The Tirumala temple, in the south Indian city of Tirupathi, is one of Hinduism’s holiest and richest shrines. Around 50,000 pilgrims visit this city of seven hills daily. The heavy visitor traffic puts huge pressure on local resources such as water and electricity. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams is an independent trust that manages the temple and, over the past 15 years, its dedicated forestry department has planted more than 44 lakh (4.4 million) trees to restore vegetation on the Tirumala hills. The trust launched the 1.5 crore (about $250,000) Haritha project to conserve soil and rainwater, improve the groundwater and plant new forest in a 29,500 acre area in the hills around the city. The temple has established a productive nursery that grows seeds from a variety of indigenous trees and plants and every year the trust plants about 50,000 saplings with the help of pilgrims, and distributes plants as sacred gifts to devotees in religious rituals.
The temple’s community kitchen feeds over 25,000 visitors daily. In 2001 Tirumala adopted solar cooking technology, allowing it to dramatically cut down on fuel. Solar dishes on the temple roof rotate automatically to capture the sun’s energy. This is then used to convert water into high pressure steam, making cooking faster and cheaper saving Rs 20 lakh (more than $3,000) a year, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1.2 tonnes per day. Half the project cost of Rs.1.1 crore (about $175,000) was borne by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams trust, and the rest by a subsidy from the Ministry of Renewable Energy Sources. In addition wind turbines – donated by believers and sited on the hills surrounding the temple – are generating about 7.5 megawatts of power every day (offsetting 19,500 tonnes of CO2).
The temple sells the emission reduction credits to a Swiss green technology enterprise, Good Energies Inc. It all makes sound economic sense: with the government subsidizing up to 50% of the costs of installing green technology, temples like Tirumala can make steady returns selling the resulting carbon credits. The temple is developing green cover and restoring the reserve forests around the temple to become carbon sinks – a carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon that it releases.
Tirumala temple has also banned plastic bottles inside the temple, as a step toward making Tirupati Hills a plastic-free zone. It has set up a recycling plant near the temple complex to crush 150kg of plastic bottles daily, making them into pipes that are sold to farmers at subsidized pricing for micro irrigation. It has also set up small dams to help recharge the aquifer in the hills.