Hyderabad: Thousands of devotees hit the roads in this southern city on Saturday as the annual Ganesha procession began amid unprecedented security.

Armed policemen kept a tight vigil at sensitive points along the procession route in the old city, as hundreds of trucks carrying idols began their journey from different locations towards Hussain Sagar lake in the heart of the city.

Over 30,000 policemen and personnel from the central paramilitary forces, the majority of them in the communally sensitive old city, have been deployed to maintain law and order.

Authorities have deployed about 30 huge cranes at the picturesque lake for immersing the idols. Over 7,000 idols of over five feet in size will be immersed. The main procession started from Balapur on the outskirts after the traditional auction of 'laddu'. A devotee bought the 'laddu' for Rs.7.5 lakh.

The procession will cover a distance of about 20 km and pass through the old city before culminating at Hussain Sagar. Hundreds of trucks carrying huge idols from various parts of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad and adjoining villages en route join the main procession, which brings the entire city to a grinding halt.

Over a million people join the procession, said to be the second-biggest in the country after Mumbai. The government has declared a general holiday in the twin cities and the adjoining Ranga Reddy district.

Raising slogans of 'Ganpati Buppa Morya', men, women and children were dancing amid the beating of drums in front of the open trucks carrying the idols. Thousands of devotees gathered at the historic Charminar and Moazzam Jahi Market while many more converged at Hussain Sagar to bid adieu to Ganesha.

As the city witnessed communal riots during the procession in the past, the police every year make massive security arrangements, especially in the old city. Policemen from other parts of the state and men from paramilitary forces are drafted for deployment.

However, this year, Sunday's Telangana march by groups fighting for a separate Telangana state and the United Nations conference on biodiversity, beginning Monday, have heightened police anxiety.

Bowing to pressure from the Telangana Joint Action Committee (JAC) and its own ministers from Telangana region, the state government Friday night gave permission for the march, albeit with certain conditions.

JAC has been allowed to hold the march only on one side (Necklace Road) of Hussain Sagar and not the other side (Tank Bund), where the march last year led to violence.Hyderabad police commissioner Anurag Sharma has appealed to Bhagyanagar Ganesha Utsav Samithi, the apex body of Ganesha mandap organisers, to expedite the procession so that the immersion is completed by midnight.

Usually, the immersion spills over to the early hours of the next day.As the Telangana march is permitted from 3 p.m. Sunday, the police may have some time to relax before protestors gather at the lake.

The biggest challenge for the police remains the likely presence of anti-social elements, who may join the devotees and the Telangana protestors. Police have already voiced apprehensions that these elements may create trouble.


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