The Uttar Pradesh government has announced a Braj Heritage Planning Board to suggest ideas and monitor implementation of projects in the Braj area
It's a land steeped in Indian folklore, a land where Lord Krishna and his 'gopis' (consorts) are believed to have once romped in gay abandon. Now, the tourism ministry is set to spend over Rs.120 crore ($20 million) on the infrastructural development of the Mathura-Vrindavan pilgrimage circuit, a move that will transform the profile of a land visited by millions round the year.
The Uttar Pradesh government has announced a Braj Heritage Planning Board to suggest ideas and monitor implementation of projects in the Braj area. The union government has already declared Mathura a heritage city.
Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma at a function held last week told mediapersons that a new international airport would be sited along the Yamuna Expressway that links Mathura to Agra on one end and to Greater Noida on the national capital's outskirts on the other.
Stating that a new circuit centred around the cult of Lord Krishna, part of the Hindu Trinity and one of its most beloved personal gods, is being developed from Akshardham in Delhi to Mathura, the minister said Rs. 120 crore would be spent on developing the "Braj Chaurasi Kos" that includes Vrindavan, Goverdhan, Gokul, Barsana, Nandgaon, Kokila Van, Sher Garh and Mahavan areas.
Mathura's Member of Parliament and Bharatiya Janata Party leder Hema Malini wants the airport to come up at Mahavan in Mathura district on the Expressway. Both the Uttar Pradesh and central governments appear keen to speed up development of the Braj area which draws tourists and Krishna devotees from across the world.
"With so much money pouring in, the profile of the Sri Krishna land is set to change in the coming years," Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president Surednra Sharma told IANS.
The region, however, has been facing a tough time in the wake of widespread encroachments and traffic snarls for a long time, giving commuters a difficult time while visiting this place.
The authorities have, however, started initiating strong steps now against encroachments.
A major anti-encroachment drive to clear roads leading to Goverdhan and the district's Sonkh town from the national highway, ahead of the month-long festival season, has been launched with discernible results.
"We had written so many times to the district administration but there was no result. Now now it seems the process has begun against encroachment," Braj Bachao Samiti member Rhais Qureshi told IANS.
"Holi Gate, Deeg Gate and Bharatpur Gate areas continue to remain heavily encroached upon. The administration is worried because the annual Mudiya Poonau fair will draw over eight million pilgrims and thousands of vehicles," according to local activists.
"The Mandi crossing was the biggest bottleneck for thousands of daily commuters. The administrative machinery had been reluctant to clear the encroachments due to political pressure," the activists alleged.
In one instance, the "anti-encroachment drive was abruptly halted for some time on the Goverdhan crossing three days ago due to a well-connected roadside hotel owner," a source said.
Denying any such incidents, city magistrate Vinay Kumar told IANS: "We are not afraid of anyone. We demolished the walls and the person who opposed was told in no unclear terms that no one would be spared."
"The campaign will continue and we will remove all bottlenecks," he added.
The entire city is dwarfed by encroachments. Thousands of pilgrims who visit Braj Mandal daily have to face traffic snarls for hours.
According to Vijay Kant Katara, of Braj Bachao Samiti, there is not a single crossing in the city without encroachments. "You cannot even move on foot. Interestingly, traffic policemen are never available to manage the movement of vehicles," Katara told IANS.
The situation in Vrindavan is worse, as motorists from Delhi, Noida and Agra headed for Mathura or Vrindavan these days are facing all kinds of problems. Luxury buses are stranded for hours or are made to hold up by corrupt policemen.
District authorities keep experimenting with traffic plans, though the problem remains, said Mathura residents Ashok Agarwal and Pavan Kumar.