Landmark High Court Order Exposes Blatant Violation of Civil Laws in Varanasi

A landmark High Court Order has exposed new illegal constructions built by demolishing an old palace located on the Ganga riverfront ghats in Varanasi.

Majestic Darbhanga Palace along the riverfront ghats

Darbhanga Palace being demolis

The Allahabad High Court judge bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice Arun Tandon studied documents and photographs shared by the Kautilya Society and submitted that new constructions have been made in the Darbhanga Palace in the “guise of restoration of the building”.

They further stated that these constructions were in violation of the U.P. State Government Order dated 11 April 2001, were contrary to Varanasi Development Authority’s (VDA) sanction conditions and did not respect the conditional licence granted by the Archaeological Survey of India. VDA will explain all the “non-compliance” of this case.

The Kautilya Society has been advocating, for more than a decade, for stricter compliance of the government directive that prohibits new constructions within 200 metres of the Ganga riverfront ghats so that the beauty and stability of the unique Ghats is preserved.

Religious building violating civil laws

The negligence of the Varanasi Development Authority (VDA) in implementing this directive has resulted in rampant mushrooming of illegal constructions for making hotels and religious structures that encroach the ghats and risk damaging them forever.

See the  Allahabad High Court Order of 9 October 2013

High Court denies Government the permission to construct on Assi Ghat in Varanasi

Assi Ghat - Varanasi 2001

Kautilya Society’s Public Interest Litigation for protecting the Ganga riverfront Ghats of Varanasi took a positive turn at the hearing yesterday, 29 July 2013, as the Allahabad High Court turned down the request of the Varanasi Municipal Corporation to make permanent structures on and around the Assi Ghat. See the Allahabad High Court Order of 29 July 2013

This appeal was made to the High Court as a follow up part of a recently sanctioned Government of India project to make jetties, toilets, shelters, big bathing platforms, parks, kiosks, parking area, greening, 9 metre wide and 635 metre long promenades, as part of an ambitious riverfront development plan on and around Assi Ghat in Varanasi.

Reminding the Varanasi Municipal Corporation and the state government about the Government Order prohibiting construction along the Ganga, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice Arun Tandon questioned the added value and sustainability of large scale construction activity on the ghats on the Ganga riverfront Ghats in Varanasi and categorically denied all permission to build permanent structures on the ghats. The Hon’ble judges also expressed serious concern on government sanctioned plans and schemes that destroy heritage, pollute the River Ganga and completely ignore civil laws and Government Orders.

In its counter affidavit to the government’s appeal for permissions to make permanent structures on the riverfront Ghats, the Kautilya Society questioned the soundness of a development plan that followed a top-down approach and did not take into account the protection of the natural, architectural and cultural resource of this unique city of Varanasi and that promoted new construction without protecting, rehabilitating and strengthening existing structures and Ghats.

In response to an appeal by the Kautilya Society, the Hon’ble judges of the Allahabad High Court have asked the Varanasi Development Authority to speed up resolution on cases of illegal constructions that are pending in lower courts as well as to completely demolish the illegal structures that have only been partially demolished by them.

The next hearing of this Public Interest Litigation on 2 September 2013 is expected to include clarifications by the central and state governments on their ambitious plans on riverfront development.

VDA overdoes its duty to follow Allahabad High Court instructions asking to strengthen surveillance against illegal constructions in Varanasi

Is the Varanasi Development Authority overdoing its duty of following the Allahabad High Court instructions to strengthen its surveillance against illegal constructions in Varanasi?

We sure are glad to know that Varanasi Development Authority (VDA) is finally taking extreme care in preventing illegal constructions on the Ganga riverfront ghat heritage zone in Varanasi.

Maybe they’ve gone a bit too far this time round, by raiding a private building just for the possession of cement bags!

And maybe they have gone against the law once again, by forcing their way in a private building without written official authorisation.  Surely they did not seem to be acting in good faith by publicly condemning supposed “intentions” and by hastening to spread the news that the Kautilya Society supposedly “ran into troubles” for having “wrong intentions”.

Here are the facts for everyone to judge.

