lakh kg of jaggery out of which 2.76 lakh kg has been taken to the main store at Sabarimala and the remaining around 2.11 lakh kg is in stock, the Board said in its statement.
The appam and aravana are being prepared using the fresh supplies of jaggery, it added.
In April this year, the older jaggery stock at Sannidhanam was tested and its quality was found to be satisfactory.
However, when it was tested again in September it was found unsuitable for human consumption and thereafter, was auctioned off to Thrissur-based Southern Agro Tech India Pvt Ltd for making cattle feed.
The issue assumes importance as the two-month-long annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage to offer prayers at the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala has commenced and devotees in the thousands would be arriving there during this period.