Ayodhya: The pilgrim town of Ayodhya is not going to be just about the grand Ram temple, where groundwork has started at a frenetic pace since 5 August last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid its foundation stone.
According to senior government officials of the temple town, plans are afoot to transform Ayodhya into a “Vatican of Hindus”, showcasing the ethos of Hindu religion and culture.
The Vatican city in Rome is the centre of Christianity for Catholics.
Senior state government officials, who did not want to be named, told ThePrint that the Request for Expression of Interest floated by the Ayodhya Development Authority on 10 December 2020 for appointment of consultant to prepare the vision, implementation strategy and integrated infrastructure plan for Ayodhya specifically mentions that the state government intends to develop the pilgrim town as a “Global Religious & Tourism centre by developing it on ancient Vedic city planning principles”.
“What the Vatican is for Christians, Ayodhya will be for Hindus,” a senior state government official told ThePrint.
The Ram temple is coming up inside a 67 acre area and is estimated to cost over Rs 1,000 crore. It is scheduled to be completed by 2023, a year before India elects its next Parliament.
Though nearly six months have passed since the foundation stone was laid, the temple construction is yet to start. Officials said this was because of a delay in completing the foundation work.
“While testing the pillars that will be put up to support the temple structure, engineers found that they could not take the load because of the loose soil beneath the ground,” a senior state government official said.
“There is some delay on account of this. Discussions are on between the engineers and experts from institutes including IIT to find a solution,” the official added.
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Massive facelift for Ayodhya
From building a greenfield township, extending right from the outskirts of Ayodhya to a new airport of international standards and a network of four lane highways connecting to the temple town, preparatory work is underway to give the town a massive facelift.
“Our aim is to develop the various amenities before or around the same time the Ram temple is completed,” Anuj Kumar Jha, Ayodhya’s district magistrate told ThePrint.
Elaborating on the plans, Jha said authorities have already notified 1,200 acres of land in three villages, just on the outskirts of the existing town to develop the greenfield city. “We are in the process of acquiring land in the three villages identified for the project. So far, 70 per cent of the land owners have consented to giving their land,” he said.
Jha said the first phase of the greenfield city project will focus on developing the land for institutional use — building hotels, dharamshalas and state houses (like the UP Bhawan) from other states. The second phase will focus on residential development.
“Under the first phase, land will be developed for institutional use such as hotels and state bhawans to accommodate the large inflow of tourists expected to visit Ayodhya after the Ram temple is ready. Two-three states have already shown interest in setting up their bhawans.”
According to district administration officials, the present daily footfall in the pilgrim town, despite Covid-19 restrictions, touches approximately 20,000. On occasions like Ram Navami, the number of visitors increases manifold. “Last year, for instance, 15 lakh people visited Ram temple on a single day. We are expecting a surge in the number of tourists once the temple is ready,” said one of the officials.
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Airport, 4-lane highway to improve connectivity
Work has also started on improving the connectivity to the temple town. This will include a new airport and a network of four-lane highways. Jha told ThePrint that the district administration has already acquired 158 acres of land for the airport project at an approximate cost of over Rs 450 crore.
It will be called the Maryada Purshottam Shriram airport. The name was approved by the UP cabinet in November 2020.
Meanwhile, the Union road transport ministry and the state government are working to develop the highway network. While the National Highways Authority of India is constructing a four-lane highway connecting Rae Bareilly to Ayodhya, the state government will soon start work on a four-lane highway connecting Varanasi to Ayodhya.
“The state government has also given an in-principle nod to a Ring Road project surrounding Ayodhya. There are plans to upgrade some of the existing road networks also, including the three-lane highway connecting Prayagraj to Ayodhya,” Jha said.
To prevent choking of traffic within the town, the district administration has started preparation to widen the existing internal roads, especially the one that will lead to the Ram temple.
“Ayodhya is an old city. The roads that came up originally have become inadequate now to support the huge inflow of traffic resulting in huge congestion. Widening these roads is a challenging task, considering the dense habitation on both sides of the road, but we are hopeful of completing the project on time,” Jha added.
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