On 8th June 2013, a battalion of 5 VDA officers, including Mr. Satish Chandra Mishra, Joint Secretary of the Varanasi Development Authority (VDA), forced their way into the official premises of the Kautilya Society in Varanasi, in the absence of the building owner and without consigning to the caretaker or the staff any written documentation about who they were, what was the objective of their request to visit the building, and what was the authority they had in doing that.

The VDA “assault unit” forced their way in by harassing the hesitant staff, which had orders not to let anyone, who is not a member of the Society, enter in the building, which is residential accommodation for many member students, including girls.  One lady staff says that she was even manhandled. The Kautilya Society staff objected to this forced entry into the office premises, so VDA’s raiding platoon of five men called for the support of the police force to overcome the bold resistance of 1 Managing committee member, one lady cook and one lady manager. The VDA even called the police for lodging an FIR against one of the staff because he was not authorizing the visit without being given a written official instruction about who was permitted to visit and why.

Well! the VDA officers entered the building, they found evidence of what they thought was the “evidence of crime” of the Kautilya Society. Did they find secret documents?  No!  Illegal constructions? No!  They found only some cement bags and some piled Chunar stones!  Oh!  And that seemed to be enough to prove that the Kautilya Society had wrong intentions to build an unauthorized floor!

Happy with their “Great” finding, they went to the press and said out loud “the Kautilya Society runs into trouble and their employees obstruct the course of law!

That the VDA harasses the Kautilya Society is not a novelty, since they are under trial by the Allahabad High Court as part of a PIL lodged by the Kautilya Society against it.  (See below for other details about the progress of the PIL).

What is surprising is that newspapers as serious as the Times of India, which previously reported about the VDA inefficiency on protecting the heritage zone, immediately accepted without verification the VDA information, and went on to publish the news that “Kautilya Society runs into troubles”.

Did the journalists not think it strange that the VDA, that has not been following the orders of Allahabad court to demolish those unauthorized illegal constructions on the Ganga riverfront ghats in Varanasi that the VDA itself listed as “illegal”, suddenly raids the non-government organisation that has lodged the PIL against them and is working for protecting the heritage zone in Varanasi, and discovers “the presence of “cement bags and stones” and so decides that the Kautilya Society had wrong intentions?

Did the journalists not find it strange that an FIR was issued against an employee for not allowing entry into a private building of persons who arrived without written authorisation and papers?

Did the journalist not have any doubts that the raid, by 5 VDA officers, on an official holiday, into the official premises of the Kautilya Society, was disproportionate to the normal efforts that VDA generally makes in order to avoid illegalities in Varanasi?   Well, we think, a newspaper like the Times of India should give a second look at the incident.

Don’t you think so?

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-06-08/varanasi/39833097_1_vda-varanasi-development-authority-building-owner;

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-09-04/varanasi/33581483_1_vda-officials-constructions-ganga

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-11/varanasi/34385704_1_vda-kautilya-society-demolition-drive

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-09-04/varanasi/33581483_1_vda-officials-constructions-ganga

The Kautilya Society Secretary says that its staff was only relocating some construction material (iron garters, some stones and cement bags) that it had stored in the premises for internal and emergency repair work.  And that the Kautilya Society is not so naïve as to do unauthorized construction, since they are confronting the VDA and are under their special surveillance, so that VDA can take any small opportunity to hurl accusations against them and try to discredit the organization in the eyes of the Allahabad High Court that has been quite harsh and tough against the VDA. The Kautilya Society did not consider the possibility of an unannounced purposeful inspection intended for finding evidence of “wrong” intentions!

We leave the judgment to the reader’s intelligence.

Here, below is some additional information about the Kautilya Society and the PIL that it lodged in 2005 against the VDA for violating the civil laws, U.P.State Government orders, the National Monuments Act . And the links to the web site that give more information about it.

Two of the latest High Court orders on the PIL 31229 of 2005

http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Kautilya-Society_PIL_Allahabad-High-Court-Order_-27July12.pdf;

http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/PIL_Allahabad-High-Court-Order_14March20131.pdf

The Allahabad High Court Judgment Information System: http://elegalix.allahabadhighcourt.in/elegalix/WebShowJudgment.do?judgmentID=2447321

P.S. The Kautilya Society has written an official complaint to the senior police and administrative officers of Varanasi and the U.P. State government asking that appropriate legal action be taken against this unlawful behaviour of VDA officers who misused their official power and took law into their hands, used unconstitutional language, harassed organisational staff, violated right to privacy by forcing entry into the office premises without official authorisations, defamed and tarnished the image of the Kautilya Society and the General Secretary, gave misleading  information to both the police and the press in order to defame the organisation that has lodged a PIL against them.

