How Project Management was done by the Government
(A case of Perfect mix of Planning, Team Work and Committement)
This case is a reflection of how the India’s biggest Hindu Festival “Kumbh Mela” is Planned, Managed, & Executed, which has risk fact scale to be very high.
About Kumbh Mela
The Kumbh Mela, world’s largest Hindu spiritual festival, occurs once every 12 years, rotating among four locations in India. In 2010, the Kumbh Mela was held in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, from 1 January to 30 April. Hindus from all over the world came for a holy dip in the divine Ganga. In the span of four months, about 82.8 million pilgrims visited Haridwar. Out of this, more than 16 million came in for a dip on the holiest day of the Kumbh Parv, that is, 14 April.
Tucked in the foothills of the Himalayas, Haridwar was a challenging place for the authorities to host tens of millions of people, particularly because Uttarakhand is a newly formed state in India. The organizing committee had to surmount innumerable challenges such as manpower shortage, lack of technically equipped personnel, a small police force, weak ﬁnancial strength, and many more. But with certain basic project management principles in place, dedication, and commitment, the 2010 Kumbh Mela turned out to be one of the most successful ones since the mela tradition began.
Mr. Anand Bardhan, chief mela ofﬁcer, Government of Uttarakhand says, “Not a single infrastructure resource, human resource, ﬁnancial resource, or administrative work like maintenance of law and order or crowd management or security coverage was in place. The ﬁrst project management task before us was to identify people who would form the managing committee. Once the team was selected, they had to sit down to identify and enumerate the different challenges that would arise in the execution of the project.”
Project Management Challenges
To begin with, the committee had to get all government approvals and sanctions. Initially, the government had outlaid a sum of Rs. 100 crore for infrastructure development which was to be paid in three installments starting from the ﬁnancial year 2007–08. However, this amount was found to be grossly inadequate to create the infrastructure and services required for the Kumbh. The committee had to approach the Planning Commission of India (PCI) for additional resources. The central government granted Rs. 350 crore. By the end, about Rs. 550 crore was spent on the Kumbh.
Once the budget was released, the team started its work. The ﬁrst challenge was to create permanent infrastructure and services/facilities in a cost-effective and time-bound manner. Services such as bathing ghats (riverbanks), parking lots, bus stands, roads, bridges, medical facilities, sanitation, drinking water, and electricity had to be put in place. Huge coordination efforts were needed as the number of agencies involved was large and multifarious. In addition to state government agencies, police forces from the neighboring states, the Indian army, Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Central Paramilitary Force were involved.
Additionally, the capacity of the main roads, for example, National Highway 58 that leads to Haridwar, had to be increased and connectivity improved by constructing new bridges. The parking space all around the town had to be increased substantially to accommodate at least one laky vehicle. Temporary camping areas for religious and social organizations had to be enlarged from about 100 hectares to at least 150 hectares. The capacity to run shuttle trains with towns like Motichur and Rishikesh had to be suitably enhanced.
The second challenge that the mela committee faced was to ensure the safety and security of such a large number of people. Terrorist threats made it mandatory to secure the railways, hospitals, buses, and the entire Kumbh area, which was a tough task. The mela authorities had to ensure security as much to the common pilgrim as to numerous VIPs and religious leaders who would visit Haridwar during this period. In addition, it was important to ensure all religious activities performed by the various akharas (religious groups) during the period of the mela proceeded peacefully. Akharas have a history of rivalry among one another and a small incident could spark off an altercation.
The tasks before the mela committee were numerous: keeping the processions orderly, maintaining cleanliness, providing water, ambulances, security, ensuring regular communication with the control room and maintenance of sequence and timings of the simultaneous religious events. Moreover, it was crucial to ensure that the pilgrims and public would not come in the way of the processions that the various religious groups organize. On a regular day, the main streets of Haridwar are crowded. Particularly, Haridwar being an old and congested town with age-old infrastructure, the execution of permanent infrastructure works was difficult and required many coordination efforts. It involved cajoling the different departments while managing the public who faced many inconveniences, especially during the laying of water and sewage pipelines.
