Krishna Pushkaram, the 12-day festival that comes once in every 12 years, begins on Friday with over three crore devotees expected to take a holy dip in the river across Andhra Pradesh.
About 3.5 crore people are expected to take a holy dip in river Krishna in three districts of Andhra Pradesh but over 80 per cent of this crowd will be performing the rituals in Vijayawada, the hub of Krishna Pushkaram every time.
Having successfully completed the interlinking of rivers Godavari and Krishna through the Pattisam Lift Irrigation Scheme, the state government now wants to embark on the next step to link river Krishna with Penna.
"We have interlinked Godavari and Krishna and now we have to extend it to Penna and later to Somasila. The ultimate objective is to make AP drought-free by the next Pushkaram," Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has said.
In all, 170 bathing ghats have been readied in Kurnool, Guntur and Krishna districts for the Pushkaram.
A daily 'harati' programme will be organised at Ibrahimpatnam near Vijaywada, where the Godavari flows into Krishna. A host of cultural programmes involving top artistes have been lined up at various places.
The unique feature of Krishna Pushkaram this year is that its technology-driven.
The government machinery is making extensive use of various information and communication technology tools for effective crowd management and provision of facilities for the lakhs of pilgrims who throng the bathing ghats every day.
While the state government launched a website krishnapushkaram.ap.gov.in containing exhaustive information about the event, a GPS-based mobile application has also been launched for people to obtain information on ghats, the rush, bus services, etc.
Led by Krishna District Collector Babu A and Chief Minister's Joint Secretary P S Pradyumna, officials have developed a software application Kaizala, in collaboration with Microsoft that will act as an interaction tool between the multi-disciplinary teams that have been deployed for Pushkaram duties.
Krishna is one of the 12 large perennial rivers in the country. It originates in Mahabaleswar in Maharashtra and merges in the Bay of Bengal at Hamsaladeevi in Krishna district after traversing Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
"We have over 60,000 staff deployed for Pushkaram duties and communicating will become easier and quicker with this single application.It also has an inbuilt location-tracking system for monitoring deployment and movement of staff," Babu said.
For the first time in the country, the administration has also introduced child tracking services to easily locate children in case they go missing.
"We will tag every child entering a bathing ghat with a waterproof band that will have their mobile phone number. In case a child goes missing, the tag will help in easy identification of the child and the parents," Babu added.
The police department, according to Director General of Police Nanduri Sambasiva Rao, has installed 1400 closed-circuit television cameras at all vantage points for crowd and traffic management.
"We are also deploying 25 drones for live recording at all ghats. In all, 31,401 police personnel, including officers, will be on duty to ensure smooth conduct of the festival," the DGP said.
Besides CRPF personnel, policemen from neighbouring Karnataka, Odisha and Chhattisgarh were also deployed for bandobust duties.
A helicopter is being kept on standby for use in emergency.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams will provide free food to one lakh people while the Akshaya Patra Foundation will cater to another three lakh pilgrims every day during the 12-day festival, according to Pushkaram special officer B Rajasekhar.
The Railways, on its part, will be running 646 special trains from different places to Vijayawada while the AP State Road Transport Corporation will ply 2500 special services.
In Vijayawada city alone, over 700 city buses will be in operation to ferry pilgrims to bathing ghats free of cost.