On asking the Public Information Officer about the reason for the raid, through the Right to Information Act, Satish Chandra Mishra, the VDA officer leading the inspection team declared that “he organised the raid (on a holiday) because he was solicited by Mr. V.K.Singh, the Vice Chairman of VDA who had “personal hostility” against persons of the Kautilya Society. This is the official recorded written statement!

Finally some response did come from the Varanasi Superintendent of Police. But it was not a response to the report of the Kautilya Society on misuse of power by VDA officers. And what was it? Another FIR!

Kautilya Society Posts: http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/banks-of-the-river-ganga-in-varanasi-might-still-survive-the-onslaught-of-illegal-constructions/

See the Story of the PIL at http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/varanasi/protecting-the-ganga-ghats-public-interest-litigation-filed-against-varanasi-development-authority/

 

We see here four VDA officers in Ram Bhawan, writing the FIR against the KS staff. In their inspection they did not find any construction irregularity. So in the FIR they said that they have been “assaulted” (by the old lady standing in the photo) and insulted (by Vrinda who was not in India) …. comic or tragic?

In the FIR, it is stated that the KS staff obstructed VDA officers from verifying whether KS was respecting building norms; but the inspecting team freely carried out a thorough investigation at the KS premises and did not find any architectural illegality. Here, we see the VDA officers inspecting the terrace of Ram Bhawan, the KS residency, in a congenial atmosphere – Varanasi 8 June 2013

The 2013 Mahakumbha Mela in Allahabad

Millions of pilgrims bathe at the most holy confluence of Indian rivers 

A Sea of Humanity at the Maha Kumbha 2013

The Kumbha Mela has its origins in Hindu mythology, in one of the most popular medieval texts, the Bhagavata Purana. Kumbha literally means “the urn/pitcher”. The first written evidence of the Kumbha Mela can be found in the accounts of Chinese traveler, Huan Tsang or Xuanzang (602 – 664 A.D.) who visited India in 629 -645 CE.

 

The story goes that the demigods lost their strength due to the curse of a sage, Durväsä Muni. Lord Vishnu instructed the demigods to churn the ocean of milk for the elixir/ nectar of immortality. To do this, the demi-gods had to make an agreement with their arch enemies, the demons or Asuras, to to churn out the nectar together and then share it equally thereafter. However, when the Kumbha containing the nectar appeared from the ocean, a fight ensued. For twelve days and twelve nights (equivalent to twelve human years) the gods and demons fought in the sky for the pot of nectar. It is believed that during the battle, Lord Vishnu flew away with the Kumbha containing the nectar of immortality, spilling drops at Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik, the four places where the Kumbh festival has been held for centuries. In each of these cities, the “Ardha Kumbha” (or half kumbha) is held every six years and the “Purna Kumbha” is held every 12 years.

 

The Kumbha at Allahabad (Prayag) has a special significance because it is held on the confluence of three rivers, the holy Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, where bathing is considered especially auspicious for purifying oneself from sins.

Celebrated after 12 years, (the last one having been held in 2001), the 2013 pilgrimage gathering is a Maha Kumbh Mela (Festival) that only happens after 12 purna kumbhs, i.e once every 144 years, and always at Allahabad.

"We couldn't miss the fun", says the elephant.

 

The festival is considered to be the biggest religious gathering in the world. During the Maha Kumbha in 2001, more than 40 million people gathered on the main bathing day at Allahabad, breaking a world record for the biggest human gathering.

Kautilya Tents @ Maha Kumbh Mela

Dormitories @ Rs. 1000/night
Private Tents @ Rs. 4500/night 

Kautilya Society Camp

Over the next 45 days, tens of millions of Hindus are expected to take a dip in the Holy River Ganga, worshipped as “Mother Ganga”, in Allahabad where the rivers Ganga and Yamuna and the mythical river Saraswati meet. They are all participating in the Maha Kumbha Mela, takes place once in every twelve years in Allahabad and is regarded by many as “the biggest human gathering in the world.” The Kumbha Mela is thought to have been recorded for the first time by a Chinese traveler in early seventh century AD. Pilgrims believe that bathing in the water during these days will purify their souls of sin and bring good karma.

