Polls ahead, shrine rebuilding picks pace
The shrine town was devastated in the June 2013 deluge.
The countdown for the 2019 general elections have begun and with it pressure is piling on the Uttarakhand government to speed up the ongoing reconstruction and beautification works in the Kedarnath shrine town and valley.
At least seven major reconstruction and beautification works are currently in progress in Kedarnath. The shrine town was devastated in the June 2013 deluge.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in October 2017 laid the foundation stone of five infrastructure projects there including widening of approach road to Kedarnath, construction of ghat and a retaining wall on rivers Mandakini and Saraswati, construction of houses for purohit (priest) community, and construction of a museum and grand ‘samadhi sthal’ of Adi Shankaracharya.
Describing the projects as ambitious and expensive, Modi had said “there would be no dearth of funds” to ensure that they were completed in a time-bound manner. He had also reached out to corporate sector to join hands to develop a grand Kedarnath. Touted as one of the pet projects of the prime minister, the reconstruction work at Kedarpuri is likely to be one of the poll planks in 2019.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is regularly monitoring the works with Modi himself reviewing the progress of the redevelopment project through three camera-mounted drones via teleconferencing. Uttarakhand chief secretary Utpal Kumar Singh, whose office gets live feed from Kedarnath on a real time basis, is in constant touch with PMO.
During last week’s video conference with the prime minister, Singh apprised him about the ongoing works. He also informed the PM that the shrine town has already recorded an all-time high of visitors this Chardham Yatra season.
“Till now, more than 5.5 lakh pilgrims have paid obeisance at Sri Kedarnath. In the past years, we would get such numbers during the entire yatra season,” officials quoted Singh as telling PM.
The annual yatra began this year on April 18 with the opening of portals of Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines. The portals to Kedarnath and Badrinath opened on April 29 and 30, respectively. The yatra season extends up to six months.
There is no clarity on the deadline for the completion of the works at Kedarnath even as officials claim that there is immense pressure on the state government machinery to complete it as soon as possible. The central government, officials said, wants it completed as soon as possible as it intends to showcase it as a major achievement ahead of 2019 polls.
The work in Kedarpuri and at the shrine, as per government officials, is progressing at a good speed. The platform of the shrine has already been expanded from 1,500 square metres to 4,125 square metres. Some 12 feet high heap of debris on way to the shrine has been cleared and now the temple is visible to pilgrims from confluence site of Mandakini and Saraswati rivers, at a distance of 270 metres. The width of this route has been expanded to 50 metres.
Nearly 70 per cent work on the widening the route from Gaurikund via Linchauli to Kedarnath has also been completed. Moreover, Gujarat government has sent six tonnes of rubber matting that would be laid on the approach route to the shrine.
Thirteen houses for teerth purohits out of the total 73 are already under construction as are the flood safety walls on the Saraswati and Mandakini rivers. In the eastern part of the shrine, drainage network that would work as a bulwark against landslides and earthquakes has also been completed.
That political significance that the shrine holds can be gauged from the fact that the PM had chosen the day he laid the foundation stone for the infrastructure works to lash out at the Congress, saying he was not allowed to carry out redevelopment work after the 2013 deluge when he was Gujarat chief minister.
Modi said that he had offered to reconstruct the areas surrounding the temple but the then UPA government mounted pressure on the then Congress-led state government not to agree to my request.
The state government had then issued a statement saying it did not need Gujarat government’s help. “I went back disappointed. But perhaps Baba (Lord Shiva) had decided that the responsibility of doing reconstruction work at Kedarnath should be assigned to no one else but to Baba’s son,” he had said.
The chief minister at the time was Vijay Bahuguna, who was with the Congress but is now with the BJP.
Bahuguna’s successor Harish Rawat, who has remained critical of BJP for raising political issues at the shrine, claimed that it was the Congress that started the rebuilding works at Kedarnath. He also asked if “the (reconstruction) works were the only achievement” that BJP could claim and showcase during nest year’s general elections. “It was the Congress government that worked hard to bring pilgrimage to Kedarnath back on track,” said Rawat.
BJP state president Ajay Bhatt, however, said there was nothing wrong in taking credit for “good work”. Bhatt said PM has a “divine connection” with the Kedarnath and he is particular about the reconstruction works. “Modiji had spent time meditating in the Himalayas. He himself spoke about his connection with Kedarnathji. I fail to understand what problem Congress has if he (PM) is doing work for the betterment of Kedar valley.” Bhatt said.