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Chasing a myth: Haryana government to pump water to 'create' Saraswati

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

In its enthusiasm to revive the mythological Saraswati River, the BJP-led Haryana government is now putting the project on a fast track.

The river, referenced to in a few religious texts, has seen successive governments use it to play with public sentiment.

In the past, even the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) have showed enthusiasm about promoting the site of the 'hidden' river as a religious tourism site.

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So is that the real reason behind the push to revive the river? It would seem so, because the push is being made despite critics questioning repeatedly whether the paleo channels discovered near Yamunanagar are actually where the Saraswati once flowed.

But with the BJP in power at the Centre as well as the state, things are firmly on track under the leadership RSS pracharak-turned politicians Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.

Plan of action

The state government is all set make the Saraswati flow again by the end of the month by releasing water into the river's apparent route that covers three districts - Yamunanagar, Kurukshetra and Kaithal.

The Saraswati Heritage Development Board (SHDB) constituted by the state had passed a proposal according to which the water will be unleashed into the route from Uncha Chandana village through Dadupur feeder on 30 July. The monsoon is expected to help maintain a consistent flow.

Khattar reportedly sanctioned Rs 50 crore for excavating the site when he set up the SHDB.

In May, the discovery of aquifers believed to be the underground channel of the river at Mugalwali village in Yamunanagar, had set the ball rolling in terms of euphoria, claims, counter claims and plans for the future.

Around then, many people began to turn up at the excavation site to sip 'holy water'. A few newspapers reported how a sacred flag had been hoisted at the site and that the crevice of the aquifer was being worked on with metal.

The state government is all set make the Saraswati flow again by the end of the month

In the long run, the plan is to construct a dam at Adi Badri. No less than 69 institutes are involved in the project to revive the river, and talks are on to make a consortium with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Six borewells will be dug in Yamunanagar and two at Adi Badri and Mugalwali towards this purpose.

The state government has also decided to formulate a policy to find ways to treat waste water and reuse it for irrigation. This, they say, is a long-term measure that will help prevent the Saraswati from being polluted.

A spokesman for the SHDB said that it has also been decided to formulate a policy and make a provision for punishment for those who might dispose domestic waste water untreated water into the river.

The forest department has also been directed to prepare a plan for construction of a reservoir along the river in Syonsar forest area by 31 August.

Questions galore

But there are several questions about the government's enthusiasm that must be answered.

The main question is this: if the Saraswati actually did exist, what was its route?

If it originated in Haryana and flowed into Rajasthan, which Saraswati river is the real one considering the one that is claimed to be a part of Triveni in Allahabad?

Second, which Saraswati was Modi celebrating when he had a dry river bed filled with water at Siddhpur in Patan district of North Gujarat a decade ago?

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Incidentally, Asaram - the religious leader who's currently in jail for sexual assault - attended the same mega event. There were videos of the two celebrating the occasion.

A geography expert from Haryana Prof Mahavir Jugran says that there is no historical or geographical proof of Saraswati being in existence. "It is a mythological river and what is claimed to be its channel are actually buried water channels that have been discovered through remote sensing. The government effort is nothing but to revive the myths related to this river," he told Catch.

The govt needs to clarify many questions about the Saraswati. Is it all for religious tourism?

He added that besides the theory of Saraswati being at Allahabad, Patan, Rajasthan and Haryana, there is also a theory that a riven by the same name had existed in Afghanistan and Aryans on coming to India had renamed various water channels as Saraswati.

A member of the state secretariat of the CPI (M), Inderjeet said, "Its basically the RSS psychology at work. With no claims left on the Indus Valley civilisation since the river now flows in Pakistan, they want to erect a Saraswati civilisation in India. What they are projecting as Saraswati is nothing but one of the water channels in the foothills of the Shivaliks. This is yet another example of saffronisation at work."

Political tug of war

Observers say that prior to this, traces of the Saraswati, which is mentioned in the Rig Veda, had been found at various places and the point of water trickling from a hill at Adi Badri in the district that was later called Saraswati Udgam Sthal (point of origin) had been was cordoned off.

A buried riverbed had also been found at Bhor Sayidan village in Kurukshetra before.

Now with a BJP government in power, the hype and hoopla was unprecedented over the 'discovery' because it helped them establish the claims in the name of Hindutva and help them come up with a model for religious tourism.

That's partially why, a few months ago, the Haryana government went ahead changing the name of Mustafabad tehsil in Yamunanagar to Saraswati Nagar.

The same day, the central government reportedly set up a panel under former Kumaon University vice-chancellor Prof K S Valdiya to verify the claims that the paleo channels found are actually the hidden river. The then union minister for water resources Uma Bharti said the "task force" comprising Valdiya and other experts and historians would look into the apparent discovery of the lost river in Haryana and Rajasthan.

Not a new project

The efforts to trace the Saraswati initially gathered steam during the NDA regime led by Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2003 when a Saraswati Heritage Project was launched by the then tourism and culture minister.

The project lost steam during the UPA government's tenure when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, in its report, tabled in the Parliament on November 2005, had reportedly objected to the Saraswati Heritage Project, leading to its burial.

"The Committee is of the firm view that Saraswati Heritage Project did not conform to the criterion fixed for excavation of archaeological sites since no academic body or university had recommended the project. The Ministry is not clear as to which research agency/scientific survey actually pointed out that the dry beds of Ghaggar and Chautang (Drisadvati) were the bed of Saraswati," the report said.

There's still no real clarity on this issue, but we may soon have a new river of sorts - even if it isn't the original Saraswati in reality.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

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First published: 22 July 2016, 11:57 IST