In Braj area, development is destroying heritage character

By Brij Khandelwal Vrindavan/Agra, Aug 31 : Following two deaths and injuries to half a dozen pilgrims at the famous Sri Bankey Bihari temple on Janamastmi, the Yogi Adityanath government in UP seems inclined to replicate the Kashi Vishwanath corridor model in Vrindavan. The locals and the experts committee are in favour of building a corridor with in-built mechanism for crowd control to avoid future mishaps. Public opinion in Vrindavan is in favour of structural changes in the physical layout of the temple area to facilitate mobility and make the spiritual experience safe and memorable. But several groups of green activists are opposed to changes in the original character of this holy town with over 5000 temples. "The narrow, Kunj galis of Vrindavan are famous. Any widening after demolition of antique structures, will be a blow to the heritage character of Vrindavan, the soul of Sri Krishna-Radha Bhakti movement," says Jagan Nath Poddar, convener of Friends of Vrindavan. Braj Foundation chairman, eminent journalist Vineet Narain is also opposed to changing the fundamental character of shrines in the Braj Mandal. "In the name of development and modernisation, hundreds of crores of rupees have been squandered away. The Braj Teerth Vikas board, has no understanding, nor vision but seems hell bent on destroying the essential and original character of Sri Krishna land," Narain laments. Recently, former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav lambasted the Braj Teerth Vikas Parishad. He wanted audit of its activities. Commercial interests of corrupt politicians and builders lobby are playing havoc. "They want to convert Vrindavan, Goverdhan and Mathura into picnic spots for tourists, at the cost of the spiritual flavour. A plan has been drawn up to build a highway on the Braj Parikrama Marg, around 150 kms." It was in the Braj area along the river Yamuna that Lord Krishna is traditionally believed to have spent his childhood, and it was in the stretch between Bateshwar and Vrindavan that he performed the "Raas Leela". But, locals say, if Lord Krishna were to be born again today, he would certainly relocate to some other place due to the pollution, stink and vanishing ghats of the Yamuna, and large-scale deforestation and disappearance of thousands of community ponds in the area. And, it is this colossal damage to the biodiversity and ecosystem of the region that is causing concern and alarm among devotees of Sri Krishna, Radha. "Vrindavan residents are agitated at the government's flawed 'River Front Development Project' along the Yamuna. They want firm steps aimed at restoring the past glory of Braj Dham" by conserving nature's beauty and resources. In the name of development, a lot of damage had been done to the environment and, once known for its green and dense forests, the whole area is being denuded of precious mangroves and holy green shrines from Govardhan to Barsana, Gokul to Vrindavan. "They now want to start a cruise for tourists from Mathura to Vrindavan. Without cleaning the river and ensuring regular flow of fresh water, how can this be done," wondered green activist Padmini Iyer. Pavan Gautam, a social activist of Mathura, said: "Rapid urbanisation in Vrindavan, Govardhan and other areas of religious importance in the Braj area is a matter of serious concern. The Mathura Vrindavan Development Authority, Braj Heritage Board and the local bodies have no clear-cut plans and are often seen working at cross-purposes. "We had high hopes from our BJP MP Hema Malini, but even she has failed to give a sense of purpose and direction to the developmental activities. Her adopted village Rawal, the birthplace of Radha ji, is crying for attention," he added. Each year, the number of domestic tourists visiting Agra and Mathura is rising, but facilities have neither been broadbased nor streamlined, complained activist Jugal Kishor Shrotriya of the Sri Mathuradheesh Temple in Agra. The Yamuna is a mere trickle, carrying industrial effluents and waste from upstream cities. The canal system has been encroached upon. Thousands of crores of rupees have been spent on the Yamuna Action Plan and on about a dozen infrastructural projects in the Taj Trapezium Zone since the 1993 Supreme Court judgement on the public interest litigation (PIL) of eco-lawyer M.C. Mehta in the Taj pollution case. "But sadly, neither the condition of Yamuna -- reduced to a vast sewage canal -- has improved, nor has the air pollution level shown any appreciable decline in the SPM, RSPM percentage. The whole Braj Mandal represents civilisational decadence," said noted environmentalist Dr Devashish Bhattacharya. /IANS


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