Kumbh Mela 2019: Heightened security arrangements put in place after intel agencies warn of terror threat

  • An Ardh Kumbh recurs every sixth year, while every 12th year is a Purna Kumbh.

  • There were only 85 CCTV cameras set up during the 2013 Maha Kumbh for surveillance.

  • A disaster management plan has been developed in consultation with experts.

Prayagraj: An Ardh Kumbh Mela that is spread on land and river area double the expanse of Maha Kumbh 2013 calls for heightened security measures. With invitations going out to 192 countries from the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister’s Office, the footfall at the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati during the 49-day fair is projected to go beyond 12.5 crore.

An Ardh Kumbh recurs every sixth year, while every 12th year is a Purna Kumbh. The Maha Kumbh recurs once in 144 years.

To manage this massive floating crowd at the temporary Mela district spread across 3,200 hectares (32 sq km), compared to 1,900 hectare-wide Mela area of 2013, an Integrated Command and Control Centre (ICCC) has been set up, which includes two command and control centres with four viewing centres and 20 video wall cubes, which are connected with 1,135 CCTV cameras installed at 268 locations.

To man the ICCC, 120 viewing operators and 30 call centre operators have been engaged. This integrated ICCC will help manage the crowd, maintain heightened surveillance and secure the area in case of any emergency.

There were only 85 CCTV cameras set up during the 2013 Maha Kumbh for surveillance.

 Kumbh Mela 2019: Heightened security arrangements put in place after intel agencies warn of terror threat

Representational image. PTI

This edition of the Mela has been secured with the deployment of several special forces like the National Security Guard (NSG), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), and the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), apart from more than 30,000 personnel of UP Police, 20 companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), 54 companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF), 10 companies of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and one of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), 6,000 Home Guards, 15 teams of dog squads and more than 20 companies of Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad and Anti-Sabotage squad, according to the Prayagraj Mela Authority.

The security arrangement in the 2013 Maha Kumbh involved 12,461 UP Police personnel, 46 companies of PAC, 40 companies of central paramilitary forces, and 30 police stations.

The Kumbh Mela district this year has been divided into four police lines, which incorporate 40 police stations, three female police stations and 62 police outposts, apart from 40 fire stations. Of the total budget of Rs 4,236 crore approved for the Ardh Kumbh 2019, Rs 84.8 crore had been allotted for construction, development and renovation work of police stations and hostels for the personnel.

As many as 40 watchtowers have been set up for surveillance and quick response teams (QRT) have been deployed to cover the entire expanse of the Mela area. Jal (water) police have also pressed three units in service while mounted police have been deployed to control and guide the crowd.

Anticipating a larger congregation of pilgrims and tourists this time, real-time video analytics will be used to manage the areas where crowd swells and 54 holding areas for crowd control have been set up. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system has also been introduced to track and trace vehicles entering the Mela district.

More than 2,000 digital signboards spread across the Mela area will inform people about traffic congestion, guide through various routes and warn of emergency situations.

Dial 100 service of UP Police will be available at all hours with a fleet of 50 four-wheeler vehicles and 200 two-wheeler vehicles. This is expected to bring the response time below five minutes in any case of emergency.

Terror alert

Intelligence sleuths, based on the interrogation of youths arrested in terror-related cases in the past, suspect that terrorists — either from the city or those with good knowledge of the topography of the city and that of the Mela area — will try to create disturbances during the Kumbh Mela. Acting on these inputs, the state government has involved the UP ATS, which has deployed two units of 54 commandos each to guard the Mela area. A mock drill at the tent city was conducted by the ATS commandos on 12 January.

Inspector General, UP ATS, Asim Kumar Arun, said, “In the interrogation conducted by the ATS, who earlier broke the modules of terrorists, it was revealed that terrorists are planning to attack large religious gatherings. Immediately after this, UP ATS started working in coordination with the NSG, UP Police and other security agencies. All preparations have been done, our highly-skilled ATS trained commandos are ready to face all challenges."

The IG added that apart from state of the art weapons, motorcycles have also been provided to the ATS and the Special Police Operation Teams (SPOT) for faster movement within the temporary district. A chopper will also be available for security agencies at the Mela area for use in an emergency.

Prepared for the worst

The Prayag Mela Authority also mentions that a disaster management plan has been developed in consultation with experts, State Disaster Management Authority and all departments working on Kumbh Mela 2019.

During the last Maha Kumbh Mela held in Allahabad in 2013, the lack of smart surveillance gadgets and other crowd management systems was certainly felt when on 10 February, 2013, the day of Mauni Amavasya, a stampede broke out at the Prayag railway station killing 42 people and injuring more than 45. The Mela Authority, in order to prevent such untoward incidents this time, have opted for digital signboards, and set up the ICCC to manage the crowd.

An estimated three crore people had visited the Mela district on Mauni Amavasya alone in 2013 and an equal footfall is expected on Mauni Amavasya this time as well.

Director General, UP Police, OP Singh, said every kind of technology is being used to make this Kumbh a success. “ATS has been deployed to prevent terrorism and crime incidents in the fair. The NSG has also been called. Their commandos would monitor the Kumbh Mela area from helicopter and work in collaboration with other agencies in the event of emergency,” he said.

Singh said that the security forces are equipped to handle any sort of emergency situation. “We should not forget that this time, Kumbh Mela area has been spread and policing has to be done across 3,200 hectares,” the DGP added.

The UP State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) has introduced more than 500 buses to bring pilgrims to the Mela district from the Prayagraj town and railway stations. Air connectivity to Prayagraj from various cities, including New Delhi, Kolkata, Nagpur, Bhopal, Dehradun, Indore, Bengaluru, Ahmadabad, and Lucknow has also been started after a new civil airport was developed at the Bamrauli Air Force Base earlier last year.

(Kamal Bhargava is a Meerut-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.)

Updated Date: Jan 16, 2019 22:26:00 IST