Police on their toes as people turn out in large numbers on the occasion of Kaanum Pongal

Even as more than 4,000 people cheerfully queued up to go up the lighthouse on the Marina on Thursday, seven-year-old Ramu was atop a police watchtower, a few yards away, with a police constable.

The view of waves breaking against a sea of people, a Coast Guard helicopter flying above the shoreline, a hovercraft in the Bay of Bengal, multicoloured balloons and vendors selling ice cream and sugarcane were not enough to prevent the tears from welling up in Ramu’s eyes.

He was one among the 112 children who were traced by the police after being separated from their custodians as a sea of humanity converged at the beach on the occasion of Kaanum Pongal on Thursday.

Barricades, watchtowers, traffic restrictions, parking space and medical teams put together by the Chennai Corporation and the police were in place on Thursday to regulate the crowds that visited the beach from various parts of the Chennai metropolitan area.

“The public address system was useful. But the arrangements at many of the police outposts were not adequate enough to keep the lost children relaxed,” said Ajith Kumar, a visitor.

“We came to the beach from Old Washermenpet. There are many policemen on duty. But volunteers from colleges could have been roped in to assist them in interacting with the scared children and helping them. Some women constables in plainclothes could have helped to put children at ease,” said K. Krishnamurthy, another visitor.

The Chennai Corporation conducted medical camps on Marina and Elliot’s beaches and Guindy Children’s Park. Over 400 bottles of water collected from sand pits were destroyed.

Regular vendors said more than 100 fly-by-night shops had mushroomed along the 3.1-km stretch of the Marina, in addition to the existing illegal shops, to cater to the large number of visitors, who converge on the beach, in keeping with the tradition of Kaanum Pongal, the day for family reunions and outings.

Large crowds were also seen at the trade fair on Island Grounds and at Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Vandalur.

According to forest department officials, 60,000 tickets were sold at Vandalur zoo. More than 200 policemen, 150 forest department officials and 200 student-volunteers were deployed for regulating the crowd.

There was a bit of a furore at the zoo when visitors were stung by bees near the hippopotamus enclosure, after a group of youngsters disturbed a hive on a tree. Around 40 visitors were injured and medical attention was provided to all of them, a zoo spokesperson said.

Traffic snarls prevented the free flow of vehicles all through the day, from Perungalathur to Vandalur on GST Road and Vandalur-Kelambakkam Road.

“Even in the afternoon, traffic moved at a snail’s pace as the crowds surged towards the zoo,” said a traffic constable on duty. 

Metropolitan Transport Corporation operated 500 additional buses for the festival. “We had made arrangements for drinking water, food and parking. We used CCTV cameras to monitor the crowd,” said K.S.S.V.P. Reddy, chief conservator of forests and director of the zoo.

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