The idea of the Kumbh as a pop-up city has gained traction over the years. For architects and planners, the world’s largest gathering of pilgrims, held every four years, is not just a symbol of an eternally religious India but a logistical challenge, involving mindboggling numbers, and one that demands planning and foresight from those in charge of the administration. How does one make this temporary city livable? How does one stem its chaos? How does one map its ebb and flow of people?
Fifteen-year-old Nilay Kulkarni’s answer was simple: it involved an electronic rubber mat which he proposed should be placed at the exits of the ongoing Nashik Kumbh to measure footfall.
“We placed a footmat on one of the exits during Shahi Snan on August 29 — connected to a Bluetooth-enabled communication box — and counted 79,000 footsteps. On the second Shahi Snan, mats were placed on all the five exit points and we counted 5.21 lakh footsteps. The real-time data can be seen even on your mobile if you download the app through a link provided on the Kumbhathon website,” says the student from MS Kothari Academy in Nashik. He is the youngest member of a team of 150 innovators of Kumbhathon, a platform that seeks to find technological solutions to the challenge of making the Kumbh chaos-proof. Kulkarni, for instance believes that his device, Ashioto, can also be scaled up to predict a stampede and alert. The crowd flow in any region can be seen by the authorities simply by visiting a website. For an on-field police officer placing barricades to limit the crowd flow, for instance, that information available on his mobile phone can prove invaluable.
The seed for this initiative was sown by Sachin Pachorkar, a management professor at a local college, who is one of the founders of the Kumbha Foundation, a non-profit that organised these Kumbhathon camps in association with MIT. During the Allahabad Kumbh in 2013, he followed its coverage in newspapers and on TV and realised that when Nashik’s turn came, the fair could be used to encourage innovation by crowdsourcing ideas from the people. “I felt that the Kumbh offered the ideal platform for government, innovators, corporates, and citizens to come together and contribute towards improving the city as various challenges are bound to emerge relating to health, infrastructure, transportation, where innovative thinking and solutions are required,” says Pachorkar.
Soon, MIT professor Ramesh Raskar, who heads the camera culture research group there was involved. In collaboration with experts from several research centers at the MIT Media Lab, young innovators had an opportunity to work closely with corporate executives, academics and government officials at Kumbh. The team received around 850 pitches from different engineering colleges in and around Nashik. Around 150 innovators were selected for the first innovation camp.
On August 29 and September 13, the days of the first Shahi Snan, as people made their way to the holy ghats, the team of innovators were tracking crowd movement and medical emergencies from positions on the ground as well as the control centre at City Center Mall ballroom in Nashik. On that day, around 22 lakh people visited Nashik while in Trimbakeshwar, the number stood at 5-6 lakh according to the collector’s office. “At the end of Kumbh, our aim is definitely to take our innovation and use it to help make Nashik a smart city, by using the innovations that have been conceived and put to the test during the Kumbh,” said Sandip Shinde, CEO of Kumbh Foundation.
One of the ideas that took shape was on controlling the spread of epidemics with the use of technology. “This led to creation of Epimetrics, an app which helps in tracking and predicting outbreaks to enable timely intervention. During the last few months, we have observed a high number of cases of malaria through the app in some areas, and most recently diarrhoea ,” Shinde said. How does the app work? Pharmacists at pop-up medical centers and hospitals make entries into mobile phones about symptoms of patients and the app collates real-time data that can indicate if an outbreak is to be expected and where.
The crowd steering team which studied the increasing density of crowd across Nashik also threw up some very interesting facts. “While we had expected maximum density around Ramkund and Panchwati (the main areas where pilgrims flock to in Nashik) between 12-6 am on August 29, we got the maximum density on the outskirts of the city as the internal traffic was moving there. The local residents knew which roads were open and must have taken that route. This will help in better planning the next Shahi Snan as the authorities will know where to divert more resources to ensure better crowd management,” Shinde said.
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