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Technology clicks in temple town

Author: N. V. Krishnakumar
Publication: The Hindu Business Line
Date: May 20, 2012
URL: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/article3439355.ece?homepage=true

The Tirumala model offers an exemplary lesson to governments on a people-centric approach to service delivery.

The abode of the Lord of Seven Hills is a town transformed. From a symbol of corruption in the later part of the twentieth century, it is an embodiment of excellence in government service in the twenty first century.

 It was never like this before. Corruption was rampant and was at the forefront of all services offered to pilgrims and visitors.

 From getting darshan of the Lord to buying the famous Tirupati laddu, money changing hands used to be the norm. Most visitors were subjected to inordinate delays and harrowing waits.

 The ride up and down the hill was accident-prone, at times resulting in loss of lives. Middlemen ruled the roost and loosening one's wallet was the only way to obtain most services.

 All this changed towards the end of last century. A handful of bureaucrats capitalising on the advances in information technology, along with designing of easy rules for visitors, have brought about remarkable changes in the functioning of this temple town.

 That the transformation happened without a Lokpal or a Service Guarantee Bill is indeed remarkable.

 More than 25 million people of various castes and creeds, including people of other faiths, visit the town every year.

 According to the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) Board, 10 per cent of the visitors are Muslims and 5 per cent are Christians. TTD now famously claims that its acronym stands for “Tradition, Technology and Devotees”. Cost-effective technological solutions are visible everywhere.

 Fingerprinting technology has been incorporated to manage the queue system for darshan of the Lord. And similar to the way users change passwords periodically to protect sensitive information, the queue system is tweaked every now and then to avoid anyone gaming it.

Darshan tickets can be booked in many cities across the country with darshan time slot printed on the ticket. Donations can be directly remitted to the temple account through e-hundi.

 All tenders and procurements are executed through an e-process. Most of the auctions conducted are e-auctions including that of tonsured hair.

 About 50 per cent of the energy consumed is generated through solar panels and windmills operated at the top of the hill.

 Efficient garbage collection and recycling ensures the sanitation upkeep of the hill and most visitors co-operate by not littering.

 Incinerators have been installed to scientifically dispose plastic and other urban waste. Sufficient toilets have been built and are well maintained to the satisfaction of users.

 Water in the holy tank is constantly purified and re-circulated to make it safe for pilgrims to take a dip. Gone are the restrictions on the number of laddus one can buy.

 The ride up and down the hill is accident-free and security clearance is done in a breeze. Thus far there has been no untoward terrorist incident on the hill.
 Urbanisation model

 The Tirumala model offers an exemplary lesson for Municipalities and State Governments across the country on a people-centric approach to service delivery.

 Globalisation has forced urban planners to look West for service delivery models that can be implemented in India.

 With scant regard for the basic service needs of citizens, grandiose plans are put forward to convert Mumbai into a financial centre to compete with the likes of a London or a New York, Bangalore to match the might of a Singapore or a Hong Kong in terms of infrastructure, and New Delhi into an Olympic City that can rival a Beijing or a Seoul.

 Rather than look to the West, urban planners should look inward. The TTD has set a shining example of providing cost-effective solutions to the satisfaction of stakeholders.

 It has also shown that if local governments implement people-friendly policies, citizens will be more than willing to co-operate to make projects a grand success.

 State governments and municipalities will have to deal with the biggest challenge of this century — which is urbanisation — and providing basic services to people migrating to cities at a blistering pace.

 Twenty five Indian cities figure in the list of 100 fastest growing cities in the world.

 Census 2011 highlights numerous shortcomings in urban areas.

 Lack of toilets, mushrooming slums, traffic woes during peak hours and deteriorating air quality are creating unlivable conditions for many citizens.

 Reversing this trend requires effective use of technology and an enduring partnership between politicians, bureaucrats and citizens.

 And if anyone needs a model, they should look within the country, at the abode of the Lord of Seven Hills.

  (The author is a Bangalore-based money manager)
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