Corridor of Faith puts PM Narendra Modi in a spot
Locals are not all that happy with PM Narendra Modi's ambitious Kashi-Vishwanath Corridor, which they say goes against locals
Varanasi: "Narendra Modi has changed the very DNA of Kashi (Varanasi). How could this happen to a living heritage like this holy city? The pradhan mantri is driving away aboriginals from Kashi, which their forefathers built centuries ago? Modi cannot alter Varanasi's fakkadpan (free spirit)," said an angry Mahant of influential Akhara Goswami Tulsidas, Vishwambhar Nath Mishra.
Mishra, who works as a professor of electronics engineering in Indian Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University (BHU), and heads Sankat Mochan Foundation, minces no words while accusing the PM and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of demolishing ancient temples, heritage buildings and displacing thousands of residents to make way for Modi's dream project — the Kashi-Vishwanath Corridor.
Ancient temples and heritage buildings have been demolished, and thousands displaced to make way for Modi's dream project, the Kashi-Vishwanath Corridor. Pics/Dharmendra Jore
Some 50,000 square metres of space that housed about 250 multi-storeyed buildings near Kashi-Vishwanath temple has been demolished to make way for dedicated pathways. This would ease congestion at all the four entrances of the temple. Some of the houses that have been cleared were said to be 200-300 years old. The government plans to set up tourist-friendly facilities here. The total budget of the project is '600 crore.
Wouldn't this ease crowd management, prevent stampedes and attract more devotees and tourists? Taking offence to our suggestion, Mishra said, "Go there and see the condition of the place yourself. It is being developed at the cost of hapless inhabitants of Banaras. The place looks like Syria's bombed localities. The PM had guts to say that he has liberated Kashi Vishwanathji (by clearing the area). Is Modi above god? I think it's time Varanasi liberated itself from him," said the engineer-cum-spiritual head.
Meanwhile, environment and heritage activist Jagnarayan accused the government of destroying the ancient city. "Modernity has been killing Kashi's values. Modi should be aware of the adarsh of Kashi. This isn't a corporate office that runs on the whims and fancies of super powers."
All good but not the corridor
Without facing much hurdle in his way to the Parliament, Modi is once again contesting a Lok Sabha seat here. Even as people are happy with him for Kashi's makeover and predict a bigger-than-ever victory margin for him this election, the initiative of setting up the corridor appears to have ruined Kashi's originality.
Without rehabilitation and an alternative place for conducting business, the project-affected people have been left to fend for themselves
The city's internal roads are much better now, traffic has improved, ring roads and flyovers have been built, squares beautified, and most importantly, the ghats have been renovated and access to the Ganga made easier and safer. Hanging electricity wires, that were an eyesore, have gone underground; power cuts have reduced and cleanliness is the buzzword. Many say that even business in the area had got a boost.
"Varanasi works as a main trading centre for eastern Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring Bihar and Nepal," said Y K Jalan of Jalan Synthetics, a wholesaler from the city's biggest cloth depot. "We're happy despite demonetisation and the GST regime. Our clients say that they aren't facing loses due to GST. People who traded in black have suffered a lot," added Jalan, who gives 600 employees and traders free lunch-dinner daily at the third-floor mess of his five-storeyed establishment.
Lack of sensibility
The Kashi-Vishwanath corridor has been blamed on the planners (from Ahmedabad), who Mishra said had no ability to understand the tradition and ethics of Kashi. He added that the planners were trying to create a 'Sabarmati River Front' like facility here. "Different tricks were used to get the buildings vacated. They cut power and water supply, blocked sewerage and threatened residents as well," he said.
Compensation was paid as per the law but it was meagre. Without rehabilitation and an alternative place for conducting business, the project-affected people have been left to fend for themselves. Families that lived there for centuries have been forced to move to areas far from the temple precinct. Some of the project-affected-people (PAP) said that they had resisted the government's move and was even supported by political parties and local spiritual leaders, but that did not help because they were the minority.
Jagnarayan, environment and heritage activist
According to Mishra, there was no guarantee whether the PAP would be given the chance to work in the shops at the new complexes that would come up on the land where their homes stood. Deelip Kumar Singh, who runs a pharmacy shop near the entrance that has been built after demolishing shops and houses near a masjid, is upset over the displacement of his brethren. "My family has survived the demolition so far, but I'm not sure if I will be able to save my shop if the road is widened. We are running our business here since the 1940s," he said.
Singh further said that five well-known places — Lahoree Tola, Nilkanth, Saraswati Fatak, Manikarnika Ghat and Lalita Ghat gallis — have been demolished to make way for the corridor. "These were places of historic and religious significance and people of all faiths lived there. People loved walking through the gallis that are known across the world. The gallis are Varanasi's true character," he added.
Manish Sharma, who worked in one of the gallis, said he was still looking for a job. "All the narrow gallis lead to the temple and Gangaji. Not a single incident of stampede or mismanagement happened even as the street vendors and shopkeepers earned their living," he said, adding that a new system of charging money for darshan has started. "Puja samaan is sold at much higher prices. Who is at a loss, tell me?" he asked.
'It will be accepted'
Prof O N Singh, Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Archaeology, BHU, said the city was still open to new ideas. "It is the place where new ideas have got acceptance since centuries. The endorsement of Banaras, the capital of culture, music and vaidik philosophy, makes a person a certified vidwan (scholar)."
Singh added that the idea of setting up the corridor would soon get acceptance. "People here live the natural way and are extremely proud of their fakkadpan. Modi must have thought that the corridor was required and he is doing everything possible to preserve the city's heritage." Advocate Suresh Chaube said he hadn't visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple for years till recently because of the non-breezy gallis. "You can't breathe in those 'chocked' gallis that lead to the temple. Now, movement is free. I went for darshan recently, and saw that the queues to the temple moved much faster. I foresee a remarkable change once the corridor is completed."
Rs 600 crore - Total cost of building the Kashi-Vishwanath corridor
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