| The dry riverbed at Siddhi Ghat after the Ganga changed its course. Picture by Amit Kumar |
The shift of the Ganga by around 250m towards the north has prompted a possibility of a dry start to the month-long Shravani Mela on July 13 at Siddhi Ghat.
At Siddhi Ghat, lakhs of kanwarias (pilgrims) fetch holy water before proceeding on a 105-km-long march to Deoghar (Jharkhand) to worship Lord Baidyanath.
The Bhagalpur district administration has received the schedule for chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s July 13 visit to inaugurate the fair but the shift of the river course would inconvenience lakhs of devotees.
Last year, the river had shifted its course towards the north after floods ravaged the areas in Sultanganj. According to sources, the river has developed a tendency during the past 15 years to shift gradually towards the north. As a result, Siddhi Ghat remains dry except during floods.
“At present, the river touches only the rear portion of Ajgaybeenath hills but during our childhood the river flowed through Siddhi Ghat and the hills remained surrounded with water,” said Sanjeev Kumar Jha, a Sultanganj resident.
Others, however, believe that the rising river level indicated that the water would certainly reach Siddhi Ghat by July 13.
If the river fails to reach Siddhi Ghat, the kanwarias would then have to undertake their rituals some 250m away or from Jahaj Ghat, which is not safe. The Ganga, with its swift current, has already started large-scale erosion on its banks and the ghats have been rendered dangerous for people. “The erosion has damaged the ghats and it is risky for anyone who tries to fetch water,” said Dipak Kumar, a social worker.
He added: “During the Shravani Mela, a minimum of 1 lakh kanwarias visit the place daily. The dangerous ghats could prove fatal for many in the huge rush.”
The district administration has already started anti-erosion and soil-dressing measures on a war footing to make the ghats accessible but the river current damages the work.
Mahendra Prasad, executive engineer, water resources department, Tarapur division, said: “Work has been initiated on a war footing. The department has initiated 250m and 150m soil-dressing works at Siddhi Ghat and Jahaj Ghat, respectively.”
He also said the ghats would be barricaded with bamboos to ensure safe entry of pilgrims into the river.
When The Telegraph asked him about other safety measures in place, he said: “Like every year, adequate volunteers, police personnel, divers and boats would be present at the ghats round-the-clock.”
A senior district official, however, admitted that the measures taken by them might not be successful because of the strong current.
He said: “Lord Shiva would take care of the pilgrims. Lakhs of kanwarias who visit Sultanganj every year during Shravani Mela have faith in God and don’t care about the hardships owing to failure of government machinery.”