Ghats are dangerous even on a regular day

Slippery steps to loose mud, rapid water flow to lack of barriers are some hazards

Manish Kumar’s son recently had his mundan, the hair-shaving ceremony. On Tuesday, Kumar arrived at the banks of the Yamuna on Laxmi Nagar side of the bridge for performing the rituals.

After spending 10 minutes, without finding suitable access to the water, he was finally advised by locals to go to the other side of the river, which has the official ghats. It was not difficult for him as he had a car and there was sparse crowd at the ghat on that day.

But on any idol immersion day, devotees are not so lucky. Fighting heavy crowd, they jostle to immerse the idols at any location by the riverside, often risking their lives. Ghats or no ghats make little difference then.

From slippery steps to loose mud, rapid flow of water to lack of safety barriers, puja on any of these ghats is a devotee’s nightmare. Prem Lal, a resident of Wazirabad in north Delhi, points to a big statue of Ganesha on the other side of the Yamuna from Sur Ghat in the area. “Some people were forced to abandon idols on the banks itself. Others left it under trees. Not everyone was willing to risk their life,” he says.

He is a regular visitor to the ghat and was there on the day several people drowned in the Yamuna. “Look at the speed of water and the steep and slippery steps. Even on regular days we have people slipping into water. You can imagine the situation when thousands of people assemble here,” he adds.

The lack of gradual slope on many unofficial ghats only adds to the danger. Locals say mud has slowly but steadily been coming off, and some areas near the water are too weak to hold more than two persons.

At many unofficial ghats, there are shallow pools of stagnated water. But locals do not allow immersions in them as the idols do not get washed away, unlike in the flowing river.
Ganesh Nishad, a local diver at Sur Ghat, says people prefer the unofficial ghats as they are closer to their villages. “The bridge stays jammed on any idol immersion day, so it is impossible for people to come over from the other side anyway. Even if the bridge was clear, it would be impossible to accommodate thousands of people at one ghat. So people from as many as 24 nearby villages assemble at the long stretch of unofficial and dangerous ghat at the other side of the river,” he says.

One exception to these poorly managed ghats is the Delhi Development Authority maintained Sur Bathing Ghat in Wazirabad, which is just beside the ghat that saw many of the deaths on Ganesh idol immersion day.

Constructed in a large enclosed area, it charges a minimal entry fee from the public. Devotees can bathe and even celebrate Chhat Puja and other festivals in its vicinity. Controlled water inflow from the Yamuna and a very shallow water body — resembling a swimming pool — makes the ghat very safe even for children.

But due to shallow water, and since it was not designed for the purpose, immersion of idols is not allowed at this ghat. The caretaker at the ghat says the place has been closed for the past four months due to the recent floods, and is likely to be opened before Chhat.

“This is such a safe system. No accidents have ever been reported from here. If one such ghat can be constructed, many others can be constructed across Delhi. All they have to do is make arrangements for immersion of idols,” the caretaker says.

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