Four days after the magnificent ‘Deepotsav’ took place at the banks of Saryu river in Ayodhya, all earthen lamps can be seen at a deserted corner of the Ram Katha Park, an open amphitheatre nearly three kilometres from the venue.
The “1.87 lakh” diyas, which were a part of the “historic” Diwali celebration hosted by the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, were collected, packed and dumped at the Ram Katha Park following reports about locals “stealing” residual oil from the lamps.
Ram Katha Park is the same place where CM Yogi Adityanath had performed a symbolic coronation of Lord Rama last Wednesday, ahead of the light festival, by garlanding the artists playing Rama, Lakshmana and Sita characters in the Ramleela, respectively. The Yogi government has also announced its plans to start a ‘Digital Ramleela’ daily in this open air amphitheatre, in English as well as Hindi.
The discarded lamps, barely covered by plastic sheets, are a forgotten affair now. The district administration is clueless about what to do with such a large number of diyas which were rendered useless after the event. “We have no direction on this issue,” said a civic official from Ayodhya without mincing words.
Earthen lamps, even though made of clay, pose a threat to the environment if discarded in the open as they take years to degrade naturally, say environmentalists.
Santosh Bajpayi, a noted environmentalist, who is associated with ITI Mankapur (Gonda), said, “Diyas and other earthen utensils are prepared on heat and fire. They don’t get dissolved on their own. It might take years for mother nature to biodegrade them.”
Expressing concern over the 1.87 lakh diyas disposed of in the open in Ayodhya, Bajpayi added, “The administration should dump them in mud to keep the environment clean and safe. Better, they all should be immersed in water which will help them dissolve in one-and-a-half or two months.”
Bajpayi warns if diyas are not made on chaak as rural potters do, it may take several months to dissolve them in water. “Rural folks use simple clay to make diyas and use geru for colour. However, the market is flooded with diyas made with non-clay material and synthetic colour which are less soluble and may be non-biodegradable.”
When asked about it, the District Magistrate of Faizabad which includes Ayodhya, Dr Anil Kumar Pathak, said, “Diyas are now stored at Ram Katha Park. Since these are made of clay, they will naturally assimilate into the earth again.”
When pointed out that this process may take years, Pathak, who spearheaded the entire Deepostav event, perhaps realised the flaw in his argument and subsequently added, “We would take a call on how to recycle these lamps after consultation with various people including potters.” Most diyas used during the mega event were made by potters from the Faizabad and Gonda districts nearby.
As per rough estimates, the government spent approximately Rs 2 crore on the event. With the government hoping to make an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records, a Gujarat-based company was roped in to provide consultancy. The company provided free of cost consultation on the government’s participation in the Guinness Book of Records, government officials claimed. In addition, Mumbai-based Percept handled the event flow, while a UP-based firm conducted the light and sound show. Attempts were made to divert the flow of the wind for five minutes to attempt making a world record.
The government, as well as the local administration, are now being ridiculed for not taking the swachhta angle into account, more so at the venue of the Deepotsav-Ram ki Paidi. The ghat, which witnessed the spectacular evening, has become so sticky after the event that several locals and tourists have slipped on the oily stairs.
Now, people refrain from going near the steps of the ghat which was constructed in between 1980-89 and renovated recently. “I don’t want to break my bones or drown while stepping on those sticky stairs,” says Savitri Devi, a local resident.
After a hue and cry, the civic administration is now busy making the area oil-free. “It is a daunting task and invites the risk of polluting the water further. This event was nothing but the publicity stunt of the BJP government at the public’s expense. The plastic pouches, banners and oil thrown at the venue mocked their Swachhta Abhiyan as well,” said Shailendra Mani Pandey, a Congress leader from Ayodhya.
However, the representatives of the Guinness Book of World Records, who captured the event using a camcopter, are yet to declare if the record was broken. The previous record was set by the Dera Sacha Sauda (headed by Ram Rahim Insan now jailed for 20 years in twin rape cases) in Haryana’s Sirsa, where 1.5 lakh diyas were lit in September last year.
The government had originally planned to light 2 lakh diyas, however, it fell short of its target resulting in 1.87 lakh diyas being lit. The objective of the entire programme was to promote Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama, as a tourist destination.
About 2,000 intelligence persons and a similar number of police commandos armed with automatic weapons and electronic devices were deployed all over Ayodhya. The Ram Janmabhoomi site, which was already under the guard of paramilitary forces, witnessed two more layers of security with rapid action force and provincial armed constabulary in the second yellow security zone, and civil police and home guards in the third security zone.
The Faizabad police also deployed PAC divers and sharpshooters armed with night vision devices and long-range rifles on combat boats to ensure security during the grand event.
The Union tourism ministry has sanctioned Rs 133 crore for making Ayodhya a tourism hub. The money sanctioned will be utilised in renovating ghats, including the Guptar Ghat where Lord Rama is said to have taken samadhi, installing CCTV cameras, making police booths, construction of guest houses for tourists and an auditorium at Digambar Akhara.
Adityanath has paid special attention to Ayodhya since he came to power this March. Apart from dedicating several government projects to the city, he also visited the disputed site of Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi last month raising many eyebrows.
He is planning to install a statue of Lord Rama on banks of the Saryu river. The approval for the statue is pending with the National Green Tribunal.
Earlier in May, the Yogi government had approved the relaunch of popular Ramleela in Ayodhya at the Ayodhya Research Centre. The Mulayam Singh Yadav-government had started Ramleela here in 2004, which was stopped during Akhilesh Yadav’s regime two years ago.