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Tirumala Temple: Professional Cleaning makes an impact

The Sanctum Sanctorum of the Tirumala temple, located atop the peak of the seventh hill of Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, witnesses one of the longest queues of pilgrims every day, who either trek 3661 steps to the temple or drive up the nine-km stretch from Tirupati. During the festive season, this number rises to over one lakh each day!

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) provides accommodation facilities in Tirupati and Tirumala to over 45,000 pilgrims, the largest ever offered at one place! With increasing accommodation facilities, TTD has outsourced facility management services of its guest houses with more than 7800 rooms with multiple beds and dormitories for about 10,000 people to A.L.L. Services since 2008.

The Tirumala project has been a learning process for both – A.L.L. Services and TTD, says Sonal Chitroda, Managing Director – A.L.L. Services. The transition from manual to mechanised cleaning had been a challenging one. “When we walked into Tirumala two years back, we were given a huge manpower of mostly unskilled workers. There was this language barrier as well. Grooming the workforce, teaching them the cleaning skills and building their self respect have been a colossal task.”

Stretched over five kilometres, the guest houses are named after the areas they are located in. At Rambagicha, three guest houses with 156 rooms each have nine janitors in the first two shifts and three in the night shift in each of the guest houses. Housekeeping in the guest houses involves cleaning of floors, rooms, toilets, external shade area and changing of linen. “Work begins at 5.30am. The usual routine is to first clear the checked out rooms. The check-out list for the day is obtained from the reception and accordingly, staff allocated to clean the rooms once they are vacated. Spring cleaning of rooms includes sweeping, swabbing, cleaning of toilets and changing of linen. Wet mopping using Kleenal mops with JohnsonDiversey chemicals is done in all the rooms. We also use Santex soap oil for floors and Sunny phenyl for toilets, as per specification. Most of the clients are particular about being greeted with a fresh aroma when entering the room and toilet. Certainly these local products cannot meet the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) like those of Taski but they are of good quality,” explains Sonal. The scope of using auto scrubber inside the room is limited, so “we use single disc and vacuum cleaners inside the room during deep cleaning”.

The soiled linen is replaced with fresh ones in the rooms that have been vacated. The collection van deployed by A.L.L. Services collects soiled linen from all the guest houses twice a day.

The entire area outside the rooms gets a run down of the auto scrubber during the night shift in particular. During the day shifts, besides an every two-hour spring cleaning, the entrance area, in particular the floor, is cleaned continuously with Kleenal dry mops. The scrubbers and vacuum machines being used are of Taski and Jags. The sun shades are cleaned with Jags high pressure jets.

The approach area to the guest house, though not under A.L.L. Services, is cleaned with Roots sweeper occasionally and with a simple broom regularly.

While there are two beds in each room at Rambagicha which costs Rs100, there are guest rooms with even six beds. So when it comes to changing linen in one room, it is not always two sets, but six sets of bed sheets and pillow covers. A Rs300 accommodation in SPTC area has three bedrooms with multiple bathrooms! On the other side, there are cottages in the SPTC and bungalows too which are maintained by A.L.L. Services.

“The point here is that for a Rs100 room, the cleanliness maintained is similar to what is done at a Rs5000 room. There is no compromise on the cleaning standards or gradation of cleaning levels. All rooms are cleaned equally,” says Sonal. Even though the number of rooms maintained by A.L.L. Services is 7500, the number of beds catered by them is 15,500.

“Besides, there are dormitories which are maintained. During peak seasons, with lakhs of people visiting Tirumala and limited accommodation, people tend to sleep on the streets. There are days when we need to change linen several times in a day as people check in and check out a room multiple times in a single day.”

Vishnu Padam, which has 50 rooms, is cleaned by 11 janitors each in the morning and second shift and four in the night shift. In this guest house, the single rooms have two beds and one diwan. It is also air-conditioned and has solar powered water heater. All this for Rs500!

“From what we saw the last time we visited here, the sanitation and cleanliness levels have improved and the toilets are very clean,” says Padmaja, one of the occupants at Vishnu Padam.

The Rs50 per room guest houses, Varasami I & II, have 380 and 180 rooms respectively. In all, 60 janitors are employed in both these guest houses which are perennially occupied. “Here we use coloured linen.”

The ‘Garudadri Nagar Cottages’ (with 720 cottages and costing Rs50 each), is one of the oldest constructions at Tirumala. Accommodations are 100% occupied at ‘Anjanadri cottages’ which is another collection of 486 cottages with multiple rooms. Around 36 workers are engaged here besides two supervisors. The facility management services provided by A.L.L. Services include maintenance of electrical equipment like geysers, fan, lighting, etc. Provision of linen and replacement of worn out and broken items are also part of the services.

Such activities require skilled labour. “In entire Tirumala, we have 40 skilled labourers besides 20 machine operators and other janitors. Machine operators are team leaders of the mechanised cleaning operations. Over and above them are the facility managers – around six of them. We also have two store keepers who manage nearly 24 store outlets that stock supply for 15 days.”

This outsourcing experiment project required a complete study of the various guest houses before chalking out the basic requirements in each category. Initially, 1800 workers provided by three manpower agencies were doing the cleaning of the guest houses. Washing activity had a different one, engineering a different contractor and so on. Coordination was a major issue and there was no mechanised cleaning. The concept of cleaning then was sweeping with broom, changing linen and putting phenyl in the toilet. “From 1800 workers, we brought it down to 930 in spite of the increase in the number of guest houses.”