Tents

Would you like to come and stay in the tents organised by the Kautilya Society? Would you like to join the pilgrims as they bathe in the holy River Ganga in the Maha Kumbha Mela at Allahabad? Send an email to kautilya.at.kumbh@gmail.com.

A Short Intro to the Kumbh

This year’s festival is especially significant as it is a once-in-a-lifetime Maha (Great) Kumbh, held after 12 Purna Kumbhs, so every 144 years, and only in Allahabad. The Purna (full) Kumbh Mela takes place in four locations, Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik every 12 years. An Ardh (half) Kumbh is held in Haridwar and Allahabad six years after (and six years before) every Purna Kumbh. The exact timing, duration and location of each festival are calculated according to an astrological chart.

Filocafe' - Cafe', Common Space and Media Center

The Kumbh Mela comes from one of the most revered chapters of the ancient Hindu Purana texts, in which demigods fight with demons for possession of a Kumbha (urn) full of Amrita, a special nectar that would replenish the strength of the demigods. The fight lasted 12 days and 12 nights, the equivalent to 12 human years. The story goes that during the fight, drops of nectar fell from the Kumbha at the four locations where the festival is held.

Tents and Tents as Far as the Eyes can See

Over the course of the festival there are specific days, selected according to astrological factors, that are considered particularly holy. The most prestigious of these is the Mauni Amavasya Snan, the main bathing day which sees the greatest number of participants wading through the rivers. At the last Purna Kumbh Mela in 2001, it is estimated that around 40 million people bathed in the river Ganga on that day alone. This year the main bathing day will take place on February 10.

Organising the festival (with 30,000 police officers being deployed) and moving the state mechanism is thought to have cost the Indian state an equivalent of 150 million Euros. The 55-day event is expected to generate between 1.6 billion and two billion Euros-worth of income, with contributions coming from millions of domestic and foreign tourists.

Diwali Mubarak to all who celebrate the festival of lights

beautiful rangoli of colours

Diwali Mubarak

Diwali Mubarak to everyone!

“Diwali” or “Deepawali” is perhaps the most well-known of the Hindu festivals. The word Diwali means ‘rows of lighted lamps’. On the day of Diwali, homes, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas or deepa. The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. The actual legends that go with the festival are different in different parts of India:

  • In northern India and elsewhere, Diwali celebrates Rama’s return from fourteen years of exile to Ayodhya after the defeat of Ravana and his subsequent coronation as king;
  • In Gujarat, the festival honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth;
  • In Nepal, Diwali commemorates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king Narakasura;
  • In Bengal, the festival is associated with the Goddess Kali.

As per spiritual references, on this day the “Lakshmi-panchayatan” enter the Universe: i.e. Vishnu, Indra, Kubera, Gajendra and Lakshmi . Lakshmi is the Divine Energy (Shakti) which provides energy to all activities; Vishnu brings happiness and contentment; Kubera brings wealth and generosity to share this wealth; Indra brings Opulence or satisfaction on receiving wealth; Gajendra or Ganesha carries the wealth; Saraswati brings knowledge and wisdom.

While we celebrate Diwali tomorrow, November 13th, let us remember to make this Diwali “Noise Free”: free from noisy ear deafening crackers and free from air pollution.

Varanasi Celebrates Navratri: Nine Days Dedicated to the Worship of the Goddess

As Varanasi celebrates the Navratri festival, the city is alive with bright and colourful lights, amazing temples temporarily constructed, loud festive music everywhere, children dancing and goodies to eat. The city seems to be bursting at its seams with thousands of people out on the streets celebrating the festival and enjoying the onset of winter after a long and humid summer.

Navaratri (nine nights) is one of the most celebrated Hindu festivals in India. Celebrated for nine days, twice every year, Navratri symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. It is celebrated once at the beginning of October (September – October) and and once at the beginning of summer (March-April). During this period, Universal Mother Goddess – “Maha Durga“; the Goddess of Prosperity – “Maha Lakshmi“; and the Goddess of Wisdom – “Maha Saraswati“, are worshipped as the manifestations of Shakti, or cosmic energy. The nine days of the Navaratri are dedicated to the worship of nine  manifestations of the Goddess.

