Kumbh gears up for a sea of devo­tees

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - | POLITICS POLICY - Avi­[email protected] times­group.com

Early morn­ing, just after sun­rise, the wa­ter looks like liq­uid gold at Sangam. It’s cold, the wa­ter colder. At the con­flu­ence of the Ganga, Ya­muna and the van­ished Saraswati, though, un­per­turbed peo­ple bathe un­der the watch­ful eyes of the jal (wa­ter) po­lice and a Modi cut-out.

From Jan­uary 15 to March 4, an es­ti­mated 130-140 mil­lion pil­grims and tourists are ex­pected to do the same dur­ing the Kumbh Mela. For the de­vout, a holy dip will rid them of their sins.

The term Kumbh is con­tested. Some in­sist that the 2019 event is Ardh Kumbh, in ac­cor­dance with the tra­di­tional al­ter­nat­ing cy­cle of Kumbh and Ardh Kumbh ev­ery six years. But last year UP gov­ern­ment rechris­tened Ardh Kumbh as Kumbh. Kumbh hence­forth will be of­fi­cially be known as Ma­hakumbh. In­ter­est­ingly, Modi had de­scribed the event as “Ardh Kumbh” in a De­cem­ber 16 speech.

Re­nam­ing is the flavour of the sea­son; till last month, Al­la­habad was the town’s name. The re­nam­ing, es­pe­cially of the fes­ti­val, is ar­gued even at the ghat. But there’s una­nim­ity that the scale of ar­range­ment is un­prece­dented. In 2013, the mela was spread over 1,700 hectares; this time it is 3,200. The bud­get for 2019 is Rs 4,300 crore; it was re­port­edly about a third in 2013.

For the gov­ern­ment, san­i­ta­tion seems to be a key area. “In all, 1,22,500 toi­lets, in­clud­ing 20,000 sep­tic tank toi­lets, are be­ing laid out,” says AP Pali­wal, ad­di­tional di­rec­tor for health and san­i­ta­tion (mela). He talks about an elab­o­rate mech­a­nised sys­tem of com­pactors and tip­pers for solid waste man­age­ment. “We don’t want a sin­gle drop of sewage to pol­lute the river.”

Us­ing drones for sur­veil­lance, car­ry­ing out mock anti-ter­ror drills and set­ting up an in­te­grated com­mand and con­trol cen­tre with 1,100 cam­eras for real-time feed — the BJP gov­ern­ment is keen to project Kumbh as a safe and ef­fi­ciently-man­aged, high-tech event. Dig­i­tal screens across the city show films on Kumbh day and night.

The rest of the city is also get­ting ready. Bro­ken pave­ments have ei­ther been or are be­ing re­paired and up­graded. “Ear­lier, Al­la­habad had an airstrip. Now it has a full-fledged ter­mi­nal,” says Ashish Ku­mar Goyal, com­mis­sioner, Al­la­habad. (With in­puts from Kapil Dixit)

Full re­port on www.toi.in

Anindya Chat­topad­hyay

Devo­tees from across the coun­try gath­er­ing at the Sangam for first Shahi Snan of Kumbh 2019

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