Musings on the Kumbhathon

The Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage where people gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is the largest peaceful gathering in the world, with around 30 million people expected in the Nashik Kumbh Mela of 2015. Such a large gathering of people places an incredible amount of stress on a city like Nashik and its infrastructure. What better way to test the smart city paradigm than such a large festival?

Cities in India like Nashik often have an infrastructure that is extremely old. Modernising this infrastructure is a great challenge. Rebuilding a city from the ground up to be smart is unrealistic partly because of the associated costs, but also because technology is constantly evolving. Remodeling a city as every technological advancement becomes available is highly impractical. Thus, solutions have to be based on existing infrastructure. The Kumbhathon deals with this issue with the goal of creating smart solutions that are ‘digital interfaces to physical infrastructure’. This is a highly cost effective and sustainable way to modernise a city that depends only on the willingness of the citizenry to adopt newer technologies and foster the culture of innovation to make them possible. This approach has resulted in what I believe are effective solutions such as: Medi Tracker which provides emergency medical services by calling an ambulance and giving the ambulance the GPS coordinates of the injured person at the tap of a button, and Crowd Steering which attempts to give authorities a bird’s-eye view of population density and crowd movement in different sectors of the city using the number of phones as they move among mobile towers.

The culture of innovation that is necessary to develop smart citizens (the basis of a smart city) by contributing to their material and emotional well being is a relatively new concept in India. Indians are largely risk-averse. This is in part because of the lack of a safety net to help entrepreneurs in case of failure, and perhaps more importantly, the lack of mentorship. Entrepreneurship is not a popular concept with Indians, the vast majority of whom do not receive any assistance in the process of setting up an enterprise. Innovation is an area where Kumbhathons shine. By providing young innovators with a platform as well as mentorship, Kumbhathons help foster an entrepreneurial spirit in young innovators who have ideas but have no way of translating them into reality.

The two main organic components of a city are its people and the government. The process of creating a smart city can be spearheaded by either the citizens or the government. In the government-led approach, the government identifies the problems faced by a city and then comes up with solutions. The citizen-led approach deals with citizens coming up with problems that they face in their daily lives and with digital solutions to help solve them. The problem with both these approaches is the lack of synergy between the government and the citizens. The citizens understand the problems intimately, but the government has the resources to tackle the problems. Thus, these

two components of a city have to work together to modernise the third component – in infrastructure.

Kumbhathons follow a hybrid approach between the government-led and the citizen-led methods. There is a constant dialogue between the authorities who run Nashik and the citizens of Nashik. The authorities highlighted problem areas in the city, and the citizens came up with

solutions for these problems. This harmony which I saw in Kumbhathon5 is a perfect recipe for the development of a smart city.

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