Neglected Varanasi is now the focus of all attention
Neglected by civic and state authorities all these years, both the union and Uttar Pradesh governments are now competing to clean up and develop Varanasi, now represented in parliament by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A string of development and beautification schemes has been unleashed in Varanasi since Modi won a thumping election victory in May.
Union Minister of State for Tourism Sripad Naik announced here that Varanasi was on top of the Modi government's agenda and that results will show up soon. He said Rs.17.7 crore has been released to beautify and maintain Varanasi's famed ghats along the Ganga.
"The priority is to ensure that the ghats retain their heritage look and are clean. Pilgrims must get due facilities," Naik told IANS.
Six of the ghats have been handed over to NGO Sulabh International to ensure cleanliness and for maintenance, officials said.
Round-the-clock work is on at the Varanasi Cantonment railway station as part of New Delhi's mission to upgrade 24 railway stations across India.
The flooring of the stairs are being changed from concrete to granite, platforms are getting a new face, new eateries are opening and the waiting rooms are being spruced up.
A sum of Rs.12.5 crore was released in July for the initial upgrade.
Naik said the central government was committed to promoting religious tourism. A sum of Rs.100 crore had been earmarked, while Rs.500 crore has been given to promote the Buddhist circuit.
Varanasi Mayor Ram Gopal Mohile told IANS that the Prime Minister's Office was taking deep interest in the development of Kashi -- as Varanasi has been known for centuries.
"Very soon the wheels of development will begin moving faster," the minister said.
Uttar Pradesh's Akhilesh Yadav government has also begun a major exercise to make its presence felt in the temple town.
Meetings have taken place to fast-track development work. Chief Secretary Alok Ranjan held a high-level meeting in Lucknow last week and gave officials in Varanasi "timelines" to complete projects.
Taking a cue from Modi's plans to clean the Ganga, the state government has taken up the Varuna river here as the centre of its development matrix, an official said.
Varuna is a minor tributary of the holy river and flows east-to-southeast for some 100 km, to join the Ganga, just downstream of Varanasi.
Varuna demarcates the north end of Varanasi - the city that lies between Varuna and Assi Rivers.
The district administration is considering developing this area in a major way by building the water front and important residential projects.
Varanasi District Magistrate Pranjal Yadav is spearheading the state's projects.
Many road junctions have been beautified, the roads in Varanasi are being widened and at many places illegal constructions have been removed.
State government sources told IANS that development works undertaken include improving roads leading to Azamgarh, Jaunpur and Ghazipur, developing a green belt, and setting up seven new ghats on the banks of Varuna.
There are also plans to set up a water treatment plant, sewage treatment plants, expedite work on garbage disposal and start a food street.
The urban development minister in the Samajwadi Party government visited Varanasi Sunday and directed officials to expedite development work.
After decades of neglect, no one is complaining in Varanasi. Modi's much promised "achche din" (good days), it seems, will be a reality soon, at least in this ancient city. - IANS