ALLAHABAD, INDIA, March 1,2013 (Washington Post): -- Onno Ruhl, head of the World Bank in India, calls it "an incredible logistical operation." Harvard researchers describe it as "a pop-up megacity". On the sandbanks of the Ganges River at Allahabad, bureaucrats and workers from Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and one of its poorest, took less than three months to build a tent city for 2 million people -- complete with hard roads, toilets, running water, electricity, food shops, garbage collection and well-manned police stations.
Organizers do much the same every three years - although on a particularly large scale every 12 years, as in 2013 - for the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu festival celebrated in turn at four different locations in India.
Apart from a Feb. 10 stampede at the nearby Allahabad railway station in which 36 people were killed, the Kumbh Mela itself has so far gone smoothly. Fresh water comes out of the taps. Toilets are disinfected. Trained police carefully shepherd the crowds to the bathing ghats. The lights come on at night.
In the minds of both Indians and foreigners, this raises important questions: How? Why? Or, if the authorities can build infrastructure so efficiently for this short but very large festival and its instant city, why can they not do the same for permanent villages and towns?
The World Bank's Ruhl, who was moved to bathe in the Ganges himself when he visited the Kumbh Mela this year, says the city on the sandbanks, soon to be dismantled before the river floods, "has water, sanitation, power, solid waste management, everything, actually, that many Indian cities lack".
"To somebody who does projects, it's like a mega-refugee camp that came up overnight and gets sustained and managed for two months with people filtering [in and out] at a rate of millions a day. I've never seen anything like it in my life. It's managed by the UP [Uttar Pradesh] government. If somehow we could translate that capacity to day-to-day business, you could transform UP. It's a really powerful thought."
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