By Priyanka Dey

Edited by, Namrata Caleb, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

As time passes quietly, the oldest city of world, Varanasi formerly known as Benaras stands proudly on the banks of the river Ganga. Cleansing sins in Ganges for ages has caused its own destruction. The mythological relevance of this city and its exclusive architecture, culture of courtesans, dance and music styles make it a veteran. Varanasi has been awarded a cultural city by Government of India and its religious importance is revered by Indians across the country. The city today accounts for the maximum amount of pilgrims throughout the year, where as other religious destinations have peak footfall depending on festivals or occasions[1]. The mansions, temples, Ghats, and other structures – came into existence as a result of the religious politics of 18th and 19th century. The classic divide and rule policy of British Government during the colonial rule lead to massive Hindu religious construction in Varanasi to maintain the wedge between Hindu and Muslims. The same backdrop is also established in recent literature. The money pumped into the city by pilgrims as helped make Banaras a prosperous city and eminent trading centre. Due to the rich heritage and long presence, Varanasi has been commonly used in literature for a very long time. Rituparno Ghosh , the eloquent film director in his famous talk show Ghosh and Company while interviewing Aparna Sen and Kalyan Ray talks about the difference of Tagore’s Varanasi ghat and todays Varanasi ghat. The cinematographers and photographers who earlier used to capture the hundreds of years of heritage now capture the advertisement painted walls that stand by the Ganges. What makes it even worse is that this cultural pollution is not mourned by anyone. The glorified Modi Sarkar took the Ganga action plan to a policy implementation level but never thought about the visual pollution of Ganga banks.

There is so less done in context of visual pollution that it will be correct to call it a neglected fever. Harvey K. Flad, emeritus professor of geography at Vassar College, comments on the “visual pollution” created by billboards[2] and how they desecrate the landscape[3] in US countryside. The thoughts and observations holds true for Indian context as well. The disorientation of scenic beauty always happens slowly. But the transition is so swift and human eyes are so ignorant that we are not able to recognize it until it has been completely destroyed. To preserve heritage is art, something the Greeks have been doing very profoundly. They have restrained creation of any distortions to heritage sites and views.

The adjoining walls of Ganga’s ghat are adorned with cheap paints used to advertise low cost products as well as international brands. A large number of hoardings in the Chowringhee area destroyed the beauty of old Calcutta. So the Chief Minister of Kolkata decided to rip these off. However , soon she decide to paint another Kolkata’s heritage building “ The Writers Building “ and transform it from its earlier red colour given by British rulers (which has nothing to do with the last standing party), to its own preferred hue of white and blue .

The high tolerance level and lack of government policies have made natural beauty turn into cheap advertising stunts. It is yet to be proved that putting hoarding, boards etc. and cause visual pollution brings economic advantage to the advertisers but it is definitely certain that due to these disorientations we lose a part of our cultural and social value.

[1] Government of India , Ministry of Tourism

[2] Flad, Harvey K, “Country Clutter: Visual Pollution and the Rural Roadscape,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 533: September 1997, pp. 124-125.

[3] Ibid 2.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind