Maharashtra: Missing Cells set up by police help over 1,600 pilgrims in Pandharpur find their relatives, friends

The brainchild of Solapur district police superintendent Tejaswi Satpute, the Missing Cells and 'Teerthakshetra Chowkis' (outposts) is set up in and around the temple town of Pandharpur

PTIUpdated: Sunday, July 24, 2022, 11:26 AM IST
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Maharashtra: Missing Cells set up by police help over 1,600 pilgrims in Pandharpur find their relatives, friends |

Mumbai: While lakhs of devotees of Lord Vitthal who had missed an audience with him for two years were reunited with the deity during the 2022 Ashadhi Ekadashi festival, it was the special cells set up by the police that reunited over 1,600 devotees with their families and friends.

The brainchild of Solapur district police superintendent Tejaswi Satpute, the Missing Cells and 'Teerthakshetra Chowkis' (outposts) set up in and around the temple town of Pandharpur proved to be helpful for the children as well as elderly who got separated from their relatives or companions in the throngs.

Devotees of Lord Vitthal walk to Pandharpur in western Maharashtra every year, reaching on Ashadhi Ekadashi, the 11th bright day of the Hindu month of Ashadh, when the pilgrimage or `Wari' culminates with a `darshan' of the deity.

But the pilgrimage could not take place on its usual scale in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, as all restrictions were lifted, nearly 15 lakh people poured into Pandharpur from various parts of Maharashtra and neighbouring states on July 10, the day of Ashadhi Ekadashi, as per police estimates.

The district authorities anticipated that this huge congregation would result in people getting separated from their companions. So Satpute thought of setting up special Missing Cells. Five such cells and about half a dozen 'Teerthakshetra Chowkies' were set up, she said.

"With the help of Missing Cells and Teerthakshetra Chowkies, we could help reunite at least 1,640 people," she told PTI.

"Of these, 72 were kids who were lost in the crowd," Satpute added.

The Missing Cells were set up at a slightly higher level from the ground so that people could spot them easily from anywhere, she said.

"Rigorous training was given to our staff and volunteers before people began to arrive in Pandharpur. The group leaders of warkaris (pilgrims) were also apprised of the facility," the SP added.

"Its utility was proven when we saw people approaching the Missing Cells or guiding others who needed help to these outposts. The Teerthakshetra Chowkies functioned as help desks where devotees were given information about key sites in the town, roads, locations of toilets, drinking water facilities, etc," Satpute said.

Though many pilgrims carry mobile phones nowadays, due to the heavy load networks sometimes get jammed and calling through mobile phones becomes difficult, she said.

"We had put up extra mobile towers to handle the load, but Pandharpur's population is not even one lakh and on July 10 there were nearly 15 lakh people in the town," said Satpute.

Police officials in civil dress also managed to catch 75 gangs of pickpockets and thieves who wanted to take advantage of the crowds to rob the pilgrims in and around Pandharpur.

Satpute had arranged extra police force from other districts to manage the crowds during the festival.

"Due to the COVID-19 fear, I had asked every police official and other staff who were deputed to Solapur to take the booster dose of the vaccine before joining.

We deployed only those who had taken the dose at least 15 days before," the SP said.

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