Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh): The spiritual city of Varanasi – which in 2014 sent Narendra Modi to Parliament as its MP with a huge percentage of votes (56%) – has witnessed development only on the surface level. But a large section of electorates here don’t give him a good ranking on the rating scale, listing out his misses such as the cleaning of Ganga, dug up and bumpy roads, narrow and claustrophobic bylanes, traffic snarls, unemployment and poor healthcare services, among others. They say that Kyoto-like development – as promised – continues to remain a dream.
Ramkirt Yadav, a resident of a nearby village, said tall claims were made but little can be seen on the ground. “The claim of all-round development in Varanasi is mere an eyewash. Ganga – which is a sacred river is yet to see ‘achche din’ (good days) – a term coined by Modi during his election speeches ahead of 2014 elections. Several roads are still filled with potholes,” he told NewsClick.
He admitted that sanitation at Ganga ghats and in the city has improved to an extent, but the city lanes are still narrow. “Varanasi does not at all give the impression of a smart city,” he added.
Sadanand Pandey – a wood supplier at Manikarnika ghat where cremations take place – is annoyed with the traffic snarls the city witnesses everyday. “All roads are jammed. If someone has a medical emergency and wants to go the hospital, they will die in the vehicle. The roads are narrow and remain blocked all the time because of heavy traffic. Tall claims of developments are being made. Is widening city roads for smooth traffic movement not part of ‘vikas’?” he asked.
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He said drains still fall into the Ganga without sewage treatment, making the holy river dirtier every day. The Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) are outdated and non-functional. “Because of the frequent power cuts, they don’t work properly,” he alleged.
Several youth NewsClick spoke to at Assi Ghat pointed out that unemployment is a major issue for the educated youth. “The Modi government failed to create jobs as promised. It didn’t establish any industry in the Varanasi region, which is known as a hub of craftsmen, including weavers,” one of them said.
They alleged that due to the inefficiency of successive governments, the parameter to judge development has gone down. “In this century, we are counting multi-coloured lighting and basic sanitation in the city and at Ganga ghats as development. It’s very unfortunate. The government has failed to raise the living conditions of people. It failed to provide quality education, better and accessible healthcare services, generate employment opportunities and improve marginalised sections,” a youth told NewsClick.
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Ramakant Yadav, a resident of Narottampur village located close to the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) said he and his fellow villagers do not have access to clean water. “We have got handpumps installed and roads constructed at our own expenses. Majority of people in the village do not get ration under the public distribution system (PDS). We were given free gas cylinders under the much-hyped Ujjawala Yojana but it is difficult to get them refilled given the high price of the LPG,” he said.
A landless lady – Hiravati – from the same village said she has four sons and all are daily wage labourers. They do not get work everyday. “It has become difficult to make ends meet in this era of high inflation. Kisi sarkar se ne koi kaam nahin kiya (No government has done anything),” she said.
She added that despite being eligible, she does not get old age pension.
Aarti Devi, another villager, sarcastically said, “The development – which is always talked about – has taken place only at Ganga ghats. Our village still lacks in basic facilities.”
Manguram Pal, a resident of another village near BHU, said that no developmental work has taken place in his locality, yet he would cast his vote in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as he is hopeful that something “good” will happen for the future generations.
“Suvidha unhin ko mil rahi hai jinki pahunch hai…kaam ho raha hai, yeh hum TV par dekh rahe hain aur paper men padh rahe hain…hamare gaon men to koi kaam nahin hua hai…lekin aane wali pidhi ke liye kuch achcha hoga…(Only those who are well connected are enjoying the facilities. We come to know about the work done by the government only through TV and newspapers. But nothing has happened in our village. However, we are hopeful that something good will come for the future generations),” he said in his local dialect.
Ganesh, in his early 30s, who was listening to Pal with a smile on his face, intervened in the conversation and said, “Those who want to see Kyoto, they must come to our village. Smart city is only on paper,” he said.
Ravi Ranjan Prasad, who serves as a medical representative at a private pharmaceutical firm, told NewsClick that youth like him who had voted for BJP and Modi with full enthusiasm and hope that something good will happen in their lives feel cheated and have been left disappointed.
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Presenting a grim picture of the city’s healthcare services, Dr Om Shankar, MD, Department of Cardiology, Sir Sunderlal Hospital, BHU, said they were compelled to fast unto death several times since 2014 for improvement of health services in the city and right to health.
“Kashi should be the nucleus of health revolution as it is believed to have been the most advanced in healthcare services during ancient times. But unfortunately, our demands always fall on deaf years and nothing has happened so far,” he alleged.
Talking about his hospital, he said, “We get referred cases from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. This means that the patients come here in critical condition. But we have only one 16-bedded ICU (intensive care unit). It should have at least 300 beds given the footfall every day which is around 1,200 patients. When I had joined, my department used to get around 90 patients everyday in OPD (out patients department). Now, this number has gone up to at least 300 daily. Earlier, 10 patients used to undergo echo test per day, which has now increased to over 100. The number of treadmill tests has gone up to 10-15 from 1-2 per day. In absence of required apparatus, we have to give several days later dates to patients who need different medical examinations.”
The promise of an AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Science)-like hospital, he alleged, has been lost in government files. Explaining further about the further, he said, “The difference is like Modi and his look alike. Our hospital does not have funding similar to AIIMS-like hospital. BHU gets only Rs 30-35 crore every year, as compared to AIIMS which gets Rs 2,000 crore. This is despite the fact that we treat 12,000-13,000 patients everyday, while the daily footfall of patients in AIIMS is around 15,000.”
When asked about the reason behind the increasing patient footfall, he said it is happening because primary, secondary and tertiary health centres have collapsed.
He alleged that the government is emphasising on commercialisation of health services. To prove his point, he said a section of the BHU hospital has been given to Tata for a cancer hospital on PPP (public private partnership) model.
With an aim to pave the way for a state-of-the-art, 50-feet-wide Kashi Vishwanath corridor to be built at an estimated cost of Rs 600 crore, around 250 multi-storeyed buildings – many of which were over 200-300 years old – have been demolished.
Two key projects – 16-kilometre-long Varanasi Ring Road phase-I to be constructed with an expenditure of Rs 759 crore and 17-kilometre-long four-lane road – costing Rs 813 crore – from the airport to the city has been completed.
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Fifteen road projects, including Varanasi-Azamgarh, Varanasi-Sultanpur and Varanasi-Jaunpur, are at different stages of construction. A multi-modal terminal on the Ganga has been built at an expenditure of Rs 169 crore.
However, these development projects are just surface level developments without any real benefit to the people of the region. Several important sectors are still in need of serious attention as the issues of the people on the ground remain unaddressed.
Varanasi is going to polls in the last phase of the seven-phase election on May 19. Prime Minister Modi is once again pitted against Ajay Rai of the Congress. The Samajwadi Party – which is fighting this election in an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) – has fielded Shalini Yadav to take on Modi and Rai.