Ayodhya lies ignored in temple controversy, says Mahant Nritya Gopal Das

Garbage, stray cattle, bad roads, poor public transport, open drains and negligible facilities for tourists and devotees plague the temple town.

WrittenBy:Kanchan Srivastava
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Believed to be the capital of Lord Ram and his birthplace, the Ayodhya of 2017 looks nothing more than a small undeveloped town despite being at the centre of the political discourse for the past 25 years.

Not only Ayodhya, the entire Faizabad district lacks infrastructure, has skewed job opportunities and almost zero higher education institutions or tertiary healthcare facilities. What’s more shocking is that the temple town is barely 125 km from state capital, Lucknow.

“Ayodhya has not been developed the way it deserved to be. In the last 25 years, the progress has been dismal. The lack of facilities for devotees and a poor transport system are two major challenges Ayodhya faces today,” said Mahant Nrityagopal Das, the chairman of the Ram Janmabhoomi Shrine Board and the chief of the Manidas Chhavni.

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“Trains from other parts of the state and the country come till Faizabad only. Ayodhya doesn’t have a bus station either. Tourists and devotees have to struggle to reach Ayodhya, which is 10 km from Faizabad. However, the biggest worry is the pollution of the river Saryu.”

The drains from Faizabad flow into this sacred river but the government has not taken serious cognisance of it, he claimed.

At least five big nullahs empty into the river directly. They pour nearly five million litres a day of untreated sewage water into the river every day. There are several small drainages as well. A sewage treatment plant exists but is underutilised due to lack of funds and apathy. “The issue is of great concern as lakhs of devotees from across India come to take a dip in the Saryu,” said Das. Ayodhya has nearly 9,000 big and small temples which attract poor and middle-class devotees from across eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The Saryu flows across several districts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand but has very few cities on its banks. Unlike the Ganga which has cities like Hardwar, Varanasi, Kanpur and Allahabad, on its banks and which pollute it. Perhaps that’s why the pollution of the Saryu is not being taken seriously.

“Authorities must wake up before things go out of control. Protecting rivers should be of utmost importance. The Centre and state both must take it up urgently,” he said.

When asked whether he has raised the issue with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Das said, “I apprised him about it when he was in Ayodhya to preside over the Diwali event though we didn’t get the chance to discuss it in detail.”

Das, however, downplayed the grand Diwali celebration at Ayodhya by the Yogi government and delinked it with the Ram temple issue. “Ayodhya always celebrates Diwali and Annakoot (next day of Diwali) festivals with much enthusiasm. Adityanath hasn’t done anything new except taking it to a larger scale. Anyway, his celebration has nothing to do with the Ram temple construction.”

The Ram temple issue is much bigger and needs strong political will, said the chief of Ram Janmabhoomi shrine. “Being in power at the state and the Centre, the BJP government should have constructed the temple. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that temple would be constructed very soon. We have to clear last legal hurdle now,” he said.

Ayodhya suffers the irony of struggling for potable water despite having a flowing river. “For drinking water, we are dependent on borewells. Most areas have water supply of 4-6 hours only. Often, it is not even usable,” said Mahant Rajkumar Das of Vallabh Kunj. Due to reckless exploitation of ground water, the water table is falling, complained residents.

The youth and children of Ayodhya haven’t had higher education facilities or job opportunities for years. Most of them have had to migrate to cities. Suraj Pandey, an RSS worker in Ayodhya, said, “Most youngsters just sit idle or do odd jobs at small religious business outside temples.”

Faizabad District Magistrate Dr Anil Kumar Pathak admitted five drains empty untreated water into the Saryu. “We will try to utilise the full capacity of sewage treatment plant to ensure that water going to Saryu is free from toxic pollutants. We also plan to extend the sewage treatment capacity. A proposal of Rs 46 crore in this regard has been submitted to the state government,” he said.

A bus stand is also in the pipeline. Dr Pathak said the water table was indeed declining and blamed people for wastage of water. He advised citizens to go to Rajasthan to learn how to survive with water scarcity. For facilities for tourists, he said projects worth Rs 130 crore have been announced by the government.

With the package, mostly sponsored by the Centre, the Yogi Adityanath government has proposed developing the ghats in Ayodhya and providing amenities. The state government has approved Rs 8 crore for landscaping public places, toilets, drainage, streetlights etc, said Dr Pathak.

As for jobs, the district magistrate said, “Youngsters must do agriculture, floriculture and allied works.” For those who don’t own land, he said, “They should make and sell garlands, incense sticks, tulsimala.”

Just another day in Ayodhya.


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