The temple towns of Kumbh are acting as breeding grounds for urban entrepreneurs who are providing frugal solutions for transportation, safety, civic amenities, emergency services and automating local business. As our urban centres incubate new ideas, technology is set to change the thinking on sustainable urban development across India.
The collective business worth of last three Kumbh Melas at Allahabad (2013), Nashik (2015) and Ujjain (2016) was around Rs. 33,000 crore ($5.5 billion USD) and involved planning to receive some 220 million visitors. Kumbh is attracting more visitors each year, and they come with expectations of improved services. The mela, a 2000-year-old human conglomeration of spirituality, is spearheading the use of technology to plan and execute what is a mammoth logistical task.
Entrepreneurs, innovators and technocrats are working with mela managers to devise and test new solutions to persistent problems, raising the bar for safety at these huge events and enhancing the visitor experience.
Technological innovation has proved particularly effective in better and more safely managing the gargantuan mela crowds which pour in during the month-long festival, with higher turnouts during auspicious bathing dates.
The locations and vast crowds need to be managed carefully during the event to avoid stampedes. Police surveillance in both the Ujjain and Nashik mela events made extensive use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) and centralised public announcement systems connected to loudspeakers installed across the city. Biometric attendance systems scrutinised access to mela personnel and uninterrupted video conferencing kept them connected with intra- and inter-city management teams. Satellite towns erected on approach roads towards mela cities tracked vehicle congestion through cameras and reported back to control rooms.
The Nashik and Ujjain experiences demonstrate how modern technologies have contributed significantly to enhancing crowd management, extending better civic services and improving preparedness in the continuously expanding Kumbh festivals. While the public sector is usually slow to adopt new trends, Kumbh managers have turned out to be fast learners and impressive implementers. They are quickly embracing technology to improve citizen experience.
It is an experience that should now be extended to other urban centres. Cities can pick locally developed low-cost technology-based solutions that can be easily scaled up as more users connect to a system or make use of an app. Crowdsourcing ideas for technology-based solutions appears promising in gauging interest levels of the private sector, civil society and innovators.
In a recent survey, India reported one of the highest levels of respondents who own a non-smartphone cellphone at 61 per cent. While smartphone ownership is low at 17 per cent, it is expected that a growing trend towards low-cost smart phones will bring critical mass to the sector and create more users. Customised apps, cloud telephony, cashless transactions, biometric systems, GIS mapping, transport surveillance and a range of other solutions at Kumbh can provide valuable fodder for city managers looking to progress ideas that make their cities smarter.