The Jagannath Temple Administration has submitted a proposal to the law department for formulating modalities of health insurance cover for shrine priests and their family members.
The proposed health insurance scheme, which was approved by the temple managing committee recently, would benefit 8,365 people of 1,497 priests’ families.
“The law department would finalize the exact insurance amount per family or per head and premiums will be paid by the temple. Contrary to public perception that all priests of Jagannath Temple earn well, the shrine officials said many struggle to make ends meet.
A socio-economic study on Puri priests, conducted by state-run Nabakrushna Choudhury Centre for Development Studies (NCDS) last year, revealed that 222 per 1000 persons were suffering from various diseases, ruining the economy of their families.
The study also disclosed that nearly 1,042 (71%) families expect medical support from the temple authority, while only 7.87% have health insurance.
Though 105 priests’ families out of the total 1,497 have been included under the below poverty line (BPL) category, several other families too reel under financial crunch. The penury of several priests often cost pilgrims dear as they are harassed and beaten up for not paying exorbitant fees.
“The health insurance scheme is a good initiative. The temple administration should initiate some more welfare measures for us,” said Nityananda Panda, a priest. “It has become difficult to sustain my six-member family with whatever little I earn,” Panda said.
The priests are paid certain remuneration based on the number of days they perform their duty at the temple. While the lowest daily remuneration is Rs 160, the maximum is Rs 850. There are some categories of priests, who receive daily remuneration of Rs 820, Rs 730, Rs 500 and Rs 380. Most of them perform duty only five or six times a month, sources said.
Considering the poor financial background of priests and their indispensable rituals at the shrine, the temple administration introduced a number of welfare measures to boost their economy in the past.
At present, the temple body provides Rs 500 a month old age and disability pensions to priests. Besides, Rs 500 a month is given to the widows of priests. Though the temple had in 2006 introduced a group insurance policy for around 1,500 priests, the scheme was discontinued in 2011.Jagannath Temple priests Jagannath temple administration