Vrindavan (Uttar Pradesh): Local politicians, activists and numerous heads of ashrams and spiritual centres in the holy town of Sri Krishna-Radha have opposed a proposal to merge Vrindavan with Mathura to form a new municipal corporation with a population of more than a million, saying it will affect this town being granted heritage status.
The Uttar Pradesh urban development department issued a notification last week allowing district magistrates to directly recommend to the state government any changes in the administrative set-up without the consent of the gram panchayats concerned. The decks are now clear for merging the Vrindavan local body with the proposed Mathura Municipal Corporation.
"The two cities have separate identities. Radha is identified with Vrindavan and Krishna with Mathura. Radha never left Vrindavan, which had a dozen dense forests around it through which the Yamuna flowed. Vrindavan was the centre of gopis, even Sri Krishna entered Vrindavan as a gopi while Mathura was a political centre of power whose suzerainty extended all the way till Bateshwar south of Agra," Activist Lakshmi Gautam told IANS.
She suspected the move was motivated by the lobbies of builders and colonisers who want to develop an urban jungle in this essentially religious and cultural hub.
The issue had been hanging fire for over a decade and a degree of urgency was injected after Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav assured a year-and-a-half ago that both Ayodhya-Faizabad and Vrindavan-Mathura would be upgraded to full corporations.
People in Vrindavan are neither happy nor excited about the proposal. They smell a conspiracy to end the long-pending demand for special heritage status.
"For a very long time we have been demanding the heritage-town tag for Vrindavan for its special features that need recognition and conservation. Already the Mathura-Vrindavan Development Authority (MVDA) has done enough damage to the ecology and the pristine ambience of Vrindavan by letting land sharks gobble up all green space which was the distinguishing feature of Sri Krishna-Radha`s leela bhoomi," Jagan Nath Poddar of the Braj Vrindavan Heritage Alliance told IANS.
"The forests have disappeared and have been replaced by concrete structures. Once Vrindavan becomes a part of the bigger administrative set-up, locals will have little say and would be at the receiving end of all predatory governmental acts," he added.
Mathura activist and author Ashok Bansal told IANS: "Instead of merging Vrindavan and Mathura, the right step would have been to integrate Mathura with Agra as a defined tourist circuit. If you go back into history, Agra from Bateshwar (close to the Chambal river and birth place of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee) was once a part of Mathura."
"The development of the entire Taj Trapezium Zone extending over 10,040 sq. km. needs a coordinated and comprehensive framework which addresses the needs of the tourism sector, the religious segments and the needs of the local population which has so much in common from the language to the eating and cultural habits. What they have done is to create numerous bodies that have conflicting interests and perceptions," Bansal added.
Officials in Mathura said the new municipal corporation can be formed only when the population of the area touches a million figure and this can be done only when new villages are added to the urban body. The proposal, has therefore been made to add 28 villages of the Mathura block, 12 of the Vrindavan block and a dozen odd from the Goverdhan block in Mathura city. The gram panchayats of these villages had been blocking the move.
"This undoubtedly is a blow to the rights and authority of the gram panchayats which enjoy a special status under the panchayati raj system," rural development specialist Shravan Kumar Singh, associated with the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, told IANS.
During the last few years, in terms of revenue generation from "religious tourism" Vrindavan has surpassed Mathura. The holy town today boasts of more modern townships and multi-storeyed complexes than its bigger brother.
Gaurav Kumar of the Braj Foundation told IANS: "Devotees from around the world go to the small villages where Krishna enacted his pastimes. They celebrate Braj Chaurasi Kos Yatra and enjoy the natural beauty of those villages, where some glimpses of wooded land can still be seen."
A highly respected temple head, Swami Sri Vats, said: "It is important to preserve the unique identity of Vrindavan to promote Braj culture and the religious beliefs of countless Sri Krishna-Radha bhakts."
"Instead of caring for the Yamuna and conserving the forests of the holy land, they are hell bent on destroying whatever is left," Mandhu Mangal Pandey, an RTI activist and petitioner in the Allahabad High Court on issues relating to the Yamuna, said.
A meeting of the Braj-Vrindavan Heritage Alliance, facilitated by Friends of Vrindavan, was organised at which it was decided to send an appeal to Akhilesh Yadav.
The letter said that Vrindavan`s culture has always been different from Mathura`s. Though Mathura is the district headquarters, there is a big cultural gap between the two cities. Vrindavan was declared a dry zone in 1959, where the sale of meat, eggs and liquor was forbidden. There is no such taboo in Mathura, the letter pointed out.
Still, the last word is yet to be heard on the issue.