Boats are seen anchored at Sangam during a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, in Prayagraj.(PTI)
Boats are seen anchored at Sangam during a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, in Prayagraj.(PTI)

Cities after Covid-19: Will the Sangam city regain its vibrancy?

In an era of social distancing and mass sanitising, will the religious congregation of several crore in the annual Magh Mela, the six-yearly Ardh Kumbh or the grand 12-yearly Kumbh Mela be a reality now?
Hindustan Times, Lucknow | By Kenneth John | Posted by: Shankhyaneel Sarkar
PUBLISHED ON MAY 13, 2020 12:54 PM IST

The sandy banks of the Sangam, which witnessed over 240 million people bathe in its holy water early last year, today stands as a mute testimony to the Covid fear.

With the coronavirus fear gripping the entire world some questions haunting the Sangam city residents are: In an era of social distancing and mass sanitising, would the religious congregation of several crore in the annual Magh Mela, the six-yearly Ardh Kumbh or the grand 12-yearly Kumbh Mela be a reality now? Or how far could a virus distance the devotee from his/her beliefs and rituals?

The city has a complex mix of religion and tourism, which is gasping for breath, now.

Rajendra Paliwal, general secretary of Prayagwal Sabha, the official body of ‘teerth purohits’ in Prayagraj, said: “If the forthcoming Magh Mela, to be held in January-February 2021, is called off, it would be the first time in history to be cancelled. It would be a decision based on belief versus well being. Not even the mughals in their 500-year rule or British in their 100-year rule called it off,” he said.

According to Paliwal, a sixth generation ‘teerth purohit’, around 800 families, roughly having 10 members each, are dependent on ‘purohiti’, the act of guiding Hindu devotees in performing religious rituals.

“Every purohit family, during the annual fair, earn enough cash, and kind, from devotees to survive the whole year. ‘Pratishtha’ and ‘maryada’ are of utmost importance for a purohit, who despite hailing from a middle class background, would never beg. But the pandemic has spelled trouble never thought off. Purohits, after the mela, also visited houses of devotees, on their invitation, the rest of the year for collecting food grains from their fields. But this year, owning to the lockdown, they could not go visiting,” he added.

The annual mela also spells economic boom for sectors like food and hospitality too. According to Joginder Singh, president of Prayagraj Hotel and Restaurant Association, over 100 hotels exist in city limits, which on a monthly basis, owing to the lockdown, were losing of Rs 1,000 million (Rs 100 crore).

“The future of hotels for at least the next one year is bleak. The corona pandemic has spelled doom for the hotel industry. The Magh Mela meant business for hospitality sector in the city. But now the fear of the pandemic will continue to cast its affect on our cash registers,” he added.

Similarly, the tourism industry will be at receiving end post lockdown owing to the pandemic.

Tourism department officials said Prayagraj received the maximum ever of over 280 million tourists in 2019, including the 240 million tourists who participated in the mela. The Kumbh crowd comprised of 23,94,70,000 Indian tourists besides 10,30,000 foreign tourists.

The official graph of tourist footfall in the past five years in Prayagraj had recorded a steady rise. For example in 2015, around 41 million tourists visited Sangam city which swelled to around 42 million in 2016. In 2017, nearly 42 million tourists arrived in Prayagraj while in 2018 the figures increased to over 45 million. The figure significantly swelled to over 285 million in 2019.

A senior UP Tourism department official, who did not want to be named, said the pandemic will hurt the tourism industry like nothing before. “Prayagraj is one of the major revenue earners for the state as far as tourism is concerned. But sadly, no one can help as far as revival of tourism in state post lockdown is concerned as the lurking corona fear will kill even a bleak chance of revival of tourism,” he added.

President of UP chapter of Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), Mahendra Kumar Goyal, claimed

financial loss suffered by businesses during lockdown was a staggering Rs 60,000 million.

“The whopping financial loss includes Rs 2,750 million of hotel industry, Rs 6,500 million of shops selling clothes, shoes etc, Rs 10,000 million each of FMCG and transport sectors, Rs 3,000 million of electronics and electrical good, Rs 170 million of shops selling laptops and mobiles etc, Rs 17,000 million of jewellery shops, Rs 8,000 million of automobile and spare part dealers, Rs 9,000 million of shops selling building construction material etc.

“Also, around 4 lakh residents engaged in different sectors are also at the receiving end as most of them have lost their jobs,” he added.

Prof GC Tripathi of department of economics, Allahabad University, said: “The government will have to initiate well-planned short and long term approach to bring the economy on track. Under short term measures, the government will have to ensure availability of essentials to all, specially the migrants and low income group people. Likewise, under the long term measures establishing of small cottage industries and business ventures to re-establish displaced rural masses should be a priority.”

As per the economist, post lockdown every economy, both developed and developing, would adopt

protective measures to deal with any such pandemic-like situation in future.

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