In an interview with Urban Update, the Mayor of Varanasi, Ram Gopal Mohle seems confident that the ‘oldest and unique city’ will soon be amongst the cleanest cities in the country.
In the recently concluded cleanliness survey by Ministry Of Urban Development Varanasi ranked thirty second. Who do you give credit to for this performance and what kind of initiative Varanasi Municipal Corporation took which yielded this kind of results?
The credit goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has consistently run the campaign and emphasized upon the issue of cleanliness. This has resulted in greater awareness among citizens to keep the city clean. Citizens have become disciplined and they are spreading the message too. We adhered to the measurement given by the cleanliness survey. Tons of garbage is generated everyday and we need to dispose them off. The corporation focused upon door to door collection of garbage in every ward. We also ensured that outdoor public convenience is available so that people can use them. In Varanasi there was a serious problem of dumping garbage.
We use to dump it in Ramona and there will be protest because it is also a residential area. With the help of NTPC we found a new place and now we recycle the garbage and composting is also being done. But there are challenges ahead. We have started the campaign to segregate dry and wet garbage. Varanasi is the oldest city in the world and is different from other cities. There is a floating population of about two lakh people every day. There are areas like Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Sankat Mochan Mandir, Assi Ghat and others that attract huge crowds every day. So we are making all out effort to keep the city clean. But the main credit goes to the sitting MP and Prime Minister of the country who is leading the campaign. And I believe in the next survey Varanasi will be in top ten cities.
But still if you go around the city, you find the heaps of garbage and municipal waste lying around, sewer lines are overflowing in many localities. One can name them. Why so?
As I said, Varanasi is the oldest and unique city. It has the oldest sewer lines. Population of the city has grown over the times but the sewer lines have remained the same. The upkeep of the city has been ignored by successive governments. Till 2014, it was a city largely ignored by the state governments. Sewer lines were never serviced and cleaned. The former Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi had once said that if we send one rupee only fifteen paisa is delivered. That system is being changed and it is incumbent upon not only people of Varansi but across the country to realise and practice in their day to day life. Cleanliness has to become a habit and every citizen has to own the responsibility. I have already accepted the challenges about the areas you talked about. The development that is taking place in Varanasi while maintain the religious sanctity of the city, it’s a big task. There are things you cannot stop in the city like people coming to pay their Pooja at Kashi Vishwanath temple, watching ganaga aarti at Assi Ghatand so on and so forth. We cannot stop traditions but we need modernity as well. So it’s a work in progress. Now there is a synchronization between center, state and local leadership and results will be better.
As per a study there are more than two hundred slums in Varanasi. The living and sanitary conditions are awful. What initiatives have you taken to improve the living conditions in those localities?
You are right but the population living in those slums is not big. Also they are mostly unauthorised. What we are trying to do is to make fresh houses for them and shift them there. In 2012 , when I was elected as the mayor, I have been consistently working on it. Its not an attempt to remove them from the prime location. We are trying to get them a better and bigger house with all the facilities for a better living condition. We are not doing anything for vote bank politics like earlier dispensation.
You may have secured 32nd position in cleanliness survey but the bigger question is how can the city be clean when the life line of the place Ganga is so dirty?
Ganga does not start and end at Varanasi. It travels from Gangotri to Gangasagar. The process to clean the river is on since nineteen eighty five. Earlier it was a split of revenue between center and state to clean Ganga. State government had to contribute its share and it never happened. But this time central government has granted complete fund for the project. So the state has just to release the funds. Now nobody can complain about paucity of funds including the officers implementing the project at the ground level. Ganga in Varanasi is no different from other places, be it industrial waste, sewer inflows and other religious offerings that flows into it.
I was coming to that point only. You have largely managed to control the solid waste but environmentalist and experts believe that intoxicants flowing in the Ganga from various sources is too harmful for life. You have not been able to control that?
As I told you Varanasi is a unique city. It has an old sewer line. The sewer lines were laid in some fifty years back. There were two lines, one was sewer and other was for cleaning clothes. This has not been maintained over the years. If we take the example of Japan, water is recycled and recharged for multiple purposes like irrigation, car cleaning etc. but years down the line we have become unsystematic in Varanasi. What we are looking at is practical solutions. There may be be scientists and experts but we have to keep people in mind.
The city is known as city of alleys. How do you plan to decongest it. It takes more than fortyfive minutes to travel four kilometers.
I am not going to reveal my plan to decongest the city. What I have in my mind is that we are going to ban some vehicles in some areas in the city. We cannot break buildings to expand the roads. This is a historical city. We need to bring all stakeholders, including the people, businessmen, and daily wage earners on the board. We cannot move ahead without their consent. We cannot ask the shopkeepers and customers not to park their vehicles on the road. We need to make alternative arrangement for them[/blockquote]. We cannot stop business. What we are trying is to ensure that customer must reach the location he intends to, the shopkeeper must be able to park his car and deliver the quality services. What we are trying to do is to ensure discipline and it will bear fruit.
Another big question is that you may have secured 32nd position but your points got deducted because you could only declare Thirty Five out of ninety wards open defecation free area. Where did you fail?
I could have declared it Varanasi as open defecation free but I tried to be honest. There are practical problems. I live in a colony which is residential. Rules have been ignored so lots of shops have started operating here. So lots of people visit this colony. There are parks. I cannot built urinals here. If I have a small house and people visit me I cannot provide them sanitary facilities. We have made Thirty Five wards open defecation free and we are working in the direction to make the entire city ODF. It will take time but we are working in that direction. We have absolutely no excuse. Its our government at the centre, at the state and at local level.
There was a proposal to make a pedestrian zone and a ring road to male it livable. PM also favored it. What happened to that?
Talks are on. What constitutes a city? It must have pathways. Varanasi doesn’t have single one. There have been massive encroachments. But we cannot uproot them without providing alternatives. We need to change the mentality and cannot plan till we change the mind set.