Think Kumbh Mela, and thanks to Bollywood films from the ‘60s and ‘70s, the first thing that comes to mind is missing kids or separated twins. So, it’s a matter of great pride for the local authorities that this year, every single person who has gone missing so far, has been reunited with their family or friends.
Devotees at the second ‘Shahi Snan’ in Nashik on September 13. Pic/Getty Images
Apart from technology such as CCTV cameras, public announcement (PA) systems and mobile apps, the authorities deployed 24,000 policemen across Nashik and Trimbakeshwar to ensure minimum chaos.
Since August 26 this year, around 80 lakh people have taken part in the five Shahi Snans (holy baths) at Nashik and Trimbakeshwar. Pic/PTI
But managing the mass of pilgrims would have been near impossible even for the cops had they not been assisted by 160 volunteers, who made announcements for missing persons in 16 languages to ensure that no matter where they hailed from, their families would understand the message.
It was thanks to these concerted efforts that even though 1,553 people went missing in Nashik and 855 in Trimbakeshwar, all of them were eventually found. Sources said that six families had not returned to confirm to the police whether they had found the missing persons, but since they did not complain again, they are also assumed to have been reunited.
NGOs such as Bharat Bharati started a control room to monitor the crowds and keep an eye out for missing persons. Since the first Shahi Snan (holy bath) on August 26, the NGO received 4,000 calls on their helpline, thanks to the wide publicity it had received through Nashik Police’s posters and banners.
The same NGO posted 160 volunteers versed in 16 different languages, making it easy for the police to communicate with pilgrims who come from all over the country. “Most of the people that had come were from the north or south, or from Gujarat, but the police only knew two languages — Hindi and Marathi.
Our volunteers knew 16 languages like Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Gujarati, etc. If somebody went missing, announcements were made along the whole route in the language the person could understand. Thanks to this, we were able to help the police trace many people,” said Pradeep Peskar, a member of Bharat Bharati.
“We used an app developed by TCS called GGTalk, with the help of which we could share pictures of the missing persons with the volunteers. We managed to locate two people that way. Some of our apps also helped the police to monitor the actual number of people visiting the temples.
We managed to calculate the numbers by monitoring cell phone pings on mobile towers. At the temples, we also put an electronic pad near the stairs to count the footfall,” said Sandeep Shinde, CEO at MIT Kumbathon, an annual gathering that comes up with innovations to help Kumbh Mela organisers.
The language skills of the volunteers came as great relief to 55-year-old Jayanti Padhi, who got separated from her group but could not communicate with anyone since she only spoke Odia. Fortunately, a volunteer came to the rescue and made an announcement in her language, helping her to find her group again.
In another case, volunteers spotted a 3-year-old boy from Buldhana alone in the throng. He wasn’t able to give the volunteers any details, so they led him to a raised platform along the route to the kund, and simply held him high, until his parents spotted him
Another woman, Mata Rani, had come from Madhya Pradesh and went missing near Ramkund in Nashik. While she was looking for her friends, they began a search for in another section of the crowd. She approached the volunteers and asked them to make an announcement, which is how her friends finally located her.
24,000 cops deployed
Sachin Gore, assistant commissioner of police at the Nashik Crime Branch, said, “We managed to locate most of their families. We had proper route planning; around 17,000 policemen were deployed at various locations and public announcements were made along the whole route for anyone who had gone missing.”
“We treated it as seva (service) and made sure that nothing went wrong. Around 7,000 cops were posted in Trimbakeshwar and college students also volunteered. CCTV cameras helped us keep an eye on everything, so if somebody went missing, we could check the CCTV footage to see where he or she went,” said Sanjay Mohite, superintendent, Nasik Rural Police.
2,408: The number of people who went missing, all of whom were later reunited
498: Number of CCTV cameras along the route to the kunds
16: The number of languages that announcements were made in for missing persons
80 lakh: Number of people who took part in the Shahi Snan
4,450: Number of loudspeakers
160: Number of volunteers
(Figures are for Nashik and Trimbakeshwar)