From Bhakt to Bhagavan (devotee to deity)—the Lord’s abode at Tirupati is now accessible via the e-route. The Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), which manages the Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple at Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, in association with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is drawing up p-lans to incorporate the latest technological tools to provide enhanced services to pilgrims. The strategy is very clear—to make India’s richest temple adopt analytics for crowd management and pilgrim safety. PV Sesha Reddy, general manager, IT in-charge, TTD says it is necessary to have an online system to have a better interface with the people. Consider this: The average pilgrim strength visiting the temple, which used to be around 30,000 pilgrims a day during 2006, is now over 70,000. On an average, 2.5 crore people visit the temple every year. Hence, it becomes essential to have a transparent pilgrim and donor management system as there are over 45,000 pilgrims donating Rs 1 lakh and above.
For some time now, the TTD board, along with TCS as technology partner, has been providing services in the areas of darshan, accommodation, ladoo prasadam distribution and books. “We have verticals for accommodation, seva darshan and donor management system to facilitate online booking and donations,” he adds. Interestingly, the donors can also redeem the privileges for income tax exemption after possessing a digital passbook through the donor management system.
Following the introduction of digital services, the devotees of Lord Venkateswara avail a wide range of services, including e-hundi, e-darshan, e-accommodation, e-TTD publications and e-TTD audio and video from anywhere in the world via their mobile phone, he says. Biometric technology is also being used extensively, with a prepaid smart card issued to devotees to ensure a seamless and cashless transaction. This will help contain the seamier side of a darshan at Tirumala. The organisation already had some technology initiatives such as online reservation and RFID tags working, and is now piloting a virtual queue system to reduce response time for slotted seva darshans.
While these are a few conventional services, the TTD management is now working to develop an integrated next-generation application with futuristic technologies including Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics for better system operating procedures. The in-house IT experts along with a dedicated team of over 100 people from TCS have completed the first round of data collection on the accommodation, darshan, tonsuring area, annadanam facilities available to pilgrims. The data is now hosted in cloud and TTD is planning a big data centre in Tirupati with an investment of `15 crore, with which services will be further improved and secured as well. “The adaptation of IT will put an end to manual handling of sevas, accommodation and other crucial functions in the temple administration and bring in more transparency levels,” Sesha Reddy explains.
The Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple is believed to be the richest temple in the world with annual offerings from devotees worth hundreds of crores of rupees. “In order to ensure accountability and ease day-to-day transactions, the TTD board has made available e-donations, e-hundi, e-publications, e-challan, e-darshan, e-accommodation and e-seva. On an average, the temple receives Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1.4 crore as donations, which is now in the form of e-donations,” said a TTD official.
It isn’t just the tech-savvy urban Indian who is happy with the IT-enabled revolution at the Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has also welcomed the digitalisation initiatives at Tirupati. “While we do welcome technology to act as an enabler for the pilgrims, we also feel that the common people, who do not have online access, should also be taken care of,” R Shashidhar, spokesperson, VHP-Hyderabad said. The richest temple in the world usually receives over Rs 1,500 crore as donations from devotees every year. Post demonetisation, the TTD management is chalking out more tech-oriented ways to tackle the huge volumes of cash flow which ranges from Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 3 crore per day in the form of collections. The temple also gets donations in the form of jewellery, gold, silver, property deeds and demat share transfers.
The fact that demonetisation has increased temple revenues in the form of increased donations from devotees holds truth. However, it is also true that much of this could be unaccounted money as a result of tax evasion. “There are over 10-12 hundis in Tirumala to absorb the increasing collections. Though not very significant, on an average, there has been an increase of about 25% increase in the collections,” a TTD board member said. In order to tide over the currency crisis, the TTD management has opened more e-accommodation measures and abolished caution deposits as well to manage the pilgrim inflow. Besides 13 banks in Tirumala, card swiping machines have been installed at the temple for smooth transactions, the official added.
“Despite a few shortcomings, the management has taken the e-route wherever possible such as installing more card-swiping machines at the accommodation counters. This will mitigate the woes of pilgrims and also help migration to the digital platform along with point of sale (PoS) such as accommodation and ladoo counters at Tirumala, publication stalls, etc,” he added. The cash clean-up service has made TTD open PoS services even for sale of ladoos, which is a first time in TTD’s history, as it forms a bulk of the revenues.