While Athi Varadar has been drawing lakhs of devotees from all parts of Tamil Nadu, lax crowd management and inadequate facilities have left the devout disappointed and authorities red-faced. News of poor planning causing inconvenience to devotees is spreading at lightning speed on social media.
It is shocking to know that the district administration and HR&CE department were not prepared for big crowds. It is said they had expected around 30,000-50,000 devotees/day while it is over 1 lakh/day now. With devotees waiting for 4-6 hours to get darshan of the Lord, it has become chaotic there.
Rewind to 2016 when Mahamaham, considered the kumbh mela of Tamil Nadu, was held in Kumbakonam. It was a well planned 10-day event with several lakhs of people taking a holy dip in the temple tank. The entire town was brought under enhanced surveillance and security personnel from armed police, home guards and the Tamil Nadu special police were deployed in various parts of the town. While a control room was temporarily established near the Mahamaham, the rest of the town was tracked 24/7 on monitors at the master control room. Several CCTV cameras installed at vantage points helped cops keep track of the movement of people in the town teeming with devotees. Doctors were available and medicines stocked to prevent outbreak of diseases. Elaborate security arrangements ensured there was no stampede.
Similarly, the 48-day Ardh Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj in January drew millions of pilgrims taking bath at the sacred confluence of Ganga, the Yamuna and mythical Saraswati. The Uttar Pradesh government had allocated over Rs 4,000 crore for the kumbh mela.
Back home, better arrangements could have been made for Athi Varadar darshan which happens once in 40 years.
Authorities can streamline slow-moving queues so that devotees do not feel exhausted or dehydraded. Devotees will heave a sigh of relief if they have
adequate drinking water and toilet facilities. Additional battery cars for senior citizens and pregnant women will assuage their concerns.
Volunteers including NCC cadets can be roped in and trained to manage the milling crowds. Free health camps may also be of a timely help. Besides, presence of VIPs may put pressure on authorities and is likely to compromise on measures to control growing crowds.
Only concerted efforts of district officials and cops along with devotees’ cooperation can make people take home vivid and warm memories of Athi Varadar darshan.