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Mahakumbh 2025: What it takes for a city of two million to play host to 400 million

Feb 06, 2024 09:35 PM IST

The administration must do everything it can to prepare for the grand event. A look at the monies and effort it takes to enable the world’s largest congregation

Prayagraj will be in the news once again next year when the Maha Kumbh mela, held once every 12 years, will take place on the sandy banks of Sangam — the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers — considered holy by the millions who will descend on the city of Prayagraj.

Pilgrims and saints at Sangam during Kumbh-2019 in Prayagraj ((HT File Photos) ) PREMIUM
Pilgrims and saints at Sangam during Kumbh-2019 in Prayagraj ((HT File Photos) )

The 365 sq.km city of Uttar Pradesh, with a population of around 1.7 million, will play host to an expected 400 million pilgrims, saints and tourists for 45 days starting with the Paush Purnima bathing festival on January 13, 2025 and concluding with the Mahashivratri bathing ritual on February 26, 2025.

Here’s how the city administration is getting ready for what architect Rahul Mehrotra once called “the ephemeral city” that will come up to accommodate the religious fair.

4,000-hectare 'Maha’ tent city

The bulk of the visitors would be staying and spending most of their time around Sangam for which a mega tent city—also the largest temporary city in the world—will be set up across a sprawling 4,000 hectares spread between Sangam, Arail and Phaphamau and divided into 25 sectors.

To facilitate the seamless movement of pilgrims and visitors, 25 pontoon bridges would also be constructed. This tent city would have its own police stations, fire stations, hospitals, ration shops, small markets, entertainment zones, ambulance services, train reservation counters etc.

Prayagraj Mela Authority—a body set up by the state government for organising the once-in-12-year Mahakumbh Mela, once-in-six-year Kumbh Mela and the annual Magh Mela—is at the centre of the ongoing preparations.

To enhance connectivity, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) will build a 65-km Prayagraj Ring Road in three phases. Other roadworks include a Prayagraj-Ayodhya bypass and a Prayagraj-Banda bypass near Jasra as well the widening of the Prayagraj-Lucknow highway will also be carried out. The Union ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) will construct a 9.9-km six-lane bridge over the Ganga River, joining Stanley road of Sangam city with Malak Harhar crossing on the Lucknow-Pratapgarh-Prayagraj highway at a cost of around 2,300 by October 31, 2024.

A total of 17 roads over bridges (ROB), and the widening and beautification of over 150 roads also form part of the plan. Some like Bakshi Bandh ROB have already been opened to the public. Most are expected to be completed by October 2024.

Ongoing construction of six-lane bridge over the Ganga(HT File)
Ongoing construction of six-lane bridge over the Ganga(HT File)

Remodelling of ghats

The state government will spend 94.49 crore to remodel pucca ghats and 231.67 crores on riverfront roads.

The Dashashwamedh Ghat on the banks of the Ganga at Daraganj substantially reduces the pressure from the main Sangam area as a large number of devotees and pilgrims use this area. It will be made into a pucca ghat near the Beni Madhav Mandir.

The Qila ghat on Yamuna is also going to be converted into a pucca ghat, and a new concrete ghat will come near Saraswati Ghat at river Yamuna, where water sports facilities will be available at the boat club beside river Yamuna. The Rasoolabad Ghat will be extended and a concrete ghat will be constructed in front of Gyan Ganga Ashram downstream from Ganga. Pucca ghats are also being constructed at Mahewa (in front of the Bhairav temple) and Naukayan Ghat.

Corridors for revered temples

Projects under the temple infrastructure upgradation include most of the temples frequented by pilgrims. Under this, four major corridors will come up: Akshayavat-Patalpuri-Saraswati Koop corridor, Bade Hanuman Mandir corridor, Bhardwaj Park corridor and Dwadash Madhav Mandir corridor. The other temples covered in the development initiative include Nagvasuki temple, Padila Mahadev temple, Alopshankari temple, Mankameshwar and Koteshwar Mahadev temples among others.

“These temples form an important part of the itinerary of the pilgrims and attract a large number of devotees. The enhancement of facilities here would make their visits smooth and enable these temples to handle large crowds that arrive here during the religious fairs and other special days,” said Prayagraj’s regional tourism officer Aparajita Singh.

