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With distancing, ghat art, pollution measures, Haridwar prepares for Covid Maha Kumbh

The Kumbh Mela in Haridwar takes place once every 12 years. In 2021 it’ll be taking place after 11 years, a phenomenon that is happening after 80 years.

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi | Updated: November 21, 2020 2:10:27 pm
kumbh mela songA screen grab of the special song - the Kumbh Anthem, released by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism.

Less than two months from now, the Maha Kumbh will return to Haridwar, bringing with it a sea of pilgrims and enormous logistics challenges in the middle of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The last Maha Kumbh in Haridwar in 2010 was attended by 1.62 crore pilgrims according to estimates by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Officials have ruled out the possibility of the mega-event — which will begin on January 14 and continue until the end of April — being cancelled on account of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The Kumbh Mela in Haridwar takes place once every 12 years. In 2021 it’ll be taking place after 11 years, a phenomenon that is happening after 80 years. Of course, with the Covid-19 pandemic, the management of the Kumbh Mela is tricky, and we are planning according to the guidelines issued by the government,” Kumbh Mela Adhikari Deepak Rawat said.

According to Rawat, management of the crowds is being planned in accordance with social distancing norms, and will be enforced through surveillance by a network of CCTV cameras. A 1,000-bed prefabricated hospital is being put in place for Covid-19, and a separate, 50-bed hospital for other ailments and emergencies. The Uttarakhand government will acquire an adequate number of masks, he said.

The Kumbh Mela also presents a challenge in terms of controlling pollution in the Ganga, the responsibility for which is with the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) under the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti. The NMCG has worked on several large religious events around the Ganga over the past few years.

Since 2014 – when Haridwar had two sewage treatment plants (STPs) with a combined capacity to treat just 45 million litres/day (MLD) of sewage, and about 60 per cent of the 110 MLD of sewage was dumped untreated in the river – five new STPs have been built in the town. A large STP of 68 MLD capacity was inaugurated by the Prime Minister at Jagjitpur last month. The two older STPs have been repaired as well – and the total sewage treatment capacity is now up to 145 MLD.

“This will take care of the waste generated by the floating population of tourists and pilgrims. We have also linked the 20 nallas in Haridwar to the STPs. This capacity is likely to take care of the sewage treatment demand for the next 15 years, and we are in a very good position to handle the waste generated during the Kumbh Mela,” NMCG Director General Rajiv Ranjan Mishra said.

“We have also given Rs 85 crore to the state government for infrastructure development such as construction of toilets, acquisition of around 6,000 dustbins, employment of additional sanitary workers, and recruitment of volunteers for the Mela,” Mishra added.

Indian Oil Corporation has funded the upgradation of Har Ki Pauri, and a new, 1-kilometre-long ghat called Chandighat has been built near Haridwar. “Chandighat will take the pressure off the Haridwar ghats during Kumbh,” Mishra said.

As the central and state governments enter the home stretch of preparations, signs of beautification are visible in Haridwar. Chandighat has a 100-metre painting of a turtle, indigenous to the Ganga, by the renowned Mexican street artist Senkoe.

Mojarto, an art platform that was given the responsibility of implementing a public art project in Haridwar and Varanasi two years ago, has brought in, apart from Indian artists, street art practitioners from Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, France, and Nepal. Most of the paintings and murals are linked to Hindu mythology.

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