With a population of nearly 1.25 billion, India is a diverse but highly religious society, celebrating more than thirty national festivals every year along with countless local festivals and fairs. One can only begin to imagine the logistics of making these events safe and secure in such a densely populated country. Protests, skirmishes, and volatile situations are bound to occur. Many Indian states have begun investing in global positioning system technology to help authorities maintain order and provide security, and the province of Puri is no exception.
For the annual festival of Rath Yatra, or Car Festival, in Orissa, India, city police equipped all police vehicles with GPS tracking devices. Devices were also placed on the three chariots, or cars, that would parade through the streets. Combined with closed circuit television cameras and mobile cameras, satellite-based location data helped authorities track the event from start to finish, allowing more active participation of the celebrants who were once barred from the parade route for fear of security breaches.
Rath Yatra celebrates Lord Jagannath’s annual trek from his aunt’s house at the Mausi Maa Temple to the Gundicha mata’s temple just over a mile away. The lord’s idols, or yatra, are exhibited on three separate chariots that are fantastically decorated and stand over 45 feet high. Each chariot is designed to look like a temple and sits on as many as sixteen decorative wheels. Thousands of followers of the gods and their priests pull the chariots by rope through the crowded and boisterous streets. Basic safety is a concern for all those involved, especially with such large numbers of people participating and trying to catch a glimpse of the gods as they pass by.
The city has used the GPS units for three years now during the festival, and it has seen a great decrease in mob and terrorist type activity. The specialized control room set up with monitors and communications equipment allows officials to scrutinize all aspects of the festival so that if an incident occurs, authorities can deploy just those cars needed to deal with the situation, not the entire police force, which might leave another area vulnerable. One senior official reported that with the continued success of the newer security measures, GPS technology along with CCTV will become a permanent feature of Rath Yatra.