A river and its devotees

Published : Sep 10, 2004 00:00 IST

Vijayawada is all set to host the lakhs of devotees who would come to attend the 12-day Krishna Pushkaram.

in Vijayawada

THE commencement of the Krishna Pushkaram on August 28 has come as a blessing to the Vijayawada-Guntur-Tenali-Mangalagiri Urban Development Authority, which has initiated a series of infrastructure development works with long-term benefits apart from temporary measures to prevent inconvenience to the pilgrims who would throng Vijayawada city during the 12-day period. The UDA has started the construction of permanent assets such as a flyover, with a budget of Rs.14 crores, and a sewage treatment plant at Bhavanipuram, which is expected to cost about Rs.26 lakhs. Work has begun on improving roads within and outside the city as well as the approach roads from interior villages, and also on sprucing up the city.

Several committees headed by senior officials such as the District Collector, the Municipal Commissioner and the UDA Vice-Chairman have been set up to supervise work relating to transport and communications, accommodation, bathing ghats, roads, drainage, finance, hotel and price control, health, water supply and sanitation, bandobust, power supply, information and public relations and exhibitions and cultural programmes. The officials are working overtime to see that these are completed on time. Several works, including the setting up of Pushkar Nagars at six places in and around Vijayawada, have been taken up at an estimated cost of Rs.50 lakhs. Expected to accommodate at least 5,000 people a day, each Pushkar Nagar will have stalls, a medical camp, a kitchen, toilets and water facilities.

According to the plans prepared by the authorities, which have been approved by the State government, 95 bathing ghats are being built at all important locations in Krishna and Guntur districts, which will be the nucleus around which other facilities will be organised. Dharma Prachar organisations and other non-governmental organisations will contribute food and other services. A senior officer of the rank of Special Deputy Collector will be in charge of the bathing ghats and redress grievances. It is expected that on an average, one lakh food packets and over three lakh water sachets will be consumed by the pilgrims every day. Over 50 voluntary organisations and social service institutions have come forward to provide food packets and also milk packets for children.

The bathing ghats and other important points will be monitored through closed-circuit television cameras placed at 40 strategic locations. A central control room has been set up at the UDA office to monitor the proceedings round the clock. Wireless sets are being provided at more than 40 locations to enable the staff to keep in constant touch with senior officials. An elaborate traffic management plan has been drafted to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic. The entire premises will be barricaded to avoid overcrowding at any location and to ensure the easy movement of the pilgrims at the bathing ghats.

The UDA has organised priests to perform the traditional pujas, and identification cards have been issued to them. The authorities have also ensured that pilgrims are not made to pay exorbitant amounts to the priests to conduct rituals.

"Of the more than three crore people expected to take a holy dip all along the Krishna river, we anticipate at least 1.5 crore to throng Vijayawada during the event," said UDA Vice-Chairman and Managing Director V.N. Vishnu, who is heading a special Pushkar cell to monitor the works aimed at providing basic amenities to devotees. The cell will closely coordinate with different departments to take up these works. The cell is also equipped with a call centre, sponsored by Airtel, which will have information pertaining to all the facilities provided.

The entire area falling under the jurisdiction of the UDA has been divided into 12 administrative zones that will be manned by senior officers, assisted by multi-disciplinary teams drawn from various departments, including police and medical personnel. Information centres have been set up at all the bathing ghats to disseminate information pertaining to places of religious and historical importance in Krishna district. The State Road Transport Corporation is operating over 2,200 buses exclusively for the event and has already announced several tourist packages. The UDA has also received 377 applications to conduct cultural programmes such as classical dance and dramas.

EVEN as all these preparations are on, the falling water level in the Krishna is giving anxious moments to the government. Although the inflows into the river have been satisfactory so far, officials are making contingency arrangements to ensure that the pilgrims are not disappointed.

Officials are planning to set up showers at some places and dig a pilot channel to divert water from the riverbed to the bathing ghats. Official records say that a similar pumping arrangement was made during the Pushkarams at Vijayawada in 1896. With large numbers of crocodiles and alligators in the overflowing river threatening to hamper the spirit of the event, the British administration used heavy motors to pump the river water on to the banks to enable pilgrims to take a holy bath, if not a dip in the river.

Aquatic beasts are no longer the problem now; it is the non-availability of water in the river that is haunting the officials, thanks to the reservoirs and dams that have come up across the river. As long as the inflows into the upper reaches of the Krishna at Srisailam and Nagarjunasagar continue at the present rate, there should be no cause for concern. "As long as there is sufficient water, there will be no problem. But what if the inflows stop? We are therefore making alternative arrangements in the interest of the pilgrims," said an Irrigation Department official.

The works on setting up the showers are not without allegations of misuse of funds and the favouring of select contractors. But these remain submerged in the popular enthusiasm.

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