The world over, large religious congregations are known to be disaster-prone. However, Indian cities seem to have cracked the code of organising events largely free from mishaps. We look at three recent religious congregations, hosted in Ujjain, Allahabad and Puri, that have become international case studies
Ujjain Kumbh Mela, Madhya Pradeshn
Madhya Pradesh started preparation for the Ujjain Kumbh mela way back in 2012, with an initial budgetary allocation of Rs 100 crore. State’s Finance Minister Jayant Malaiya demanded Rs 2,800 crore from the central government for infrastructure development in Ujjain to ease traffic pressure and ensure better health facilities, as well as uninterrupted power supply during the mela, also known as Simhastha Kumbh. In 2014-15, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan wrote to Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, demanding Rs 3,500 crore, to which Jaitley wrote back confirming the release of only Rs 100 crore.
Later, in the 2016 Budget, the state made a provision of Rs 200 crore. Construction of 13 flyovers and 11 new roads required Rs 2,000 crore, besides a wide sewage network, 3,000-hectare land levelling, 100-km power line and creation of new ghats on an eight-km stretch.
Interestingly, despite a fund crunch as pointed out by Chouhan in his letter to Jaitley, a separate ‘Vichar Kumbh’ (ideological congregation) of religious experts was also organised – at a cost of Rs 45 crore. This three-day marathon meeting was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well.
As regards the management of the Kumbh mela gathering, the state authorities divided the influx of people into two parts – those who would stay during the entire mela period and those who would come, take a dip and leave.
“The exercise had three parts – pre-, during, and post-event management. We planned the per-person requirement of water, power, roads, ration and even flowers. The second task was to procure these necessities from appropriate sources and lastly distribute these to the pilgrims,” said Ravindra Pastor, the divisional commissioner of Ujjain.
The mela area covered 4,400 hectares. It was divided into 22 temporary satellite townships dwelled by sadhus, saints and their disciples, akharas and pilgrims.
“This time, we used hi-tech devices like e-fencing, GPS-tagged dustbins, etc, so that we could track each movement of the staff deployed there,” said Pastor, “We had all back-up plans to restore normalcy in case of any untoward situation of natural calamity and it had happened. When a squall uprooted some tents, we restored normalcy in a few hours, though it was very depressing because we lost some pilgrims during the natural disaster.”
On the outcome of the mega management, Pastor said, “It was a Rs 11,000-crore floating economy! if I hazard a guess.”
Kumbh mela is a religious event when Jupiter and Leo form once-in-a-12-year concatenation.
Kumbh Mela, Allahabadn
Lessons for business management, health care, urban planning
An estimated nine million devotees, including thousands of tourists, thronged the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad over 55 days from January 14 to February 10, 2013. Given its scale, the Allahabad Kumbh was one of the biggest congregations ever organised worldwide. A Harvard study even went on to state it was better organised than the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Researchers from the US university were surprised at the way a “mega city pops up within months and then disappears”. The Harvard report, Kumbh Mela – Mapping the Ephemeral Mega-City, which had involved 50 researchers, including professors, students and doctors from the Ivy League institution, said the fair at the Sangam offered lessons in business management, public health care, data science and urban planning.
The Kumbh was a success for chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. The only setback was at the Allahabad railway station, where a stampede killed 26 people on February 10, 2013. As for the Kumbh Mela, the CM had appointed his Cabinet minister Azam Khan in-charge of the organising committee. The government spent a little over Rs 1,000 crore to make the Kumbh accident-free. The 2013 event was bigger than the two such previous events held in 2001 and 2007 in terms of arrangements and number of attendees. For instance, the area reserved for the event was increased to about 2,000 hectares, an increase of 500 hectares from what it was in 2001. The number of parking lots and number of police personnel were increased substantially.
Khan, a Samajwadi Party leader from Rampur in western Uttar Pradesh, camped for days in Allahabad supervising the event preparation and worked hard to bring at least eight different state departments on the same page. His performance, and the good press coverage that it brought to Yadav’s nascent government, helped Khan cement his position in the newly formed state government. Yadav also turned down the resignation request of Khan from the organising committee after the stampede.
Its apparent success aside, in its report tabled in the UP Assembly in 2014, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India pointed to financial irregularities and lack of coordination among various ministries.
Shashikant Trivedi, Sahil Makkar & Archis Mohan