In resplendent glory, the temple dedicated to the Lord glows at night on top the holy hill
Snapshot
    • Tirumala is the ideal polis of Hindu religiosity; Hindus from round the world flock to the temple-town in droves

    • Previously a den of corruption, the governement-run Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) trust has done yeoman service for the pilgrims by using technology to enhance the experience of securing divine darshan

The Urban Development Ministry recently released a list of hundred cities that will soon be developed as smart cities. As is their wont, many urban planning experts are looking to the west for a smart city model that can be adopted in India. It is an irony that they do not look within.

If only they choose to scout within our country, they will find a fantastic model in the temple town of Tirumala. Since independence, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) trust manages the day to day activities of the temple and the Executive Officer (EO) who heads the trust is from the IAS appointed by the Government of Andhra Pradesh. Currently, more than 80,000 people visit the temple every day and most of its annual budget of Rs 2,500 crore comes from hundi collection.

The humble abode of the Lord of the Seven Hills was a den of corruption in the 1970s and 80s. Every service delivery – getting darshan, availing a room for overnight stay, tonsuring hair and procuring prasadam – was available for a price from middlemen. Pilgrims were forced to engage them after having travelled a considerable distance for the all-important darshan of the main deity.

All this changed in the early 90s with a desire of the EO along with a few of his staff members to alleviate the misery of devotees. Today, the temple is an extraordinary symbol of good governance, effective administration and efficient service delivery by a government organization.

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According to a case study by Mr N Ravindran (Professor at IIM Ahmedabad) and Mr I V Subba Rao (Former EO, TTD), the transformation happened because of a desire to be customer centric and a willingness to adopt technology. The study goes on to suggest that “the entire solution procedure evolved by a desire to be pilgrim (customer) centric rather than system oriented or resource based.” And it identifies six important areas – Customer Centric, Formal Methods, Process Orientation, Use of Information Technology, Change Management and Prioritize Action Areas – for lessons in management. TTD now famously claims that its acronym stands for “Tradition, Technology and Devotees”.

The much touted fingerprinting technology platform – AADHAAR– is not new to our country. It has been in vogue at Tirumala for over a decade and a half. To streamline the queue system and make the wait time for pilgrims more predictable, TTD first introduced a bar-coded wrist band. Once it had opened centers across the country to sell darshan tickets, it had successfully adopted the fingerprinting technology.

Devotees who would like to have darshan can go to any of the TTD centers in their respective cities and buy a ticket after volunteering to get finger printed. More than 30,000 people do so every day. Technology has also helped TTD to increase the pilgrim capacity on a given day from about 52,000 to 80,000.

To completely eliminate corruption, all systems have now been computerized. Devotees can book rooms as well as contribute to the hundi online. Even tonsured hair is e-auctioned. All tenders are now e-tenders and any vendor trying to game the system is harshly punished. The laddu making process is automated and hence devotees can devour as many to their satisfaction.

Devotees at Tirumala/Getty Images Devotees at Tirumala/Getty Images

Once middlemen were vanquished, TTD had to supplement its effort to build infrastructure for a truly rewarding and enriching experience for the common man. It started with the construction of an exclusive road for returning vehicles which ensured the ride up and down the hill is accident free. It has invested in security and clearance and done in a breeze with no untoward incidents thus far.

Incinerators have been installed to separate waste before disposal. More than 50 percent of the energy consumed is generated right up the hill through solar panels and windmills. The water tank is constantly purified and re-circulated to make it safe for pilgrims to take a holy dip. The demand for water is an average of 3.1 million gallons every day, drawn from six reservoirs through efficient technology.

TTD relays on a feedback mechanism to constantly improve their services and enhance devotees’ experiences. Visitors can provide feedback either on the website or through the monthly dial in programme ‘Dial your EO’ during which the EO takes questions, suggestions, compliments and brickbats. Based on suggestions, more than a third of the tickets for various sevas are now sold online.

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And a recent change to the queue system inside the sanctum sanctorum was made based on suggestions from various stakeholders. A single layer where many pilgrims would rush in a haphazard way to get a glimpse of the Lord was converted into three layers of varying heights enabling pilgrims to obtain a better view as well as spend more time.

The ongoing effort to build smart cities should adopt, on the lines of TTD, a citizen centric model that can make effective use of technology to solve many of the current woes. TTD has indeed set an excellent example of providing innovative cost effective solutions with utmost satisfaction to all stakeholders.

Most cities face similar challenges like Tirumala – corruption, lack of toilets, managing garbage, mushrooming slums, deficient in of use of technology and most importantly devoid of consultation with stakeholders. If Chief Ministers, Mayors, Urban Planners need a model for their smart city, they should look no further than the humble abode of the Lord of Seven Hills.

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