Friday, January 25, 2013

Tarun Khanna — Studying India's Maha Kumbh Mela Festival

Between 2000 and 2010, the population of Delhi burgeoned from 15 million to 22 million while Shanghai's population swelled from 14 to 20 million. Compare that to the recent rise of an impromptu city near Allahabad in India: In the week after January 14, 2013, the first day of the Maha Kumbh Mela festival — during which Hindus gather for a sacred bath at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers — around 10 million people had gathered there.
When the event ends five weeks later, approximately 100 million people would have moved into and out of Allahabad. (I say "approximately" because the precise numbers are difficult to come by.) It took 60 years for the population of Istanbul to grow from one to 10 million, and 50 years in the case of Lagos. At Allahabad, though, the population rose from zero to 10 million, give or take a few million, in just a week's time.
That's a slightly unfair comparison because the local government isn't going to put in place all the fixtures of a functional metropolis. However, it's only partly unfair. The Indian authorities do have to pull off the creation of a huge temporary tent city with minimal mishap. An enormous amount of urban planning, civil engineering, governance and adjudication, and maintenance of public goods — physical ones like toilets as well as intangibles such as law and order — and plans to deal with unexpected events goes into the creation of this city. Those are pretty much the main elements surrounding the creation of any city in the world.
There will also be a reasonably efficient dissolution of the city when the Kumbh Mela ends in late February, but that's another story. Some cities have declined over time, but I can't even imagine what it would take for one of the world's major metropolises to unwind.
The Harvard Business Review | HBR Blog Network / HBS Faculty
Studying India's Maha Kumbh Mela Festival
Tarun Khanna | Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School , Director of Harvard University's South Asia Initiative, and co-author of Winning in Emerging Markets: A Roadmap for Strategy and Execution (Harvard Business Press, 2010)

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