The world’s biggest religious bathing festival-- Kumbh-- has started in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers, all considered holy by the Hindus. A large number of devotees have also started pouring in to take a dip in the river, but are returning disappointed due to the lack of facilities at the huge ground in Prayagraj, earlier known as Allahabad.
To make this religious event successful, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of Uttar Pradesh is spending Rs 4,236 crore on different schemes, upgradation of facilities and makeshift arrangements at the ground which includes rain basera (night stay tents) and toilets.
The first Shahi Snan or Royal Bath was held in Prayagraj’s sangam (where the rivers converge) on January 15 last and over 2.5 crore people from different parts of the country and world thronged the river banks on that day but a majority were disappointed with the lack of basic facilities at the mela ground.
Rosa L Mark, 25, who came from the United State here to witness this gathering, says she was really excited about attending this event but the government seems to have taken this festival for granted, as there are hardly any facilities at the mela ground and there is no one for complaint redressal.
“I came here along with few of my friends. We booked a tent, but guess what? There was no water in the toilet during the day time. The water came next day in the morning. The person, who was more or less a caretaker of the tent, kept assuring us that water supply will start soon, but was also left embarrassed when a senior officer insulted him in front of us. He finally gave us two bottles of water which he had stocked for himself,” she says.
Rosa, who is a Lord Shiva devotee, further complains that she went to take a bath in the river the very next day at 6 o'clock in the morning, but to her disappointment she did not find any place to change her clothes.
“After taking bath, I did not find even a temporary arrangement for changing clothes. I am a regular flyer to India and have seen ghats with this facility in Varanasi, but here the officers and the government seems to have done nothing. Thankfully, there was a bunch of good Indians who helped us by making a small circle,” says Rosa.
”I understand that this is a very big occasion and making arrangements for everything is not possible but one should have thought about women, elderly persons and kids,” she adds.
Lalit Verma, 29, an engineer who took a bus from Lucknow to reach sangam, says that his bus was stopped eight kilometers ahead of the venue and there was no shuttle service operating early in the morning.
“I had to walk more than five kilometers and my energy was drained off even before reaching the venue. I hitch-hiked and reached the venue, but the bigger problem was yet to come as none of the toilets installed there were useable. There was no cleaning staff, some of the toilets had no seats and some were too dirty (messy) to be used. So, I had to go back five kilometers to Civil Lines just to access a good toilet,” he says, adding that he was lucky enough to find a shuttle bus service during the day time.
SDM Kumbh, Rajeev Rai, when asked about the problems that devotees are facing, said that corrective measures were being taken and within two or three days everything would be sorted out.
“I accept that there were some loopholes in the facilities on the first Royal Bath and we have immediately started acting on it. We are even contemplating to change the contractors of toilets and other services. The transport department has also been directed to run the buses during night for the facility of devotees coming to attend this event,” he said.
It may be noted that the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government and the Kumbh Mela authority claim that they have installed more than 1.22 lakh toilets at the temporary tent city and have spent an elephantine budget on it.