“Sob Tirtha bar bar, GangaSagar ekbar” (All pilgrimage can be done more than once but it would be enough to visit Ganga Sagar once in a lifetime) goes the saying primarily to indicate the kind of trouble one had to take to visit Ganga Sagar, which is around 130kms from Kolkata. Now things have however improved phenomenally as the pilgrims can now reach the holy shrine Kapil Muni Ashram without much hardship. Travel to the holy place used to be a nightmare until some years back when the pilgrims had to walk all the way to the otherwise secluded place close to the Bay of Bengal.
The origin of the Holy Shrine has a long history from the bygone era which speaks volumes about the existence of the Kapil Muni Ashram and the Holy Ganga reaching the Ashram site crossing a number of states including Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal finally reaching close to the Bay of Bengal. Lakhs of pilgrims from all over the country, cutting across their age barriers, visit the Sagar Island, in the Kakdwip sub-division of the South 24 Parganas, seeking to get the blessings from the Holy Dip at the point where Ganga mingled with the Sea on the auspicious Makar Sankranti day. The island is surrounded by the Holy Ganga on the west, Baratala or Channel Creek on the east and the Bay of Bengal on the southern side while the northern side is known as the mud point.
South 24 Parganas Superintendent of Police Sunil Kumar Choudhary said “Elaborate police arrangement had been made to manage the lakhs of people from different parts of the country and abroad. Police personnel from all over West Bengal were deployed to ensure everything remained under control as the event is virtually next only to the Kumbh Mela on participation scale. More than 5,000 police personnel and 4,000 home guards and civic volunteers were pressed into service for tackling the number of people who arrive almost 6-7 days prior to the actual time of taking the Holy Dip at the confluence of the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. Actual preparation for the massive police arrangement for the Ganga Sagar mela starts almost immediately after the Durga Puja celebration.”
He added “Police did not take any chance and took up all possible measures to ensure safety and security of the lakhs of pilgrims. The entire area was divided into 12 sectors for better coordination and management.” Altogether 15 police launches and five intercepting boats were pressed into service to ensure safe movement of the pilgrims, and also for patrolling the sea water to prevent any unforeseen cameras and 36 watch towers were installed for surveillance of the entire region from Lot no 8 to Kachuberia and further on the way at various locations to the mela site. For aerial survey, a drone was also utilised to take note of the overall situation of the area. At the ground level, plain clothed officers of the anti-crime patrol party were pressed into service in 16 groups to prevent cases of theft, snatching and other crimes which normally take place where large number of people assemble. Eight criminals of a snatcher gang from UP had also been arrested after reports of snatching and stealing were coming in during the Ganga Sagar Coastal police station had set up a camp at the mela site to carry out night patrols and apprehend criminals. People lodged their complaints and grievances there which were looked into.
Lady Constables were posted in certain areas where women visitors could manage their affairs smoothly. Apart from the main control room, five separate control rooms were formed to ensure full-proof arrangement for safety and security. They had ensured that crime; more particularly against the women do not occur during the journey to the mela ground.
The SP also said that alternative communication arrangements were made to ensure that there was no blockade or interruptions in case their handheld radio sets and manpacks did not receive signals. He said one helicopter was kept at standby for emergency rescue operations.
The annual event is so important for t he aut horit ies in t he South 24 Parganas district that it had sent its advance party of the officials for the Ganga Sagar Mela as early as January 2nd to make full proof arrangements for holding the 7-days mela, which started on 10th January, in connection with Makar Sankranti festival. The district authorities also made necessary arrangements for the mela as lakhs of pilgrims from faraway places of the country reached the Sagar Island to be part of this historic event.
The congregation on the island especially at the beach and the Kapil Muni Ashram reaches its peak from 10 January which continues till the 16th of the month. However, maximum crowd accumulates on the 14 January when the auspicious Makar Sankranti is generally observed. Authorities have made special arrangements for the pilgrims to reach Ganga Sagar and back by buses and trains to ensure that their journey remains smooth. Exact fare structure for their journey was also displayed to prevent any attempt to extract more money from the visiting pilgrims.
Elaborate police arrangements were made to ensure law and order situation in the area. Close Circuit TV cameras were placed at all the vantage points at different sectors of the Temple, Beach and Exit points, besides in all other strategic areas to monitor the event on all the mela days. Extensive anti-crime drives were organised throughout the area for a trouble-free event. Several control rooms were set up in different places like Bishnupur, Diamond Harbour, Kakdwip, Namkhana, and Sagar Main bus stand, besides the main control room at the mela ground under the charge of an Additional Superintendent of Police to make everything smooth.
Abhijit Chatterjee & Anirban Saha