Kumbh 2019: Managing sanitation on large scale
by Ashok B Sharma on 14 Mar 2019 2 Comments

India has shown to the world that it is able manage sanitation and waste disposal programme on a large scale. The test for this was in large traffic and crowd management cleanliness at the recently concluded conclave of religious gathering, Kumbh Mela, at Prayagraj in the country’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh. The Kumbh mela attracts millions of pilgrims from across the country and abroad, including devotees, sadhus, and curious visitors. Designated as “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO during its 12th session held at Jeju, South Korea in December 2017, Kumbh 2019 could soon enter Guinness World Records for three specific reasons - largest crowd management, largest sanitation drive and largest painting exercise at public sites.


The 49 day long congregation that began on January 15 (when the Sun moved into Capricorn) formally concluded on March 4, the holy day of Shivaratri. A three-member team from Guinness World Records visited Prayagraj and many exercises were performed before the team from February 28 to March 3. “Around 503 shuttle buses were pressed into service on the highway in one go for the team on February 28. Several people participated in a painting exercise on March 1 and 10,000 sanitation workers engaged in cleaning at the Kumbh, all performing their duties together," the Ministry of Culture said in a statement. The host state of Uttar Pradesh successfully set a record for the “Longest Parade of Buses” lining up 500 buses in a row for nearly two miles. It also set a new record for “most contribution in hand painting in 8 hours.”


Prayagraj is situated at the confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the invisible stream of Saraswati. A dip in the river at Kumbh mela is considered sacred by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and other native faiths. References to Kumbh abound in various Puranic texts. This ageless tradition finds mentions in the writings of the ancient Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang.


The determination of the timing of the Kumbh is based on astronomical calculations. When Jupiter enters the zodiac sign Taurus and this coincides with the Sun and Moon in Capricorn, Kumbh is observed in Prayagraj. Kumbh is observed in other three places: Haridwar in Uttarakhand, Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh and Nasik in Maharashtra. Kumbh is held in Haridwar on the bank of the Ganga when Jupiter enters Aquarius and the Sun and the Moon are in Aries. When Jupiter enters Leo and the Sun is in Aries, Kumbh is celebrated at Ujjain on the banks of the Kshipra. Kumbh is held in Nasik on the banks of the Godavari when Jupiter is in Leo and the Sun and Moon enter Cancer on New Moon day (Amavasya). The Maha Kumbh mela is held once in 12 years: this year’s Kumbh at Prayagraj is an Ardha Kumbh, held at six year duration.


Traditionally, management of the Kumbh mela was in the hands of Akharas (different sects of sadhus) who oversaw the collection of taxes, policing and judicial duties. But the British took over the management in 1870 after a stampede. Since then the management is in the hands of the Government.


The great religious event of the Kumbh is the holy dip or Maha Snan (Great Bath). During Mughal rule, a royal decree was issued for establishing the order of precedence in bathing during auspicious periods at the confluence of rivers. Thus the holy dip or Maha Snan came to be known as Shahi Snan (Royal Bath). This year’s Shahi Snans occurred on Makar Sankranti (January 15), Paush Poornima (January 21), Mauni Amavasya (February 4), Basant Panchami (February 10), Maghi Poornima (February 19) and Maha Shivratri (March 4). As estimated 240 million people took a holy dip at the Kumbh 2019, double the number at the Maha Kumbh of 2013.


Kumbh 2019 has many firsts associated with it: inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Ganga Aarti; visits of VIPs including the President of India, ambassadors of 70 countries, citizens from 193 countries and opening up of Saraswati Koop and Akshay Vat to the public after 450 years.


The host state Uttar Pradesh had made excellent arrangements for sanitation by putting in place 1,22,000 toilets and 20,000 dustbins, besides deploying 140 tippers and 40 compactors for ensuring solid waste management. About 1000 sanitation workers were pressed into service along with 12,000 security personnel to maintain law and order.


A foolproof arrangement was made whereby garbage was lifted from dustbins and toilets through latest techniques, preventing it from scattering on the ground, collecting it in a compactor by Tata S vehicles and taking it out of the mela area for proper disposal and processing. An elaborate 177-km sewer line network with pumping station was completed a major triumph of the Kumbh.


To keep the river water clean in the mela area, 32 drains opening in the river Ganga have been sealed and four schemes are being implemented in Prayagraj under Namami Gange Programme. Arrangements were made to treat river water through bio-remediation so that no effluent pollutes the rivers in Prayagraj.


With a view to ensure proper crowd management, the Uttar Pradesh government constructed new flyovers in the city, over bridges and expanded roads, and brightened the mela area by installing over 40,000 LED lights and about 1400 CCTV cameras integrated to a central command and control system. The conception of linking Prayagraj with all three routes – air, road and waterways – was fully realised. The Inland Waterways Authority set up five jetties, facilitating operation of large cruises and motor boats. A new air terminal was constructed in Prayagraj and a number to tent cities and food courts were set up for comfortable stay. The iconic Kumbh set an example of large scale sanitation management and large crowd management


The author is a senior journalist

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