Now a temple for the fallen soldier in Dehradun

Residents of Purkul in Dehradun are worried of getting displaced. What used to be a serene village is now the site of bulldozers working round the clock to build the 'Sainya Dham'

Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami at the construction site of Sainya Dham at Purkul village, Dehradun in December 2021. (Photo courtesy: CM Office, Dehradun)
Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami at the construction site of Sainya Dham at Purkul village, Dehradun in December 2021. (Photo courtesy: CM Office, Dehradun)

Rashme Sehgal

Apparently not satisfied with Uttarakhand’s four dhams (Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri), which together attract around 5 million pilgrims every year, the central government is now pushing plans to add two more dhams to this state’s overburdened itinerary.

A new dham being created in Dehradun is the Sainya Dham taken from the Hindi word sainik, which means a soldier. The second new dham is coming up near Almora and involves the redevelopment of the ancient complex of Gupta period temples dedicated to Lord Shiva in the town of Jogeshwar.

Work on the Jogeshwar complex has been handed over to the Ahmedabad-based architectural firm INI Design Studio, which is overseeing the massive redevelopment work presently being undertaken in the cities of Kedarnath and Badrinath.

The master plan for the Jogeshwar complex has already been prepared and measurements of the houses located around it are being done. This is causing great anguish amongst the residents who fear they will suffer the same fate as the residents of Badrinath and will be evicted from their homes.

Over a thousand people living around Kashi Vishwanath temple were evicted in a similar fashion in 2019 to make way for the facelift of the temple complex.

Residents of Almora are critical of these developments, warning that their city’s infrastructure is already creaking under the existing influx of tourists. “When I see the hordes of tourists making their way to Kedarnath, I shudder with horror that we will soon be facing a similar situation,” said 65-year-old Savita Devi, a retired teacher who has lived in Almora all her life.

Similar worries have gripped the residents of Purkul in Dehradun where work on the Sainya Dham is in full swing. What used to be a serene village, with green mountain ranges and crystal-clear creeks, is now the site of bulldozers working round the clock.

The mountains are being levelled to build two temples, an auditorium, a victory memorial and a gallery which will showcase soil collected from the homes of 1,734 deceased soldiers from this state.

An architect associated with the project said on condition of anonymity, “These temples will be dedicated to two deceased soldiers named Baba Harbhajan Singh and Baba Jaswant Singh while the main gate is being named after General Bipin Rawat, the first chief of defence staff, who died in a chopper crash in December 2021.”

Major General Rajender Prakash (retd) is aghast at how temples are being constructed in the name of two deceased soldiers. “This is unheard of,” said Prakash. “We build memorials for our dead soldiers; we do not build temples for them.”

Dehradun’s influential army community is also incensed that the Army Welfare Fund is being used to construct this Sainya Dham. “The initial allocation of Rs 58 crore has been increased to Rs 98 crore. Why should the limited money of the Army Welfare Fund, meant to rehabilitate war widows or servicemen disabled during operations, be utilised for such an extravagant project,” asked Dehradun-based Colonel Vijay Duggal (retd).

Several armymen also wondered why the BJP undertook a ‘Shahid Samman Yatra’ in December 2022 that travelled across the state’s 13 districts, collecting mitti (soil) from the aangans (courtyards) of the deceased soldiers’ homes.

Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has justified both the yatra and the construction of the Sainya Dham on the grounds that every second household in the state has someone in the army. It is obvious the BJP wants to capitalise on their numerical significance given that these veterans also comprise a formidable political force.

Lt General Vijay Oberoi (retd), former vice chief of the army, points out that every regiment already has a memorial which is built using their own regimental funds. Oberoi maintains, “A dham evolves over centuries. They do not come up overnight.”

Writer Madhu Gurung who lives in Purkul laments how “one of the most beautiful parts of the Doon Valley is being destroyed for this project”. She wonders why these funds were not used to educate the children of these martyrs or train their wives to find employment and rebuild their lives. Thousands of crores are being splurged on temple renovation and expansion in order to reap electoral dividends.

Here’s just one example of the kind of expenses being incurred. After levelling the mountains and blocking a rivulet to build the Sainya Dham, Ganesh Joshi, the state minister for soldier welfare and agriculture, has now announced the plans to build a botanical and flower garden for which the state will seek an additional grant of Rs 283 crore from the Centre.

The Centre has already allocated over Rs 1 lakh crore for Uttarakhand’s ‘development’ over the next five years, and Modi has boasted that the state will receive more tourists in 10 years than it has during the last 100 years. The PM, of course, didn’t consider the carrying capacity of these ecologically vulnerable mountains.

This is all part of the BJP’s carefully crafted symbolism to refurbish religious sites and build new temples for political gain. The expenditure is staggering. The cost of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya is over Rs 2,000 crore.

The redevelopment of Badrinath and Kedarnath is costing the state exchequer over Rs 1,000 crore while the cost of constructing the Sun Temple in Mehsana in Gujarat is over Rs 4,000 crore. The damages for the Mahakal Lok project in Ujjain amount to Rs 850 crore while the Kashi Vishwanath temple corridor has already leached Rs 1,000 crore.

Along with all this reconstruction, expensive ropeways are being built in these towns. A 4-km ropeway is now underway in Varanasi at a cost Rs 644 crore while another ropeway is being built between Kedarnath and Gaurikund at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore.

All this extravagance at a time when poverty is rising and every fifth Indian continues to live below the poverty line.

Meanwhile, government expenditure on social welfare schemes in the education and health sectors has dropped. MNREGA which provides much needed employment in villages saw its budget slashed to Rs 80,000 crores in the current budget. Unemployment remains high with urban unemployment having spiked to almost 10 per cent of the population, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

But poverty remains a matter of little concern to the government which is hell-bent on an environmentally disastrous form of religious tourism that can only invite disastrous consequences.

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