Tourism and Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma will try and ensure that there is actual progress on the ground in Varanasi, beyond the mega announcements. Said to have been deputed by the Prime Minister himself, Sharma will now spend the first Saturday of every month there, listening to people’s problems and acting on them.
On Saturday, July 4, he held his first such sit-in meeting in Varanasi with the local administration and other stakeholders, who told him they were facing opposition to the installation of white LED lights at the ghats from tourists and guides, as these tend to spoil photo-tourism.
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“We discussed a range of issues such as cleanliness, cultural performances and also the lighting aspect. Since heritage buildings and ghats can be photographed better in yellow light, EESL (Energy Efficiency Services Ltd) has been asked to replace the white bulbs soon with yellow ones,” Varanasi DM Pranjal Yadav said, Sharma told The Indian Express that the effort to clean the ghats wasn’t satisfactory, beyond Assi Ghat that looks much cleaner now. “We are disappointed with what we saw. While the Centre wants to pay to get the ghats cleaned, the local administration says that’s its domain. As of now, nothing has worked out.”
Sharma has written to the Prime Minister and said they will now call in corporates and PSUs to adopt ghats and take responsibility of their cleanliness and upkeep.
DM Yadav added, “Although the ghats have become cleaner in the last one year, it will require a lot of time and effort. The Water Resources Ministry too has chipped in, and tenders have been floated under the Namami Ganga Fund for cleaning up the ghats. It should start in a month’s time.”
“Private players and PSUs have been asked to submit a ghat-wise detail of maintenance activities they will undertake. The names of these caretakers will be displayed at the respective ghats on boards; no one can go back on their assurances,” said an official from the Tourism Ministry.
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Sharma has proposed to turn the birthplace of Rani Lakshmibai into a Naari Shourya Sthal (to be run by the Ministry of Home Affairs), where self-defence training will be imparted to women as per international standards. Also, a museum based of the Rani’s life will be set up, using the Culture Ministry’s museum grant fund.
A high-level meeting was held between officials of the Urban Development Ministry and the Varanasi administration earlier this week, to assess how Varanasi can be turned into a smart city without changing its character. The PM has asked for a detailed report before his visit on Thursday.
Sources in the Culture Ministry speak of a plan to nominate Varanasi for UNESCO’s World Heritage City status next year. Recently, Delhi’s bid for the UNESCO tag was withdrawn abruptly a month before the results were to be announced.