A group recitation of the Sundar Kand- the chapter in the Valmiki Ramayan that is dedicated to Hanuman, took place at Naya Ghat in Ayodhya. A yellow banner at the venue read, ‘Hey Ram Ujadte ko Bachaiye’ (Oh Ram, save those who are being uprooted). The tagline below said that the reading was for better sense to prevail in the administration which was imposing its will on the widening of the Ram Path Yojana.
The Ram Path, an approximately 13-kilometre road from Sahadatganj to Naya Ghat, is to be widened to 20 metres to make access to the temple area easier. The earlier proposal was to widen it by 24 metres but after vigorous protests, that was brought down. There are two other paths that are being widened- one is the Bhakti Path that runs from Hanuangarhi to Ram Janmbhoomi, second the Janmbhoomi Path. The first is about 800 metres and the second one is about 250 metres.
Shops of middling size are present almost the entire stretch of the Ram Path—many run for generations by the same family. Shop owners have two complaints—one that they will lose their livelihoods and two, that the compensation being offered to them is far below the prevailing market rate. While the compensation stands at four times the circle rate, after the Supreme Court of India’s verdict on the Ram Janmbhoomi Title suit in 2019, the market rate has gone up by more than 10 times the circle rate.
Not only shops, according to estimates by locals, anywhere between 100-200 temples, mutts and dharamshalas will also be demolished partially to enable the road widening.
Sunil Das Shastri, the main priest of the Ramrajotsav temple said, “Our temple is more than 200 years old. Its beautiful engravings have delighted people. When devotees come to Ayodhya, they are reminded of our ancient art and culture through these monuments. The facade of our temple will be demolished. We are not against the widening of the road but there must be some way to preserve the priceless beauty of the past.”
Ramcharan Das, the mahant of the Hanuman Mandir said, “Mutts and mandirs are the identity of Ayodhya. These add immense beauty to the roads of the city too with their beautiful facades. Modernity must not come at the cost of heritage”.
Another priest, Arjun Das said, “Even Hindu scriptures say that what has been left by our ancestors must be protected by us. If all of this is destroyed, what will the coming generations see? How will they experience what Ayodhya really was like? If these are destroyed, their art and beauty will never be recreated.”
On December 2, shopkeepers had sat on a three-hour silent protest against the road widening project. They have been alleging that there is no transparency in the manner in which the land acquisition is taking place and also how compensation will be decided.
Rajesh Jaiswal a local leader of the business community said, “There is no clarity about what facilities will be made available on the Ram Path. We are being told that the land on which our shops stand is actually government land. For decades we have been paying all relevant taxes, so why were we not told this earlier? With the kind of compensation we are being offered, there is no way we will be able to afford any land anywhere”.
Land, which is now being declared government land, is being compensated at far lesser rates than free-hold land.
At the Sundar Kand recitation today, the traders reiterated that development should not happen without people’s consent. “In the land of the King who had such love for all living beings, it is sad that we are being callously disregarded,” said one attendee.