Apart from all these challenges, the committee needed to manage the interests of all the mela stakeholders: the rival groups of sadhus (holy men) and akharas, local traders, the municipal authorities, volunteers, security forces, purohits (priests), government officials, etc. The mela being a deeply religious and sensitive event, the committee had to keep in mind each group’s religious sentiments and keep their cool even during adverse conditions. It meant withstanding mental and physical stress and ensuring that every individual in the various teams worked towards the common goal of a peaceful and smooth Kumbh.
Major activities/attractions during the Kumbh Mela:
• Shahi Snans – On the most auspicious days, the 13 akharas go in a procession with splendor and pomp to bathe at the bathing areas. In the 2010 mela, there were four shahi snans.
Peshwais – Peshwais are the second most important activity at the mela. It is the royal procession of the sadhus and marks the arrival of the members of an akhara at the mela venue. Peshwais mark the actual beginning of the Kumbh.
• Dharmdhwaja – When the akharas establish their camps, they erect dharmdhwajas which remain there until the end of the Kumbh.
• Bathing on auspicious days and watching the shahi snans by all pilgrims.
• Religious discourses by saints and religious leaders.
Strategies Adopted to Overcome Challenges
Led by Mr. Bardhan, the team adopted the following project management strategies:
• A PERT chart of all activities (big or small) related to the Kumbh was prepared and progress monitored accordingly.
• Initially, monthly staff meetings were held in which all departments were represented to monitor the progress of ongoing schemes and plans and resolved inter-departmental issues. As the time passed, such meetings became fortnightly, weekly, and then daily just before and during the mela.
• Meetings and interactions with various stakeholders were a regular feature during the entire period. Among these stakeholders were 13 akharas, traders, Ganga Sabha or the people’s committee established in 1916 as the guardian of the river, and formal and informal committees.
• On an average, the mela committee members made at least three visits a week to Dehradun, the state capital. For each visit, a department-wise list of issues pending at the government level was prepared. For any issue that did not get resolved, committee members had access to the secretary of the department concerned, the highest-level executive for that department, during the visit.
• Regular communication through mobile phones and wireless sets was maintained among the control room, officers-in-charge of religious processions and senior officers.
• In each sector, there were three key officials: the sector magistrate, the sector police officer, and the sector health officer. Joint meetings of all these sectoral officials and nodal officers were held once a fortnight to resolve any issues.
• The mela control room had a duty officer 24×7 from each important department.
Above and beyond all these strategies, the team had to make sure that all the plans were dynamic, enough to incorporate last minute changes that kept cropping up due to immediate requirements on the ground. The team had to be on top of their plan, keep thinking, and innovating on their feet along with coordinating between all the parties.
Following all the above strategies, the mela committee was triumphant in organizing a highly successful and safe event which saw several new initiatives: two national highways were connected for better traffic management and to reduce traffic jams; temporary bridges were made motorable; ghats were modiﬁed to make them accessible to the physically challenged; websites were developed in English, Hindi, and Sanskrit; sectoral plans and layouts were digitized and developed on AutoCAD and GIS; and temporary toilets were constructed.
Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman, Planning Commission of India appreciated the state’s efforts and said, “I would like to congratulate you on the successful completion of the Maha Kumbha Mela. This historical event, which required major infrastructure development and organizational skills, has been conducted in a manner that has been widely appreciated.”
In the end, all the elaborate planning eventually paid off. All major activities passed off peacefully and the 2010 mela saw a list of exceptional achievements that were never witnessed before such as better sanitation and hygiene for the pilgrims and visitors; smooth traffic; no shortage of power supply; no stampedes due to effective crowd management; and 70 percent expenditure on permanent works. The bathing areas were doubled from 7.5 to 15 km.
Beyond this, the new infrastructure has taken care of the long-term requirements of Haridwar. There will be sufficient water in the city till 2040 and the upgraded sewer pipeline will be able to handle sewage till 2050.
managing a huge event like the Kumbh involves enormous effort. However, the 2010 mela proved that executing an epic project could be done by following some basic project management principles. Mr. Bardhan says that the lesson he and his team learnt was that: “With teamwork, effective administration, managerial control on all the activities, adequate human resource support, monitoring and scheduling of all arrangement and coordination with all the stakeholders a gargantuan event can be executed smoothly.”
Source: PMI newsletter.