Waste segregation was introduced by A.L.L. Services though it is being managed by the Health Department. The number of dustbins to be placed in each block and the collection schedule were suggested by A.L.L. Services in order to have a clean surrounding all the time. “We have placed green dustbin for dry waste and red dustbin for plastics. Waste is collected from all the individual rooms and stored in the coloured bins, but pilgrims passing by at times do tend to put waste in either of the dustbins. Hence, waste is further segregated and given to the health department which collects it at a specified time.” Sulo has provided the dustbins at Tirumala.

Each bathroom in the guest rooms has two buckets of 15 litres for bathing and five litres for the toilet, respectively. The buckets provided by A.L.L. Services are supplied by Prince Plastics. “I have been here for one and half years now and hence, am aware of the challenges that could arise in each block. I intend to draft a ready reference guide for TTD to refer to where cleaning practices and facility management of each area are concerned. The entire audit report will be given to them.”

Laundry had been a major issue for the TTD before A.L.L. Services took over. “Even we had a tough time getting the linen washed by outside launderers and the end result was just not satisfactory. That is when we decided to set up a laundry plant in Tirupati. Within the limited sources available in Tirumala, we obtained a 20-year-old laundrette from TTD, rented a place, revived the machine, added some more components from Ahmedabad and began washing the clothes in-house.”

The machine is from Cleanlight, an Indian company. Collection of linen is done by two vans – one small van goes round all the guest houses, collects soiled linen twice a day and delivers to a bigger van to reach the laundry in Tirupati. Cleaned linen is delivered back to the distribution centre, at Tirumala from where it is delivered to the respective guest houses.

Hanumantha, one of the oldest staff at the collection centre is elated to be part of the process. Before A.L.L. Services, it was more of manpower doing manual washing of linen. But now it is a very systematic process of collection, segregation and mechanised washing. Even though the linen has increased, the cleaning standard has improved much more. The quality of water too is an issue, so water is being treated before being used for washing.

Towards sustainability

The stretch from Tirupati to the temple town of Tirumala is clean, sans litter and garbage. It’s not that road sweepers or scrubbers are doing the rounds of the Tirumala town, “but it is a mix of manual and mechanised cleaning that helps us maintain Tirumala clean and green,” says a spokesperson of TTD.

Workers sweep the roads round the clock to ensure no litter is left behind. “It is not possible to adopt mechanised sweeping because Tirumala is a hilly and uneven terrain,” explains the spokesperson. There are two areas that need cleaning – one is outside the building i.e. the road area, and two inside the buildings i.e. the accommodation area. The accommodation facilities have been increasing gradually. “TTD felt that a professional agency could do a better job. We had earlier only engaged labourers and the rest of the activities was monitored and provided by us. But now the entire facility management is being taken care of by A.L.L. Services. They are doing a good job.”

Outsourcing FM has definitely helped in better coordination. “Now we do not need the electrical department to run about to set lighting problems, the engineering department to do the civil works or the marketing department to source for the linen.” The most important areas are the Annadanam, Kalyanakatta and temple complex where the congregation of pilgrims is high. Cleanliness in these areas and others is given special attention. Besides cleanliness, TTD has also adopted eco-friendly practices.

Pilgrims bathe in the holy pond which is maintained by TTD. “We purify and treat water, exactly like it is done in five-star hotels.” There are three tertiary water treatment plants in place from where water is recycled to water plants and maintain the greenery. Similarly, garbage is segregated at source and wet garbage composted as manure to be used for the gardens. “As far as food safety is concerned, we have laboratory facility under the health department where food samples are checked thoroughly before being distributed.” Quality of the famous Tirupati “laddu” and the anna prasadam are checked everyday. The prasadam area is cleaned both manually and with machines like scrubber. Even the quality of water is checked at every outlet. “Besides this, we have installed 65 reverse osmosis purified drinking water plants. Another 30 plants are coming up. Once they are installed, we can do away with bottled water in Tirumala. We are likely to ban the sale of mineral water in Tirumala and thereby ban the use of plastic bottled drinking water.”

Tirumala is already generating power through wind mills and soon will be meeting a large extent of its power requirement in-house.

“Tirumala is the best maintained religious place in the world as far as cleanliness, hygiene, sanitation and greenery is concerned. Mechanisation has contributed greatly and wherever mechanisation is required for better maintenance, we are open to it,” says the spokesperson.

Water Treatment

Tirumala meets its water requirement by drawing water from the three dams – Papavinasanam, Akasa Ganga and Gogarbham – and pumping over 13.5 lakh gallons of water from the ‘Kalyani’ reservoir situated at Tirupati. Tirumala has a huge water filtration plant where all the water received goes through three stages of filtration before it is chlorinated and supplied. In addition to this, about six lakh gallons of water is fetched from the borewells dug by the TTD along the Sri Vari Mettu ranges everyday.

The TTD’s Rs100-crore Kumaradhara-Pasupudhara (KDPD) drinking water project atop the hill is likely to be ready by the end of May this year. This will help the TTD tap rainwater during the south-west monsoon.


The Tirumala kitchen which serves meals to 30,000 pilgrims as part of the annadanam service, cooks around 700-800kg of rice every day. Food cooked in steam cookers has a capacity of cooking 300kg of rice in half an hour besides sambar, rasam and vegetables. The kitchen is divided into cutting and cooking sections. In-house staff and volunteers cut vegetables manually. There is not much scope for mechanised cleaning but the kitchen is washed and cleaned twice every day before and after preparation of meals. Food is served on banana leaf. Soon the new, bigger and modern kitchen will be ready and there will be need for mechanised cleaning, a TTD official said.

The kitchen also has a separate area for the “laddus” which is also distributed to all the TTD centres in South India. Everything cooked is first tested at the Tirumala laboratory before being served and the kitchen building is powered through solar.

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