4,600 crore-worth projects

A state-level high-powered committee set up under the state chief secretary is overseeing all work pertaining to the Maha Kumbh. To date, this panel has approved 321 projects worth over 4,600 crore, almost all of which are still underway. At the ground level, the state government has appointed Vijay Kiran Anand, a 2009 batch IAS officer as the Mahakumbh Adhikari, who has shouldered the responsibility in Kumbh-2019 as well, and posted him in Prayagraj in December 2023 itself, over a year in advance.

Noted technical institutes like Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (MNNIT)-Allahabad and Indian Institute of Information Technology-Allahabad (IIIT-A) and consulting firm Ernst and Young are helping the city administration.

QR and GPS-equipped toilets

Under the Swachh Kumbh initiatives, 145,000 temporary toilets will be set up in the Mela area; 15,000 sanitation workers will be employed. A waste transfer station will come up in every sector of the tent city. “Special steps planned include service-level monitoring of the toilets via QR code and GPS monitoring of all sanitation vehicles,” said Prayagraj municipal commissioner Chandra Mohan Garg.

An effective door-to-door waste collection system in the 100 wards of Prayagraj municipal limits is also being created, he added. Of nine sewage treatment plants, three are being upgraded to deal with additional waste that would get generated, officials said.

To keep rivers safe from pollution

Tapping of drains, to prevent untreated waste from falling into Ganga and Yamuna before the effluents are treated, is also part of the plan. The city has 81 major drains catering to 277.38 MLD (million litres per day) waste generated by the city. Five do not need tapping and 37 have already been tapped. Of the 39 untapped ones, 22 are being tapped with funds from National Mission for Clean Ganga while the remaining 17 are being tapped with Mahakumbh-2025 funds, officials shared.

Satellite stations, colour-coding of tickets

Besides plans to operate 150 e-buses and 100 new regular buses by UP State Roadways Transport Corporation, Indian Railways are also busy redeveloping the Prayagraj junction to cater to the rush of visitors. As part of the redevelopment plan, more amenities are being added to the junction and the circulating area on the side of the Civil Lines is being developed for smoother movement of large number of passengers.

The track doubling work between Prayagraj and Varanasi is also well underway, which would improve train operations between these two important destinations. Almost all major satellite stations of Prayagraj including Subedarganj, Cheoki, Naini, Jhansi, Rambagh, Prayag and Phaphamau are being developed with additional entry points, better circulation areas and improved approach roads. These smaller stations are key, as during Mahakumbh, special trains for pilgrims are operated from here.

North Central Railway (NCR) has come up with a colour coding system to mitigate the problem of overcrowding. Coloured stickers will be put on the reverse side of tickets to indicate the direction in which the passenger will travel. This will help passengers reach the exact holding area and the designated platform. The railways had constructed four holding areas in 2019 and these have been painted red, blue, yellow and green for each of the four directions in which the devotees will travel this time. The colour coding method is already in use in the ongoing Magh Mela-2024.

“In view of the crowd of lakhs of devotees reaching Prayagraj Junction during the mela, we have done meticulous planning with respect to the arrival of trains, at which station and platform it would arrive or depart, the route to the shelter and holding area and from there to platforms etc. The coloured sticker on the ticket will further improve the movement and will come in handy for railways,” said Amit Singh, public relations officer (PRO), Prayagraj division.

Drones for security

The Yogi Adityanath government has allocated 5,621 crore over the past three years. The latest tranche of 2,600 crore including 100 crore for cultural promotions in the run-up to the fair was announced in the budget on February 5, 2024. The last Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj which took place in 2019, cost the state 4,236 crore; more than 250 million visited.

Yogi Adityanath visited the Sangam area on December 27, 2023, and also chaired a review meeting with top officials. He ordered that drones should be used to increase surveillance and ensure crowd management and asked officials to leave no stone unturned to ensure the security of all visitors.

“We will make the Mahakumbh-2025 truly a grand and a ‘divya’ affair showcasing administrative capacity, cultural richness and facilities of tourism of Uttar Pradesh. We will set new landmarks in terms of sanitation and cleanliness while also keeping the fair free of polythene,” he said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    K Sandeep Kumar is a Special Correspondent of Hindustan Times heading the Allahabad Bureau. He has spent over 16 years reporting extensively in Uttar Pradesh, especially Allahabad and Lucknow. He covers politics, science and technology, higher education, medical and health and defence matters. He also writes on development issues.

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