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Grandeur of Gangotri lost in urbanisation

GANGOTRI, June 15 (From Sunita Aron)

An army truck rammed into a ‘dhaba’ in Gangotri killing two women and seriously injuring several others on the Ganga Dushehera-a day of religious festivity in Garhwal. The deaths, away from the glare of the media, failed to create a furore.

The reason being the strong religious beliefs of the bereaved family members as well as of the pilgrims that both the women attained moksha.

The incident taken one back to 1948 when pilgrims used to begin the Gangotri Yatra from Uttarkashi cognizant of the fact that their chances of returning home were bleak as in those times one had to trek all the way from Uttarkashi.

Since then, neither have people outgrown their religious convictions nor are there any signs of development, barring the fact that the 100 km long yatra from Uttarkashi to Gangotri is motorable today, notwithstanding the hurdles caused by the frequent landslides, the avalanches and the poor road conditions. The increasing vehicular traffic, further spoils the spine-chilling drive through the beautiful Himalayas.

Every year several buses carrying pilgrims are swept by the Ganga. The chances of survival are further removed in the absence of any en route rescue arrangements and the police is helpless as they are not fully equipped with wireless sets.

On the day of Ganga Dushehera, the district administration made no arrangements in Gangotri despite being aware of the fact that pilgrims from far-flung areas would trek their way up.

There was a complete traffic chaos, jams at various ends, leading to the accident. To add to the miseries, the one room tiny hospital at Gangotri was ill-equipped to provide any medical relief. The pilgrim city was virtually at the mercy of the Gods, or his self-proclaimed representatives, the pandas (pandits) who maintain the Gangotri temple and are opposed to the formation of any trust on the pattern of Badarinath temple.

Instead they want the ”temple committee’ to become the administrator of the entire pilgrim town. Secretary of the temple committee Ashok Kumar Semwal has three-fold demand pending with the State Government for the settlement of 14 miles long jungle around Gangotri in favour of Ganga (temple committee), regularisation of property and allotment of land to the landless.

A PIL has been filed by a former member of their community demanding a CBI inquiry into the affairs of the temple committee. Large scale irregularities have been alleged in the ‘accounts’ (which have not been audited for years), construction of a temple Harsil Mukhya at Dharmashala. However, the Pandas accuse the Greater Gangotri Special Area Development Authority for the conversion of Gangotri into a concrete jungle since 1984. Interestingly the authority has no land for development, nor any office, and the rules have also not been framed. There is an office of Nagar Panchayat, but it is without any jurisdiction.

Hence, in the absence of any one authority responsible for the maintenance of Gangotri is creating many problems and as one of the locals pointed out, ‘It was heaven few years back, now it is hell. Look around, it is a concrete jungle, precious trees like Bhojpatra have vanished from (Bhojawasa), 14 Km from Gangotri and so has the junu tree which checks landslides. People today come here for honeymoon and not for holy dip in Ganga.’

The grandeur of Gangotri and of its dazzling waterfall, surrounded by the snowclad Himalayan peaks is lost in the mushrooming buildings and poor sanitation. Schemes which have been chalked out, are yet to be implemented. Since last year the State Government had launched a scheme for the development of various amenities on the yatra route

Several VVIP’s including former Presidents, judicial heads, former Prime Ministers including Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee have visited Gangotri.