Temple Expansion Along the Yamuna Threatens Local Community

The expansion of a temple along the banks of the Yamuna river in north Delhi has impacted the livelihoods of many living in nearby villages and has threatened a number of animal lifeforms sustained by the waters.


Credit: Manoj Chahil

The cleanest and most beautiful stretch of the Yamuna river is located in North Delhi, in the area adjacent to Sant Nagar and Burari. This part of the river attracts migratory birds including gulls, cormorants, wigeons and storks each winter. There are villages and fields on the banks of the river.

I have been a regular visitor to the river for the past six years. Such is the peace and loveliness of the place that although I am always keen on inviting friends to savour its beauty, I’m also anxious about the place becoming popular and crowded.

This anxiety has only increased since coming across news items revealing the government’s plans to “beautify” this stretch of the Yamuna, much like the Thames and Sabarmati, to promote tourism.

A bio-diversity park is being developed by the Delhi government in this area. While an enclosed section of this park has gained some reputation for its educational value and sees many academic visits by college and school students, the larger, “undeveloped” part of the park is used by the locals for gathering wood, drying dung-cakes, cattle grazing, playing games, walking and simply relaxing.

Scenes of beauty

There are many serene spots along the nearly 12 kilometres of the Yamuna as it passes Delhi.

The spot I often visit in the company of my friends is at the end of ramp no. 2 near Jagatpur village. The rough and broken-down ramp leads to a temple by the river. The temple used to be small but has grown in size over the past year. There used to be two small, lovely ponds behind the temple where you could find a number of creatures, such as snakes, ducks and fish.

The pleasantness of the river flowing by is enhanced by the presence of men and women working in the fields, and fishermen and boatmen working in boats on the river. It is interesting that the fishermen who live by the river are not village locals but instead come mostly from Bihar and West Bengal.

Those working in the fields can be seen using a unique technique to take their boats across the river: they pull the boat with the help of a rope tied across the banks of the river.

It is here that I first saw a village woman rowing a boat.

Some anglers from other parts of the city can also be seen, especially on weekends, sitting immobile, patiently waiting for their catch. While the fishermen of course have their boats and huge fishing nets, the anglers are much more frugally organised. Nevertheless, both the fishermen and the anglers are required to have, and do possess, licences to fish in the river. Some recreational anglers and fisherman also used to fish in the ponds just behind the temple. Sadly, that picturesque scene is now a thing of the past.

Disturbing disregard for local livelihoods and life forms

The temple started expanding a few months ago, with some detrimental effects. Space around it has been cleared and boards put up declaring the establishment of an akhara and a gaushala. As a result, the rough and constantly-used pathway to the fields has become constricted. The number of religious rituals and ceremonies taking place under the auspices of the temple have increased and greater amounts of leftover ceremonial material can be seen littered between the temple and the river.

On one of my last trips to the river I saw that the two ponds had disappeared, buried under heaps of mud and stone. A small group of people struggled to retrieve a boat that was buried under the mud and stones.

Suspecting the worst, I asked a couple of villagers about the  the ponds. They told me that the ponds had been filled suddenly and without warning as, according to the temple authorities, catching fish amounted to defiling the sanctity of the temple.

This incident forced me to reflect upon a few questions:

What kind of social situation and human fellowship is this, in which a few people think they have the power to crush the pleasures and livelihoods of others?

What concern towards non-violence is this which, for the alleged cause of saving a few fish, destroys the whole existence of water-bodies and the multitude of lifeforms and life-cycles sustained in them?

What kind of sacredness is this, which neither works nor creates, but is eager to declare its superiority over those who toil and produce?

This complex of proving the superiority of the ancient is paradoxically unable to respect the historically important working masses, especially when it comes to illegally occupying public spaces for its commercial, ritualistic and wasteful places of worship.

Whatever name we choose to give this complex, it is without a doubt anti-life in its nature.