Mathura: Local officials in the sprawling Braj region, visited by millions of Hindus for its association with the life of Lord Krishna, have been told to ensure cleanliness in the vicinity of major temples and pilgrim spots.
Responding to persistent demands by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visiting Krishna and Radha shrines in Mathura and Vrindavan, Agra's Divisional Commissioner Pradeep Bhatnagar has directed Mathura District Magistrate Rajesh Kumar to take up cleanliness as a priority task in the entire area.
The Uttar Pradesh government is giving final touches to the Braj Heritage Development Plan for Mathura, Vrindavan and Goverdhan areas. Indications are that the proposed Braj Heritage Planning Board with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav as chairman will be set up in December.
Peeved by the pathetic lack of community hygiene due to the absence of public toilets around temples and shrines, residents of the holy towns of Vrindavan, Goverdhan and Mathura have long been demanding well maintained pay toilets for pilgrims.
"Looking at the daily number of pilgrims, the existing number of public toilets are like drops in a desert. Worse, a few are badly managed," Govind Sharma, guide-cum-panda of Mathura, told this IANS correspondent.
More than 10 million pilgrims come to Krishna shrines annually. Most are from humble backgrounds. The Jai Gurudev temple alone attracts more than a million. And a festival almost every month attracts hundreds of thousands.
"These people need decent civic amenities. The pilgrims take all problems in their stride as they come with noble intentions. But the municipal bodies should be alive to their problems," said Sri Krishna Das, an aged holy man.
On the 21-km 'parikrama' route in Goverdhan, hundreds of thousands each day ease in the open.
"It is such an unholy sight early in the morning," complained panda Birjo Baba. "The dharamshalas do have toilets but their number is limited. Hundreds of thousands need adequate facilities to answer nature's call."
He added: "The local bodies have not bothered to address this issue."
He said there was need for a string of public toilets around Mansi Ganga, the holy pond that every pilgrim visits for a dip.
The scenario is no different in Barsana, Nandgaon, Gokul, Mahavan and other religious sites.
"As far as Vrindavan is concerned, Sulabh International has provided a few toilets but their upkeep is poor," social activist Jagan Poddar said.
The situation is worse in Mathura. All along the boundary of the bus stand and outside the railway station, one can see long lines of people easing themselves along the walls.
"The toilets are there but since there is no water and no arrangement for regular cleaning, people shudder to enter the stinking toilets," said NGO activist Dhananjay Gautam. "Women's toilets are non-existent."
Anshuman Gopal, a businessman of Vrindavan, said: "The government should first ensure public hygiene and provide basic civic amenities."
Resident Rajendra Agarwal, however, says it is not enough to have public toilets. "More important is the need for regular cleaning and provision of water."
In Mathura, even most commercial complexes do not have public toilets. Major showrooms lack facilities for women in particular.
Complained businessman Kanhaiya Lal Gupta: "While (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi is stressing the need for cleanliness, the local bodies are dragging their feet."
Added Vrindavan's music maestro Acharya Jaimini: "The holy land of Sri Krishna and Radha surely deserves a better deal, and perhaps on an urgent basis."