Devotees from across India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh took a dip at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal.
Photographs: PTI Photo.
With prayers on their lips, nearly 20 lakh devotees from across the country as well as from neighbouring Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh jostled for space since early hours today to take a dip in the holy water at Ganga Sagar, also known as ‘Sagardwip’.
Every year, on Makar Sankranti day, an ocean of pilgrims gather here to take a dip at the confluence of the River Ganga and the Bay of Bengal and offer prayers in the Kapil Muni Temple.
“Last year, around 15 lakh pilgrims had visited the Ganga Sagar. This year already we have crossed that mark and nearly 20 lakh people are here. We have made all arrangements for them so that they can have a memorable outing here,” South 24 Parganas district magistrate Y Ratnakara Rao told PTI.
A thick blanket of security cover was arranged for the day.
The West Bengal government installed 500 CCTV cameras along the over 100 km route from Babughat in Kolkata to the Sagar Island, deployed around 3,000 policemen and pressed into service seven security drones as part of its security coverage.
For the first time, the state government equipped its officials with satellite phones to ensure uninterrupted connectivity during the Mela. “These satellite phones will ensure that communication is not hampered even if there is an earthquake or a tsunami, among other things,” another senior official of the state government told PTI, adding that 16 satellite phones have been given to officers on duty at critical locations.
The West Bengal government also introduced the Sagar Sanjog Scheme, for providing real-time information regarding the movement of transport facilities for people and vehicles too.
The state disaster management department made arrangements to get live feed from the mela area to help effectively monitor the proceedings.
A real-time monitoring system, the Tirtha Sathi, was used to allow senior administrative and police officers “to watch live footage of all transit and other crucial points, relayed via CCTV cameras, on their mobile phones,” Rao said.
Apart from this, two battalions of the NDRF were deployed at Ganga Sagar with NDRF boats and deep divers patrolling round-the-clock. The Coast Guard and the marine police were deployed too.
“This year, a total of 85 personnel of 2 BN NDRF are deployed at three different places. One team is deployed at Lot 8, one deployed at Kachuberia and one at Sagar. Each team is well equipped with inflatable boats, deep diving sets, deep divers and flood rescue equipment,” battalion commandant Nishith Upadhyay said in a statement.
For the pilgrims, 60 giant LED screens were placed at different points for updates about the timings and tariffs of trains, buses and ferries, tide timings as well as safety precautions. The information was provided in three languages — Bengali, Hindi and English.
Elaborating on the arrangements, Rao said the carrying capacity of barges plying from Lot 8 on the mainland to Kachuberia at the Sagar Island was doubled this year.
Meanwhile, the Shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, who was there for the Makar Sankranti celebrations, backed West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s demand that the annual Ganga Sagar Mela be treated on par with the famous Kumbh Mela: “I thank and welcome the demand of West Bengal chief minister”.
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