On 22nd May, the Division Bench of Justice B Amit Sthalekar and Justice Piyush Agrawal of Allahabad HC dismissed petitions seeking to stop the implementation of the Kashi-Viswanath Corridor project. House-owners, shop tenants and Carmichael Library Association, Gyanvapi had challenged the project stating that the project, if implemented, would affect their livelihood. The Court held that the disputes on factual matters cannot be gone into in a writ petition.
All seven writ petitions related to the Carmichael Library building and were dismissed by the High Court. Under the project, the Library building near Kashi Vishwanath temple was purchased by the State Government at a cost of Rs. 21 crores. Subsequently, the Library was shifted to another place, but the shopkeepers in the building had filed petitions against demolition of the Carmichael Library building. The High Court had reserved its judgment on 1st May and had passed an interim order to maintain status quo till the pronouncement. In July, 2018 a bench comprising Chief Justice DB Bhosale and Justice Yashwant Varma had dismissed a PIL filed by Sunil Kumar Singh of Varanasi seeking a stay on the same project.
The Kashi-Vishwanath Corridor Project touted as a dream project of Prime Minister Modi had met with opposition from certain corners. Though the local shop-keepers who had shops near the entrance of the temple were initially upset by the plan to demolish their shops, they accepted compensation from the Government. The project involves the creation of a wide pathway from three prominent ghats of the river Ganga to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, easing access for devotees visiting the temple.
The lanes that lead to the temple are as narrow as two feet in width at some places and it poses challenges of space and amenities for the devotees. There are limited options for food and water, and almost no toilets. Over the last eight years, successive governments tried to widen the access to the temple, but had to drop the plans due to stiff opposition from residents and shop owners.
The Kashi-Vishwanath temple has been subject to several demolitions. The original temple was destroyed in 1194 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak. It was rebuilt but destroyed again in the 15th century. The last time it was demolished was in 1669 by Aurangzeb. On its ruins, he built a mosque, called the Gyan Vapi mosque, which incorporated one wall of the old temple. A century later, in 1780, the Queen of Indore, Ahilyabai Holkar, constructed the present-day Kashi Vishwanath temple, less than 100 metres from the mosque.
In June, 2018 the Uttar Pradesh government brought an ordinance to create a special area development board for beautification and expansion of Kashi Vishwanath temple to boost religious tourism in the state. In September, 2018 the state government enacted the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Special Area Development Board Varanasi Act, 2018. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act is as follows:-
Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple situated at the bank of holy river Ganga in District Varanasi is one of the important jyotirlinga of the twelve jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva due to which it is of international repute. It is also a special place of Uttar Pradesh State in the perspective of tourism. In view of the Mythological, Religious, Spiritual, Cultural significance of the areas related to it, extension or beautification of the accessible paths from Ganga river to the Temple Complex and related major routes and existing ancient temples to their lives intact, develop their reinvigorated strengthening ambitious scheme has been prepared by the State Government with the help of the Central Government. In order to maintain the continuous existence of the pilgrims, devotees, tourists in the available area marked in the map, after completing the development of infrastructure for quality and timely completion, it has been decided to make a law to provide for the establishment of Shri Kashi Vishwanath Special Area Development Board Varanasi to create, formulate, implement, regulate and maintain the Special Area under its jurisdiction for developing and maintaining the cultural, spiritual, mythological and architectural aesthetics in such area to promote tourism in consonance with the rich cultural heritage thereof.