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Some targets, some hurdles in Akhilesh’s Varanasi dream

The third Varanasi-specific announcement is Rs 20 lakh for a mausoleum to Ustad Bismillah Khan in Sigra area. It is an old commitment yet to be fulfilled, his family points out.

Rowing by the ghats in Varanasi.  ( Source: Express photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi ) Rowing by the ghats in Varanasi. ( Source: Express photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi )

The Samajwadi Party government in UP has made three announcements in this year’s budget specifically for Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. How and when it can implement these projects, however, is subject to a lot of things.

The biggest allocation is Rs 30 crore for the construction of three new ghats — Raj Narain Ghat, Malaviya Ghat and Lohia Ghat — along the Ganga. This could run into legal hurdles because of an Allahabad High Court injunction against fresh and permanent constructions within 200 metres of the point where the flood level is the highest.

Another Rs 15 crore is for developing a weavers’ market for Varanasi as well as Agra. The market is part of a project partly funded by the World Bank but yet to get off the ground. Besides, a similar project hasn’t quite worked the way it was envisaged.

The third Varanasi-specific announcement is Rs 20 lakh for a mausoleum to Ustad Bismillah Khan in Sigra area. It is an old commitment yet to be fulfilled, his family points out.

Every aspect of the proposal for the new ghats is ready, say municipal officials who are wary of the court injunction. Varanasi already has 84 ghats. “Even repair of these ghats after floods is something we handle with utmost care to avoid attracting the attention of the high court. The only way is to approach the court and get the ban revoked or seek some relief for this particular project,” says a senior official with the Varanasi Municipal Corporation, the executing authority for the three new ghats planned adjacent to Assi Ghat. District magistrate Pranjal Yadav could not be contacted.

The weavers’ market is part of a Rs-350-crore, World Bank-backed tourism project aimed at linking artisans, weavers and others directly to tourists, doing away with intermediaries. As of now, studies are being carried out, and the project is expected to be effective only around 2016,

Locally, there is a pitch to link the proposed market to the Urban Haat, a complex inaugurated over six years ago but yet to be utilised to full potential. “The complex has not been productive in terms of attracting either tourists or weavers and artisans. If it is improved and big sellers are discouraged from capturing the majority of the market, it may be of some help to weavers,” says Dr Rajnikant Dwivedi of Human Welfare Association, which had helped get the GI tag for Banarasi sarees.

Even additional director (handlooms and textiles) K P Verma says, “If we go looking for land afresh, it will be difficult. A structure is already there and it would be better if the proposed weavers’ market is linked with the Urban Haat.”

Regional tourism officer (Varanasi) Ravindra Mishra stresses these are separate projects. “A proposal for the Urban Haat’s renovation at around Rs 2.5 crore was sent last year and Rs 1 crore has already been released. The proposed market may come up in Sarnath area, as the tourism project has been designed around the Buddhist circuit in Varanasi and the Agra-Braj circuit.”

Bismillah Khan’s family, meanwhile, has long been demanding a mausoleum. “My grandfather passed away in 2006 and we have got only promises since then,” says Affaq Haider. “We were told some funds have been sanctioned, but nothing has happened yet.” Regional culture officer Ratnesh Verma says the proposal is ready, but “we had to put it on hold due to the elections”.

There had been no such Varanasi-specific allocations in last year’s budget. Samajwadi Party district president Akhilesh Mishra, however, says the government provided Rs 800 crore for projects before the elections. “Our CM is aware that the PM’s constituency should be treated in accordance with the dignity of his post. He is ready to work in cooperation with the Centre to improve the constituency.”

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