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Ashish Misra   |   September 30, 2015 | UPDATED 21:00 IST

“Ganga is like a mother to us. By cleaning Assi Ghat, we have paid tribute to our mother,”says BN Chaturvedi, National adviser, Sulabh International, Varanasi.

Workers of Sulabh International at Assi Ghat in Varanasi.

Less than a year ago, the Assi Ghat on the banks of the Ganga was one of the dirtiest public spaces in Varanasi. Mounds of mud covered major portions of this 400-metre stretch, and its stairs leading to the water were covered with undulated hillocks made of silt and refuse. Instead of being one of the city’s most glorious mythological embankments, it resembled a garbage dump. Incredible as it may sound, a rejuvenated ghat today preens proudly, standing out among all the others in this holy city. This March 17, the historical Budhwa Mangal programme was organised on the Assi Ghat instead of the central Dashashwamedh Ghat.

This dramatic transformation of the Assi Ghat into Varanasi’s new cultural hub was brought about in just three months through a massive cleanliness drive carried out by Sulabh International under the watchful eye of the enterprise’s national adviser B.N. Chaturvedi. The process started in October 2014, when Varanasi’s then district magistrate, Pranjal Yadav, now posted in the Chief Minister’s Office in Lucknow, allotted Assi Ghat to Sulabh International, which had already started work on six other ghats in the city. The organisation was asked to give Assi priority, and restore it to its former glory, to show what it could do.

It wasn’t going to be an easy task. Years of accumulation of garbage and mud had consumed large sections of the embankment. Sulabh employed more than a hundred labourers, who worked round-the-clock to dig out the original ghat from under the debris using spades and shovels. A few months later, the original ghat started to emerge, and, almost like an archaeological digging, forms and shapes started to become visible. The first stairs of the ghats appeared at the turn of the year, and by February 15, more than 40 were glistening in the sunlight. The drive cost Rs 70 lakh, a small fraction compared to the money spent on various Ganga cleaning projects over the decades. Six months on, the lure of a clean ghat seems to be winning.

The way forward
The next step for Sulabh is to remove silt from lower parts of the ghat with the help of water pumps to bring out 10 more stairs that lead into the river. Once this is achieved, it will focus on making Assi Ghat green, lining it with more than 500 plants.

The idea, say the workers, is to make it a model ghat and use it as a shining example of what needs to be done across the city. After all, if Assi Ghat can be restored, so can any other.