Tirupati temple: A Model For Smart Cities?

Krishnakumar N V highlights how the temple city is a lesson for smart cities. It has been using technology intensively to help seekers connect to the temple. 

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 fromhundi 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.

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.

Nice bit.

All these temple towns were the original smart cities where life was built around the temple.

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