Gangasagar (WB), Jan 14 (PTI) Nearly 65 lakh pilgrims from across the nation have visited Gangasagar and taken a holy dip at the confluence of the Ganga River and the Bay of Bengal so far this year, West Bengal minister Aroop Biswas said.
Heavy security arrangements have been made at the fairground, situated on Sagar Island, where many more are expected to arrive on the occasion of Makar Sankranti on Monday.
Apart from the state police, NDRF, SDRF and Coast Guard personnel have been deployed with necessary gear for responding to any eventuality.
"Nearly 65 lakh pilgrims have visited Gangasagar Mela till Sunday noon since the opening of the fair on January 8," Biswas, the state Power and Sports minister, told reporters here.
He said that the annual fair is underway seamlessly with pilgrims paying obeisance at the Kapil Muni temple after a holy dip at the confluence of River Ganga and the Bay of Bengal.
Biswas said the fairground, spread over the sprawling beach, has been brought under the surveillance of around 1,100 CCTV cameras and 22 drones.
He said that 14,000 policemen have been deployed, 45 watch towers built and pilgrims are being ferried to Sagar Island through 36 vessels, 100 launches and six barges across 22 jetties, while 300 fog lights have been installed on Muriganga River.
The minister said that 17 buffer zones have been created from Babughat in Kolkata to Gangasagar in South 24 Parganas district for controlling the flow of traffic and pilgrims to ensure there is no overcrowding at any given place.
The journey to the pilgrimage site from Kolkata, a distance of around 130 km, entails a river crossing by vessels.
"Arrangements have been made to ensure facilities for food, resting place and other requirements at these buffer zones," the minister said.
Stating that 250 people have been arrested so far for involvement in various illegal activities, he said that 41 cases of pickpocketing have been reported, with owners getting back their belongings in 38 cases.
So far, six patients have been shifted to various hospitals in Kolkata by air ambulance, he added.
The senior minister reiterated the state government's demand for according national fair tag for Gangasagar Mela akin to Kumbh Mela.
"It is very difficult for the state government alone to bear the huge expenses of organising the annual fair. Due to an increase in footfall as a result of improved communication, over Rs 265 crore is expected to be incurred during this year's fair.
"If the central government recognises Gangasagar Mela as a national fair, more developmental works could be taken up. Massive sea erosion is taking place near Kapil Muni temple. To stop it, financial assistance and cooperation from the Centre is needed," the minister said.
According to Hrishikesh Panjika, the auspicious timing for 'punya snan' or holy bath on Makar Sankranti will begin at 12.13 am on Monday and continue for the next 24 hours. Most of the devotees will follow this timing and take the holy dip.
However, some devotees also followed the Mahabir Panjika, according to which, the auspicious timing for the holy bath began at 8.42 am on Sunday and will continue till 6 pm during the day. PTI AMR COR ACD