The construction work on the flood-plains of Yamuna began a month ago, despite protests from activists who wanted the Uttar Pradesh government to seek NOCs from concerned departments and the National Green Tribunal. "We complained to the Archaeological Survey of India which has clear guidelines on starting construction close to heritage and protected structures. The Agra circle of ASI registered an FIR against the state government departments, but the work did not stop," explained Shravan Kumar Singh, vice president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
"When we failed to persuade the district administration not to go ahead with the 'suicidal project which was similar to the controversial Taj Heritage Corridor project which brought down the Mayawati government in 2003, a petition was filed in the Allahabad High Court by the Braj Vrindavan Heritage Alliance," Jagan Nath Poddar convener of the Friends of Vrindavan told Samiksha Bharti News Service.
The petitioner Madhu Mangal Shukla told SBNS from Allahabad "the HC bench has stayed all construction work and the next date of hearing has been fixed for November 28. The concerned departments have been asked to furnish all the details and clearance certificates from regulatory bodies.
In a few weeks from now, the electoral process for the UP assembly polls will be set in motion which will automatically put a break on the ongoing corridor project in Vrindavan which had been seen as a threat to the red sand stone buildings and popular ghats like Keshi Ghat where an evening Aarti draws hundreds of devotees daily.
The petitioner Madhu Mangal Shukla said without clearances and arbitrarily without consulting stake holders, and holding the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment public hearing the state irrigation department began dismantling the structures and laying huge pipelines for sewer and constructing a platform much like the notorious Taj Corridor.
"After visiting the site of work and receiving information from the reliable sources about the design and layout of the project, we are very much concerned about the future of the Yamuna Ghats and its flood plain. We met several administrative officers including two District Magistrates (i.e Shri Rajesh Kumar, on 20th May, 2016, who was transferred after the Jawahar Bag mayhem, and the present District Magistrate Nikhil Chandra Shukla, on 8th June), to procure a copy of the Detailed Project Report. We also met the Chief Development Officer; the Vice Chairman of the Mathura Vrindavan Development Authority and other officials in earlier occasions to understand the components of the project. Unfortunately, none of them could provide us any satisfactory information about the project nor made the copy of the DPR available," Poddar told SBNS.
"We were told by the Executive Engineer of the Irrigation Department of Mathura that a new ghat of 15 meters will be built beyond Keshi Ghat, which is the only ghat where Yamuna touched any of the ghats till the recent times. The proposed new ghats can never match the beautiful architectural patterns, pillars, arches, jharokhas and ancient ghats. Building new ghats as the extension of the old ghats will further distance the Yamuna from Keshi Ghat and other ghats. This appears to be blatant violation of the rules made for the rivers. Moreover, Keshi Ghat is known for its panoramic view of unmatched architecture, which is situated right next to the ASI protected monument of Yugal Kishor Temple, within 100 meter aerial distance of the monument," Shukla added.
The ancient ghats were built where the Yamuna touched the land of Vrindavan. The ghats were named after the pastimes of Lord Krishna, thus the faith of the devotees are linked with these Ghats. Keshi Ghat was built resembling the pastime of killing the Keshi Demon, the clothes of Gopis were stolen at Cheer Ghat, Krishna became beetle at Bhramar Ghat and so on.
Presently only a few ghats are left. And, since the Yamuna remains dry for most part of the year, the debris, garbage pile up along the river banks, hurting the religious sentiments of millions of Sri Krishna devotees who throng Vrindavan round the year.
"In some places like Imlitala, Shringar vat, Ranapat Ghat etc. the Yamuna flows up to the illegal road built between the ghats and Yamuna. Here, the Yamuna bank is being filled with sand and soil up to the road level. It was informed to us that trees will be planted there. We encourage the forestation, but filling up the Yamuna bank further to the road up to 10-15 feet height will not allow Yamuna to come back to its ghats or even to the so called road. The construction of the new ghats beyond the Parikrama Marg on the river bank will legitimize the illegal encroachment on the Yamuna Flood Plain," Vrindavan's activists say.
They feared that letting the project continue without environmental impact and social impact assessment will result in irreversible damage to the ecology and heritage of Vrindavan. "Historically, the Yamuna river system as a whole provided ecosystem services such as natural flood water control, ground water recharging, habitats for different flora and fauna, promoting biodiversity, and ameliorating adverse climatic conditions. Years of encroachment and dumping effectively sanctioned by urban planning and urban governance decisions made by the local governments, further threaten this interconnected water lever system," Poddar who is leading the movement for restoration of the original glory of Vrindavan said.