People in the district of Varanasi in eastern UP for the first time in their life are seeing an entirely different ‘Banaras’ in terms of cleanliness. The roads and ghats are being cleaned round-the-clock to present a beautified Varanasi before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who will reach Varanasi with Prime Minister and local MP Narendra Modi on Saturday.
The stress on cleanliness is due to India and Japan having signed a pact to develop Varanasi as a‘’Smart City’ when Modi had visited Japan last year. Under the Smart Heritage Cities programme, Kyoto has to provide cooperation in the fields of conservation and modernisation of cities, as well as in art, culture and academics to the city.
Such a makeover is unexpected for the people of the city because so far they had been living in a city dotted with heaps of garbage dumped at road sides, in the narrow lanes along ghats and unhygienic public toilets. They were even more disappointed in August when Varanasi was reported to be the dirtiest city by the Union Urban Development Ministry in its pre-Swachh Bharat list — Varanasi stood at 418 in that list of 478 cities ranked according to their cleanliness.
No change has come to Varanasi even after the release of that list inspite of Modi having launched the Swachh Bharat Mission campaign in Varanasi in November 2014 — he has repeatedly stressed upon the cleaning up Varanasi. Modi had also appealed to the public to keep their surroundings clean and not throw garbage into the open.
So for last 10 days now officials and staff of the Varanasi Municipal Corporation (VMC), Varanasi Development Authority (VDA), Public Works Department (PWD) and Power departments are working round-the-clock to remove encroachments from road sides, remove garbage, clean the garbage collection points, repair roads, clean drains, and change electricity cables.
The public toilets and urinals developed by the local authorities at road sides and ghats were lying unused because of the lack of maintenance. Now the VMC has cleaned all these toilets and fitted them with new tiles. Garbage collection centres are being white-washed and messages to keep city clean are being written on the walls of these public places.
According to VMC officials there are about 1.70 lakh households in Varanasi that generate 650 tonnes of solid waste daily. Collection and disposal of domestic solid waste had been an issue of concern for locals because the VMC staff was allegedly not doing its job of collecting waste and disposing of it properly.
After the announcement of Abe’s visit to the city, the Centre directed VMC to run a cleanliness drive in Varanasi. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav too directed VMC and VDA officials to ensure cleanliness in the entire city before Abe’s arrival. The CM will accompany Modi and Abe to Varanasi on Saturday.
VMC has divided Varanasi city in five zones and 90 wards and it has put all of its 2,700 safai workers on the job; VMS officials have sought the support of self-help groups and NGOs in cleaning the city and the ghats. VMC identified nearly 300 spots across the city for cleaning and collection of waste and ensured daily monitoring by senior officials.
“Special stress is being given on the 30-km road connecting Babatpur airport to Dashashwamedh ghat via hotel Gateway. The PMs will have dinner at the hotel after watching the Ganga aarti at the ghat,” a VMC official said. All the major crossing are being cleaned and being decorated with flower pots and lightings.
“This is first time I am seeing such cleanliness in the city, especially in around the ghats which is most popular destination of tourists. Now when I come out of house in morning I have not to face chocked drains and filthy smells,” said a local BJP leader.