Forty-three-year-old Pramila Buwa has been rehearsing her lines all week and can now say them without having to refer to her notes. Pramila is, however, not an actor, and neither is she preparing to act in any play. She is is a woman constable with the Maharashtra Police assigned the duty of making announcements for pilgrims during the Kumbh Mela that gets under way in Nashik Tuesday.
At a specially designed police control room, 12 other policemen and women have been trained to make announcements to be played over 250 speakers at vantage points in Nashik. They get their instructions on what to announce from personnel monitoring the feed from 348 CCTV cameras at various locations across the city.
Seated in the state-of-the-art control room at the Nashik police headquarters, those monitoring the CCTV feeds also give policemen deployed on the ground directions based on the traffic situation at specific locations. For instance, says Pramila, “If the footfall at Ramkund is more than 1/10th of the area’s capacity, we have to instruct the pilgrims not to enter it until further instructions. We have to, however, greet the visitors first, saying ‘Nashik Kumbh Mela main sabhi bhaviko ka swagat hai (We welcome all pilgrims to the Nashik Kumbh Mela)’, and follow it up with the directives.”
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“The same instructions must be given in three languages — English, Hindi and Marathi,” she adds. The entire exercise is monitored by a senior police officer.
The 2003 Nashik Kumbh was marred by a stampede. To avoid a repeat of such an incident, the state government has constructed seven new ghats to accommodate the lakhs of pilgrims who have already started descending on the city from all over the country and abroad.
“Which ghat a pilgrim will go to would be decided by the route he takes to travel to Nashik. There are designated ghats for pilgrims coming from Mumbai, Dhule, Ahmedabad and so on,” says Nashik Police Commissioner S Jagannathan.
“At every ghat, the traffic will move ‘unidirection’ only. This is to ensure there is no repeat of the 2003 incident,” he adds. “Crowd up to 1/10th of the total capacity of the ghat would be allowed at any given time. If the crowds swells, we will release new batch only when the previous patrons have left the ghat,” says Jagannathan.
Of the eight ghats, the Laxmi Narayan ghat is the biggest and can accommodate around 1 lakh devotees. Ramkund is the smallest with a capacity to host only a few thousands at a time.
Besides restricted traffic movements, there will be a bar on parking vehicles near the ghats. “The devotees have to park their vehicles around 10-12 kilometres from the ghats and then travel in shuttle services for the next few kilometres and walk from there for around 3-5 kilometres,depending on which ghat they are going to,” Jagannathan adds.
The same drill will be followed at Trimbakeshwar where vehicles have to be parked around 5 km away from the temple. The devotees have to undertake the remaining journey on foot.
Like the unique control room, there are many firsts at the Nashik Kumbh. For instance, the police will erect 80 LED screens that will not only beam information on traffic movements but also show pictures of children and adults who go missing. The police also plan to tie up with the local private radio channels for time-to-time update on Kumbh.
After reports surfaced of sadhus cooking food at odd locations, the government has also made provision for a community kitchen.
“There have been instance when a sadhu lit a fire for cooking his food and left without dousing it. This might create unnecessary problems and therefore we have decided to start community kitchen services where the sadhus could come and cook their own food,” says another police officer.