Properties having as many as 17 owners with some of them staying abroad, properties owned by trusts and also custodians of ‘god’, small dwellings of 37 families who did cremations at Manikarnika Ghat and multiple encroachers and street vendors paying extremely nominal rent – all these were challenges that the administration negotiated to make the Kashi Vishwanath Dham a reality.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the corridor on Monday but the story behind executing the project is as engrossing as the project itself. “It was considered almost impossible at one point given the dense topography. While taking over and demolishing the properties, we discovered at least 40 ancient temples. All those temples were buried under other construction around them and people had built kitchens, bathrooms and much more atop those temples,” Varanasi commissioner Deepak Agarwal says.
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The PM had launched the around Rs 400-crore project in his parliamentary constituency in March 2018, which is being anchored around Lord Shiva’s ancient Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The idea is to preserve existing heritage structures, provide new facilities in the temple complex in the public-private partnership mode, ease the traffic and movement of people around the temple and connect the temple with Ghats with direct visibility.
The biggest and the foremost challenge, he says, was how to get hold of the properties that fell in the corridor’s path to the temple from the Ganga Ghat? “People gave up properties because of faith and the transparent and attractive financial package offered,” Agarwal says. Sample this – there were a total of 314 houses or units that were purchased by the board set up for the project and Rs 390 core was spent on this. 37 of these properties belonged to trusts or those with custodial rights to a god.
Then there were 37 families associated with the Manikarnika Ghat (where cremations happen in Varanasi) who were consciously given much higher compensation for their small dwellings given their socio-economic situation, Agarwal says. Further, Rs 70 crore was spent towards rehabilitating nearly 1,400 people who lived in that entire area. The encroachers too were treated at par with rightful owners and were compensated accordingly, he says.
“We started a mutual negotiation process with each of the owners. This was easier said than done. There were multiple owners of many properties and some had non-resident owners (living abroad). One property had 17 owners. It was a Herculean task. Another big hurdle was vacating the properties of tenants who were staying there on nominal rent. We adopted the process of one-time settlement as well as rehabilitation grant,” he says.
A temporary registration office was set up in the commissionerate. After working hard to obtain all the required properties for the project, the authorities had the challenging task of demolishing them in a very congested area. “The entire process was manual with transportation of debris by mules,” Agarwal says. During the demolition, the authorities discovered 40 very ancient temples. “Centuries-old temples, earlier hidden, are now visible. They will be preserved and will be opened to the public,” he promises.
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He says there were clear directions from the Centre and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath that the project had to be completed without any controversies. “We had to make this project silently and by dialogue in a very transparent manner, as per the instructions from the top,” Agarwal says. The project was hence completely litigation-free, he reveals.
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