Rajkumar (33) spent six hours atop an unfinished wooden structure, binding wooden logs. For three days, four other labourers were similarly sprawled on top of the structure near Shastri Park Metro station in east Delhi, hurriedly finishing it. Around 3 pm, a wooden log slipped from Rajkumar’s hand and landed next to the supervisor, who shouted: “You want to kill someone? Make sure this is the best tent you’ve built. It’s for the kanwars… you’re doing god’s work.”
In the last two weeks, hundreds of labourers have built over 225 camps in Delhi for kanwarias, expected to cross the city on their way home, carrying two pots of holy water from the Ganga in Haridwar.
Last year, approximately 3.76 crore kanwars reached Haridwar to collect holy water, with which they walked back home in faraway states. “This time we expect a bigger number,” Director General, Uttarakhand, wrote to Delhi Police chief on June 26.
Faced with the tall task, Delhi and UP are leaving no stone unturned — drones for aerial surveillance, petal showers from choppers, extra police deployment, water tankers, mobile toilets and registration of kanwars.
The yatra began July 17 from Haridwar, where kanwars reached via buses or trains from across the country, with a sack of clothes and a wooden stick to balance two empty pots. The Shiva devotees take a dip in the Ganga and fill pots with holy water, meant to be poured at temples near their home. Then begins their return journey via UP and Delhi, for which portions of highways and roads are cordoned off and overnight camps are set up.
The Uttarakhand DG, in his letter, said that in the first phase, kanwars walk, but on the last five-six days, “they use trucks or trolleys to reach home early for jal-abhishek, and compete on the road… this can cause accidents or fighting or an act against an unsuspecting local”. He also cautioned about “sound systems which can cause accidents” and “dak kanwars”. Dak kanwars are people who run with several pots, relaying them to the next person every one km. The DG wrote about how they may carry “hockey sticks, trishul, cricket and baseball bats and become violent if someone challenges them”.
The DG stated that at the Haridwar border, weapons and sound systems will be seized but “the numbers are such that there is always a risk…” Once they set off from Haridwar, there are three possible routes: Haridwar-Roorkee-Delhi; Haridwar-Najibabad-Moradabad-Delhi; and Haridwar-Roorkee-Saharanpur-Panchkula-Delhi.
From July 23-30, “schools, colleges and anganwadi centres will be closed”, Rupendra Dutt Sharma, Haridwar’s chief education officer, said.
Around 8,000 security personnel, including Rapid Action Force and BSF, ATS units, snipers on the pattern of Kumbh Mela, drones and helicopters for aerial surveillance, and showering of rose petals — the Yogi Adityanath administration in UP has rolled out the red carpet for an estimated four crore devotees set to criss-cross the 130-km Delhi-Haridwar highway in the state.
“We have sent a request to UP government… we are hopeful the helicopters will come to Meerut by July 25,” said Sanjeev Bajpai, SP Traffic (Meerut). There is also a plan to shower devotees with rose and marigold petals from July 26 onwards. “We will need five tonnes (5,000 kg) of petals, at a cost of Rs 20 lakh,” said an official. A senior official said they expect the cost of helicopters to go up: “This year it will cost roughly Rs 17 lakh for three-four days.” In another change that came in last year, there are no more curbs on DJ music, on the condition that kanwarias play only bhajans and not film songs. The previous Akhilesh Yadav government had banned DJs following apprehension of loud music provoking communal tension.
This time, kanwarias would have to register themselves at police stations in their villages and towns before leaving, and would be provided a registration number. Uttarakhand and UP police have been instructed to record presence of kanwarias at each checkpost.
The Meerut police also organised a special workshop for 500 personnel. “Always remember three golden words — Please, Thank You and Sorry,” Jayant Das, director of the New Delhi-based Skill and Training Company hired by Meerut police, instructed the policemen.
Rajiv Singhal, Secretary, Partapur Industrial Association, said they estimate “losses to industrial units of nearly Rs 150 crore as production remains suspended for many days”.
All liquor and meat shops along the route would also remain closed for 15 days, beginning July 17.
A Kanwar Yatra app on Google Playstore provides details of medical facilities, police stations, temples, hospitals and camps available over the 130-km route. “Last year, it was downloaded 4,920 times. This time, the number will be large,” said Udyai Ram, Additional Commissioner, Meerut.
“The Chief Minister’s intention is clear,” said Chief Secretary Pandey. “This should be a historic kanwar yatra.”
At Ghaziabad’s entry points, a team of five traffic personnel will rotate duties every 1.5 hours. With eateries along the route offering free food, RV Gupta, owner of a dhaba, said: “Most carry their own rotis so we offer them dal or a potato gravy. For the next 10 days, no non-vegetarian food, including eggs, will be served.”
Alok Singh, Inspector General (Meerut Division), said: “It is a community affair where there is involvement of different groups of people. There is meeting and greeting involved, and the communities act as force multipliers. Its a matter of faith and the effort is to ensure things go smoothly.”
For two traffic constables stationed for 12 hours daily for the next 15 days at a Shahdara traffic junction, the brief is simple: “Aage badho shanti se.” The aim is to prevent a repeat of the 2018 Moti Nagar incident, when kanwars had overturned a car at a traffic junction after a tiff with the driver.
An officer said “police deployment has been increased manifold this year”.
After UP, kanwars enter East Delhi, where 83 camps have been set up, said Joint CP (Eastern range) Alok Kumar. “The samitis that host kanwars at the camp have been briefed about law and order. They must use the left side of the road to walk, shouldn’t believe in rumours, and camps should have fire-fighting systems and good lighting.”
DCP (East) Jasmeet Singh said, “We have asked organisers to give ID cards to kanwars… this will deter anyone from being mischievous and will keep a check on anti-social elements.”
Special CP (Traffic) Taj Hassan said “separate passage for their movement using barricades and ropes has been created”.
Across Delhi, the state government has set up 173 camps, and an additional 50-plus camps have been constructed by private organisations. At one of the biggest camps near Welcome Metro station, over 10 labourers construct a tent. “It’s fire-proof and water-proof, and can accommodate at least 500 kanwars. We have placed carpets and mattresses on wooden platforms. At least 40 fans, 20 coolers and 90 LED lights as well as some halogen lights are being installed. We have also placed 20 dustbins and 16 toilets,” said Ajay Kumar, in-charge of tent and lighting of three camps.
Kumar works for Mahalaxmi Tents. Owner Shyam Sundar said, “In 2006, Delhi had 19 camps, and now it’s 225.” After camps are set up, samitis run by area pradhans provide the food — three meals, tea, biscuits and
Kamal Bansal, president of Delhi government’s Tirth Yatra Committee, said, “This year at least 25 per cent of the 173 camps will be steel hanger camps, which don’t require wood or ropes and won’t disrupt traffic as they don’t take a lot of time to be set up.”
DJB vice-chairman Dinesh Mohaniya said the chief engineer of every area has been directed to provide water tankers to camps on an urgent basis.