Vrindavan, 2017.04.06 (DJ): On taking over the UP Chief Minister’s post, Yogi Adityanath ordered a judicial inquiry into cost overruns in the outgoing government’s Gomati River project. Now it appears that this has led to a probe of irregularities in the riverfront project in Vrindavan, which was undertaken on the Gomati model much touted by the Socialist (SP) Akhilesh government.
Work on the project was started without the government making tender notifications or receiving bids, Rs 177.81 crore being allocated. No environmental clearance certificates were sought or granted by the relevant ministries. Thus Rs 40 crores was spent on creating a retaining wall with sheet piling, but now the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the High Court have found the work stopped work, declaring that the work causes a serious threat to the river’s ecology.
The goal of the project was the repair and beautification of old ghats on the Parikrama Marg and the construction of new ones, as well as the building of a large drain on the Vrindavan side of the Yamuna to prevent sewage from entering the river.
It seems that the executing agency Uttar Pradesh Project Corporation Limited (UPPCL) awarded the contract to a Meerut company without first inviting bids on the contracts. Work started in May 2016 on a large scale, but not only did the proper governmental departments not get Non Objection Certificates from the Environment Department and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), they did not get one from the Irrigation Department either before starting.
By September, about Rs 40 crores had been spent (about 6.2 million US dollars). A petition was filed on behalf of environmentalist Akash Vashishta in the NGT objecting that the work began without environmental clearance. Furthermore, it was said in his petition that widespread damage to the Yamuna riverbed was being caused by the parallel drain, which was being constructed improperly. This led to the court issuing a stay order in September 2016. The UP government and other agencies fought the stay order, but it was upheld in December of last year.
Meanwhile, Mahant Madhumangal Sharan Das also made a petition in the High Court. It was said that under the river front project, beautification of old ghats was to be done over a distance of nearly two km from Keshi Ghat to the Madan Mohan temple. The distance of the work site is just 44 meters from Keshi Ghat, which is within the 100 meters area protected by the Architectural Survey of India. After this, the High Court also gave a stay order.
So far, work on the parallel drain has been completed to an extent of 1.5 km and the sheet piling work three hundred meters. Mr. S.K. Goel, the CEC of the irrigation department said that the Commissioner of Agra Division told the High Court that the construction work at Keshi Ghat had no relation with the Jugal Kishore temple, which is a protected monument of the Archeology Department. Thus there was no need to seek permission from the ASI for the construction.
The project was meant to be completed by December 2016, before the elections, in a bid to woo Hindu voters away from the BJP.
The SP government made a mistake to approve the DPR (detailed project report) and release funds to the irrigation department without noticing that no Non Objection Certificate had been issued. Furthermore, officers did not hold any public hearings to get feedback from the people of Vrindavan. As a result, they did not recognize the extent of local objections to the project.
Some officials working on the Vrindavan project are also worried that the Gomati Riverfront investigation will lead to testing of the quality of the work that has been done. However, A.K. Vajpayee, a junior engineer of the executive body, said, “Let them investigate the work, what has been done is up to standard.”
Meanwhile it has been announced that CM Adityanath Yogi is likely to visit Vrindavan before the end of the month.
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