India File

Cocktail of spiritualism, money and logistics

Twesh Mishra | Updated on January 14, 2019 Published on January 14, 2019

Preparations in full swing for Prayagraj Ardh Kumbh Mela, 2019 Kamal Narang   -  BusinessLine

Call of the Kumbh Sadhus at Prayagraj as preparations get underway Kamal Narang   -  BusinessLine

The UP government is gearing to host around 12 c

The story goes that churning the ocean produced nectar and when this was being carried away by the Devas, drops of the nectar fell at four points on earth. To mark this, the Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years in these four places, believed to be Haridwar, Prayaga (Allahabad), Trimbak (Nashik) and Ujjain.

Amidst the political churn being witnessed in 2019, the Ardh Kumbh couldn’t have come at a better moment for the BJP government at the Centre which hopes to woo the devotees thronging to Prayagraj (till recently Allahabad).

Infra, trade push

The Ardh Kumbh brings Prayagraj to life every six years with a much-needed push for infrastructure projects and businesses. To meet the January 15 deadline, the Uttar Pradesh government is gearing to host the nearly 12 crore visitors expected to throng Prayagraj over the next two months.

“There has been a noticeable spurt in sales of all sorts of goods. Buckets, mattresses, food items, you name it. A lot of shops will be reporting bumper sales this month,” said Praveen Kesarwani, a furniture wholesaler near Ram Bhawan Chauraha. Kesarwani’s shop falls on the Old Grand Trunk Road, one of Prayagraj’s most prominent routes that lead to the Ardh Kumbh venue.

The Kumbh Mela draws millions of pilgrims over the course of approximately 48 days to bathe at the sacred confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers.

The congregation primarily comprises ascetics, saints, sadhus, sadhvis, kalpvasis and pilgrims. The Kumbh occurs once every 12 years while the Ardh Kumbh is observed every six years. The 2013 Kumbh was a Mahakumbh.

This is also a good opportunity for hoteliers to reap benefits. “We have registered a 20 per cent increase in enquiries and prices have been marked up correspondingly as the Ardh Kumbh dates near,” a hotel manager holding a freshly printed price sheet said.

‘His hotel is on Hewett road, one of the important roads of the city connected to the railway station.

State govt in overdrive

Dubbing this as the largest public gathering and collective act of faith anywhere in the world, the UP government has earmarked ₹2,800 crore for the mega event that takes place from January 15 to March 4 this year. as against the ₹1,214 crore expenditure incurred during the 2013 Maha Kumbh.

Besides the earmarked amount, development works are being carried out at Kumbh Mela and Prayagraj with a total amount of ₹4,300 crore from other budgets, according to the Uttar Pradesh government.

“There has been development of the city, but most of the focus has been on developing roads and roundabouts. Some of the houses have been demolished as a part of the road widening drives,” said Nikunj Kumar, an advocate practising at the Allahabad High Court.

Corroborating this, the Uttar Pradesh government cites multiple road projects to facilitate smooth traffic movement to Prayagraj. According to the State government, nine flyovers have been constructed in the last one-and-a-half years. The Bridge Corporation has also built a 4-lane wide, 1.3 km long flyover in the city area to improve accessibility to the Kumbh Mela area. The State government has also widened over 64 traffic crossings and 264 roads connecting the mela area.

Within the mela area, 22 pontoon bridges have been erected over the rivers and 250 km of metallic chequered plates have been laid to cover the sand and facilitate movement of vehicles.

This year, the Ardh Kumbh area is spread over 3,200 hectares which is lit up by 40,000 LED bulbs that are powered by 54 substations. An additional feeder line has been provisioned to ensure uninterrupted power supply.

But the 2013 Kumbh was marred by reports of mismanagement and a stampede at the railway station that killed over 40 people was blamed on the Railways and UP State Roadways Corporation. “These are sensitive times and utmost efforts are being made to ensure that there are no untoward instances,” an official working with the UP Chief Minister said. Preparedness for the Ardh Kumbh is being regularly monitored at the Chief Minister’s level, he added.

“There are predefined entry and exit points to regulate crowd movement. There have been 30,000 police personnel deployed and an Integrated Command and Control Centre (ICCC) will be monitoring the feed from the Closed-Circuit Television cameras,” Additional District Magistrate-Kumbh, Dilip Kumar Trigunayat, said.

According to the official plan of the Kumbh Mela Police, the Kumbh Mela Kshetra and district has been divided amongst nine zones that cover 40 police stations and 58 police posts during Kumbh 2019. Teams of National Disaster Management Authority and UP State Disaster Management Authority, Uttar Pradesh, are also deployed at the venue.

NRIs, foreign tourists

It is also expected that around 5,000 Non-Residential Indians and around 10 lakh foreign tourists will arrive at the Ardh Kumbh this year.

A 4,000 tent-strong city of temporary accommodation has also come up at the mela area. These tents can been booked for as cheap as ₹650 a bed to ₹35,000 a tent, depending on the quality of services and proximity to sangam area.

But all is not as rosy as being publicised, development works are being rushed to meet the deadlines and contractors allege delayed payments.

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Published on January 14, 2019
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