If you want to know which are the nine Goddesses worshipped on the nine days of the Navaratri, read this write-up: Nine Hindu Goddesses

“No construction 200 metres from the banks of the River Ganga in Varanasi”, orders the Allahabad High Court in India

The banks of the river Ganga in Varanasi might still survive the onslaught of “development”!

photo: Jaymis Loveday/Creative Commons

In a landmark judgement on 27 July 2012, Justice Ashok Bhushan of the Allahabad High Court, categorically ordered the Varanasi Development Authority and the district administration of Varanasi to “ensure that no construction is made 200 metres area from the highest flood level at both the banks of river Ganga” and that “appropriate notice and boards are placed at the banks of the river Ganga in this regard for the notice of public in general.”

The Allahabad High Court passed this order in response to the Public Interest Litigation, first filed by the Kautilya Society in 2005, appealing that the Varanasi Development Authority and the Uttar Pradesh State Government prohibit all illegal constructions on the banks of the river Ganga in Varanasi and implement laws and government orders to protect the Ganga riverfront ghats in Varanasi.

As part of its continuing efforts to protect the cultural, natural and architectural heritage of the city of Varanasi, especially the Ganga riverfront ghats, the Kautilya Society had appeared in the  Allahabad High Court on 27 July 2012 to defend the Public Interest Litigation it filed.

Download the full order passed by the Allahabad High Court on 27 July 2012 Allahabad High Court Order 27July 2012

The Unity of the Aesthetic Experience of the Ghats

Despite the presence in Banaras of thousands of temples, the centre of religious practice in this city is a vast hidden altar. Most people can’t see it even while moving over it. There is a threshold to cross over in order to perceive it, the threshold of devotion. The altar is revealed to the pilgrim performing purification’s rituals.

It is the altar of the great Sun Temple, that rises on the banks of Ganga-ji, (the name devotees use to refer to their mother, the river Ganges). It is a temple in the form, of an amphitheater, where the ghats form the platforms, the water the altar and the sun is God. Here Ganga-ji, which normally flows eastward, takes a sudden turn towards the North. Banaras is situated on its Western banks where it flows Northwards. That is why the sun rises perpendicularly to the river forming a burning line of light that cuts across the river at dawn.

Raising from the purifying dip in the river, the devotee opens joint hands and pours the Ganga water into the burning stream of light. In the offering of Water to the Sun, a unity is created between the Sun and Earth, between the fire and the water, between the source and receiver of the offering, between the soul of man and the soul of nature.

Though a bit forgotten in today’s Hindu pantheon, the Sun God was at the core of the original Vedic experience. That was the first religion of the Aryans who had declared Banaras to be the holiest amongst their cities, because of its unique combination of primary elements. Here, they worshiped Aditya, Surya the Sun, Usha- the Dawn, and Indra- the Rain with elaborate rituals.

Hinduism has changed in the past five thousand years. It is Shiva and Vishnu, with their female counterparts and their incarnations who are praised in the temples and addressed in the religious songs. Vedic Gods receive little attention in daily worships. But even now the holiest prayer of Hinduism has remained the Gayatri Mantra, the Vedic hymns to the Sum God. It is this mantra that the Hindu devotee recites as he /she rises out of the cold water, eyes closed, facing the warm, rising Sun.
Though over the centuries, temples and palace have been built long the river, such constructions have always represented an a cycle of respect around this sacrifice performed on the altar of the Sun Temple. The kings built their palaces, but bowed before austerity. Wealthy merchants, as well, lived in palaces, but they came to Banaras to adopt a discipline. The flaunting of one’s status was expressed through the promotion of learning the building of schools, the erecting of temples. One came to Banaras to make contact with the beyond, not to exhibit wealth.

The adhesion to this philosophy of life laid the foundation for the architectural and social unity of the Sun Temple which, astonishingly enough, continues to exist. But even if palaces crumbled to rubble, the place would simply return to what it was before, nature’s temple where the sanctifying elements of water, sun and prayers are all that are needed.
For this reason, the Mogul armies failed to destroy the true altar of the temple though they destroyed its walls several times. They may have succeeded only if they had managed to change the course of the river, obliterate the sun rise, of cut the faith out of the hearts of devotees.