1. From Kumbh Mela to Ganesh Visarjan: When tech nets spirituality

From Kumbh Mela to Ganesh Visarjan: When tech nets spirituality

How some city authorities depend on a host of technologies—closed circuit cameras, drones, tracking devices—to maintain safety and security during mega holy gatherings

By: and | Updated: August 25, 2016 7:24 AM
There are other challenges around such holy events, like crowd control, availability of food, ensuring security, arranging housing and transportation, risk of epidemics, stampedes and deaths. (Source: IE) There are other challenges around such holy events, like crowd control, availability of food, ensuring security, arranging housing and transportation, risk of epidemics, stampedes and deaths. (Source: IE)

Kumbh Mela, Hajj pilgrimage, Sabarimala, Puri Rath Yatra, Amarnath Yatra, Ganesh Visarjan—these are among the world’s largest holy gatherings that attract millions of devotees every year.

They are also a nightmare for city administrations, challenging the city’s resources to effectively maintain safety and security. As per an estimate, around 3% children are lost during each Kumbh Mela. There are other challenges around such holy events, like crowd control, availability of food, ensuring security, arranging housing and transportation, risk of epidemics, stampedes and deaths.

Thankfully,authorities have started using modern technology (software solutions, closed circuit cameras, drones, geo-fencing, tracking devices) to maintain proper order, safety and security.
Here’s an example of how modern technology can make cities smart, safe and more secure during holy gatherings. Recently during the Simhastha Kumbh held in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, Honeywell, a US diversified industrial conglomerate implemented a city-wide installation of surveillance and emergency response technology in the city to support the Madhya Pradesh Police department work in crime prevention, traffic and crowd management. The Simhastha Kumbh is among the world’s largest holy gatherings that attracted approximately 70 million devotees this year, challenging the city’s resources to effectively maintain safety and security.

According to Honeywell officials, Ujjain’s city-wide surveillance project covered all major checking bays connected to the city with integrated closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) and automatic number plate reading cameras (ANPR) using a command and control centre, which integrates the emergency response and traffic management systems for the State police department. The cameras supporting ANPR technology recognised the number plates of suspicious vehicles against the police department’s pre-loaded data in the system, and helped in counting vehicles from various checking bays. Facial recognition cameras facilitated identification of people on the police department’s alert list against their pre-loaded images in the system.

Anvesh Manglam, additional director general, Madhya Pradesh Police told FE, “As part of the project, we installed 667 video cameras for the Simhastha Kumbh event at the Mahakaal Temple, and at 134 locations around the city. They covered traffic and crowd management at checking bays, ghats, temples, and ashrams.” In addition, the police used mobile surveillance by installing four cameras in certain vehicles. Manglam said, “We sent those vehicles to the locations which were not covered by fixed cameras. The footage received helped us analyse the situation of crowd strength, their movements and presence of vehicles on the ground.”

In this endeavour, Honeywell is not alone. In fact, technology has become a new normal for managing the large religious congregations like Kumbh Mela.  Last year, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed an application—Kumbhathon—for the devotees and authorities at the Nashik Kumbha Mela to access the facilities in a much faster and organised way. The mobile as well as desktop platform helped authorities and festival-goers to view and share data about festival food carts, traffic jams and the location of porta-potties or medical tents, giving users an up-to-date record of what was happening and where. Industrialist Ratan Tata was among those who backed this initiative of MIT Media Lab.

“The initiatives like these are an example of how technology can be used for making cities smarter, safer and more secure in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of creating 100 smart cities in the country,” said Priyanshu Singh, general manager of Honeywell Building Solutions in India.

When asked about the lessons learned from the project and what changes he would like to see next time, Manglam remarked: “Multiple technologies were used for the first time in the state and they did not have prior experience of handling technology at such a large scale, so he would like to give training to staff and design things in a better way in the future.”

In addition, the MP Police ADG said that senior officers are also needed to be sensitised about use of modern equipments and technology. “At times, we notice that we are able to train 100 people but senior officers who are supposed to allocate the job or take the policy decisions, do not understand the nitty-gritty of technology or equipments used in the projects and hence are not able to get best of the technology. If a senior officer is familiar with equipment used in a project, he could get the best of it.”

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  1. B
    Aug 25, 2016 at 10:08 am
    Use of technology during m gatherings is no doubt a step forward but it is still hyped as the organisers do not have a structured decision support system to collate and make sense of data to take decisions. Secondly, you cannot depend solely upon technology as technology is deceptive in the sense that there are w lot of issues like lighting, angles and terrains, shadow areas that determine the capacity to capture the images and disseminate them. these issues also impact the quality of feed. CCTV cameras are installed in a mechanical manner as if these are for street surveillance. so they do not help in estimating the crowd densities neither on real time basis nor offline. they also do not capture or tell us about spatial distance between the pedestrians to ess the risk of densities in crowd situations. Usefulness of Apps is also doubtful as data is never validated once the events goes off peacefully and nothing happens. despite all this hype and publicity of use of technology by a US University in one of the m gathering events, the events failed miserably in western indian state last year as police largely depends on crowd control measures rather than crowd management measures. CCTV cameras did not help crowd managers to sense that streets were empty there and handful of people turned up for the events but restrictions were excessive and never relaxed seeing empty streets. so having technology and not planning crowd management but crowd control is sure recipe for failure. Technology also fails to capture the mood and behaviour of the crowd, so much essential for good real time decisions to manage crowds. we still need to study the real usefulness of such technologies and especially when an event will fail inspite of presence of technology. so m gathering events do not require only technological solutions but something more as m gatherings are human issues and not technological alone but use of tech certainly can supplement the efforts but having sound decision making systems in place as such events are complex, dynamic and uncertain.
    1. P
      pooja choudhary
      Sep 23, 2016 at 7:11 am
      Simply brilliant! The use of tech during holy processions and large gatherings makes the best combined effort of manpower and technology. Absolutely a great thought and a brilliant piece of article by Md Ujaley and Sudhr Chowdhary
      1. Som Karamchetty
        Aug 26, 2016 at 7:04 pm
        There are good roles for RSS Swayamsevaks (volunteers) at such occasions. They should help pilgrims with information, provide essential supplies, crowd control, provide transport, prevent potential accident situations, safe keep pilgrim items, and operate the IT links and networks.

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