In this Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, photo, a thick layer of dust is seen over the tent city set up for the spiritual-cleansing Kumbh Festival in Prayagraj, India. The skies over the confluence of sacred rivers in north India where millions of Hindu priests and pilgrims have come to wash away their sins for the Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, that begins this week are thick with toxic dust, a sign that Indian government officials are struggling to grapple with India's worsening air pollution. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

India's mega Hindu festival begins under cloud of toxic air

January 14, 2019 - 8:11 pm

PRAYAGRAJ, India (AP) — Thousands of portable toilets line roads constantly swept clean. Drinking water flows from newly installed taps. Billboards encourage a "clean Kumbh," an extension of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's huge push to improve sanitation across India.

But the skies over the confluence of sacred rivers in the country's north where millions of Hindu priests and pilgrims have come to wash away their sins at an ancient festival that begins this week are thick with toxic dust, a sign that government officials are struggling to grapple with worsening air pollution.

Some 150 million people are expected to attend the 55-day-long Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival. The Indian government's drive to make it a global tourism event could be hindered by the hazardous air.

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