I first visited Tirumala on Seven Hills in 1965. More than a decade earlier, my grandmother told everyone in our house stories about her own visit to Tirupati shrine. For over the past 55 years, I must have visited the Hill a dozen times. Each was an occasion to remember. Each time I had experienced differently on the Seven Hills. I even walked up with my three grandchildren, Udayaditya, Isha and Diya, when they were around ten years. But the most memorable one was in mid-seventees when Dr. P.L. sanjiva Reddy, a senior IAS officer then, showed me around various nurseries on the Hill which his father Pydi Lakshmayya personally nurtured more than two decades earlier as the first Commissioner of Endowments of Andhra.
Anna Rao’s book on Tirupati
And I also recall my encounter with C. Anna Rao, the then chairman of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Board, who a decade later came to me in Delhi to present an impressive book he wrote on Tirupati Temple with a management perspective. My accidental encounter with Dr. T. Subbarami Reddy, chairman of Tirumala Tirupati Devastanms, in an airport in 2006 got me into doing, on request of TTD, a week -long research on pilgrims on the Hill in 2007 along with a team of social researchers. Two of nearly twenty plants that I brought from the Hill over the years which survived, are now tall trees around my house in New Delhi and remind me of my sojourns to Tirupati.
What would it be like in 2060?
Having seen Tirupati going through the kind of changes over these six decades, I keep wondering what it would be next three or four decades hence, say by 2050-60.The recent flash flood following the downpour on the Seven Hills and the havoc it caused affecting all activities, including closure of the main temple for a week as never before, and fall of more boulders than during the previous rains, reminded me of the recommendations that I gave TTD more than a decade earlier. The basis was my extrapolation of happenings on the temple over the recent years in terms of construction activity, increase in flow of pilgrims, intensity of transportation, commercialisation on the Hill, and of course the extent of use, waste and piling up garbage and the strain on the drainage system. Put together these parameters one gets a worrying picture of the trend for the coming decades.
Unique in the world
Despite recent entry of politics into the affairs of TTD, the Tirumala temple remains unique in the world, it continues to be one of the most revered and also better managed than any temple in the country. Most of the pilgrims are satisfied with the arrangements as no other public service anywhere. As a holy place, it being rich is better known than many of its other unique virtues to do with the size, cleanliness, concepts of darshans and rituals, infrastructure and the very maintenance and the management of a fast growing township. There is no parallel anywhere. That being the case, holding on to the sanctity of the temple, sustainability of the Hill and the unique features of TTD should be of concern now.
Certain premise on visit to the Hill is essential to sustain the divinity of the place. Visitors are pilgrims, not guests, cottages are not “guest houses”. The Place should not be viewed for pleasure or rest or business meets. TTD has been having good policy of limiting stay and kept up with some good practices. But things now are changing much faster in all these respects and more of the same view will no longer sustain. Doubts, deviations and violations should be on decline, not on increase. Let me reiterate the criticalities.
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Limits to growth
Would the Hill bear the weight of so much concrete, buildings, motor vehicles. Commercial activity, stay of so many people, if the current trend of decadel growth is kept up? How long the safety level could be assumed without any
precautionary and preventive measures. I am trying to trace reference for what I heard some decades ago during a visit to IIT, Madras. A professor had referred as having predicted turbulence under the main temple sanctum based on his analysis of seismology trends. He must have extrapolated based on his samples. But even a serious common sense view today hints at such possibility more than ever before.
The Hill can accommodate 30 thousand
The Hill originally, decades ago, was expected to accommodate upto 30,000 priligrims a day. But it had crossed one hundred thousand mark on many days in a year even with a few kilometer long queues for the Darshan of The Lord. And average flow is well over 65000 pilgrims a day. Due to Covid, visit to the main deity is restricted now to 30,000 to 40,000 pilgrims. Why not the same flow be continued with exception to certain festive days. Its income is not going to be effected so much. These trends require serious consideration.
Geared up to cope with Covid-19
The current pandemic and the way the TTD has geared up to cope with Covid-19 gives an optimistic hope that once such threats are known, the Authority has capability to gear up not withstanding political sensitivities in the affairs. The experiments deserve to be taken note for the pros and cons. But there is no evidence that the recent floods and the effects of climate change in the Hill as is becoming increasingly evident, have been taken note of seriously and sufficiently.
(to be continued)
(Dr. Bhaskara Rao is a research based public policy analyst of long standing)