A day before the Kumbh Mela begins at Prayagraj, a fire on Monday afternoon engulfed at least 10 tents that are part of Digambar Akhada after a cooking gas cylinder exploded. Uttar Pradesh DGP O P Singh said no one was injured and the fire was controlled in time.
A vehicle was damaged in the blast, which took place in Sector 16, Kumbh district, at 12.45 pm. Six fire engines and eight ambulances brought the blaze under control in 10 minutes, a police officer said.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered the Fire Department to inspect all camps. The state Information Department said Adityanath has “ordered that those who have suffered losses due to the fire should be compensated by the mela adhikari”.
Vijay Kumar Anand, in charge of the event, said, “We have received the CM’s directive to ensure fire safety regulations are in place. We have begun inspections to avoid any such incident in future.”
By dusk, the city went to sleep — it was an early night for lakhs of pilgrims, as the first royal bath, the “shahi snaan”, begins early Tuesday — and the banks of Triveni Sangam became home to devotees from across the country. They slept on paddy strewn across the river banks — from Kanpur resident Krishna Verma, 8, to Padum Chandra Borthakur, 84, from Guwahati. “We hoped there would be a pandal for those sleeping on the banks to protect us from the cold. All roads from the railway station to the Sangam are blocked, and we walked for at least 8 km with the luggage,” Borthakur said.
Mela in-charge Anand said 1.2 lakh toilets have been placed in Kumbh district. Spread over 3,200 hectares, the Mela has been divided into nine zones, 16 districts, and has 40 police stations.
District Magistrate Suhas L Y said, “We have installed 1,100 high-definition cameras in Prayagraj, including 500 in Kumbh district. They are better than CCTV cameras, as one can zoom in to see a face or a vehicle’s number plate. Parking has been arranged for five lakh vehicles, and there are 500 shuttle buses.”
He said an estimated 12 crore people are expected to attend Kumbh Mela, and 33 lakh have already taken a dip.
Anand said there are 28 departments managing the Kumbh Mela, with 25,000 police officers and as many sanitation staff.
On the banks, Chunni Lal, 30, and Mahesh Kumar, 19, dumped polythene bags and flowers in a dustbin. “We earn Rs 295 a day, and are working at Kumbh Mela until it ends in March. We have been given caps and a light sleeveless jacket but no masks or gloves. We are using our hands to pick up everything,” said Lal, a daily labourer from UP’s Banda district.