Reclaiming holy Devika

Udhampur town derives its name from Prince Udham Singh, the son of Maharaja Gulab Singh, the founder of Jammu and Kashmir State. The old site of Udhampur was a dense forest where the Prince used to go for ‘shikar’ and like it much. After his accidental death, Maharaj Gulab Singh founded the town which has grown into a large and prosperous town with the passage of time.
Udhampur, the second biggest town in Jammu region is also known as Devika Nagari. In the Nilamata Purana, written in the 7th century by Nela Muni, it is mentioned that the Devika River is a manifestation of mother Goddess Parwati herself to benefit the people of Madera Desha that covers areas between river Ravi and Chenab. In Rajatarangini, Kalhana speaks very often about Madera Desha, its topography, geography and sacred sites. According to mythological lore, River Devika appeared on Shiv Ratri. Lord Shiva himself remains side by side with his consort Uma manifesting himself in the form of Shiv Lingas at no fewer than eight places alongside the Devika River. The river presently runs under its sandy surface. That is why water comes out by digging about a foot into the sand bed of Devika.
In Devi Mahatmays, it is recorded that there is no need to perform japa meaning penance or any ritual for obtaining spiritual emancipation at this pilgrim destination; only touching at the waters of Devika or taking a bath in its waters would suffice to be blessed spiritually. Cremation of the dead bodies on the sands of Devika is considered as meritorious as cremation on the banks of the Ganges at Kashi.
No wonder, therefore, the people of ancient Madera Desha in general and those of the present district of Udhampur including the town of Udhampur, held Devika a very holy river deserving to be held in highest respect. That is why Devika and the great mythological aura which it carries remain integral to the local tradition. It is integral to the culture of the people of entire region.
However, notwithstanding this sanctity and holiness, the residents of Udhampur town have very sinfully desecrated the sacred river by allowing discharges to flow into it and pollute its water. Outflows of sewage and sewerage all flow down to Devika. Additionally the solid waste from hospitals, dispensaries, hotels, restaurants and private houses also runs into this river. One can imagine the condition of the river and its water in the face of this wanton pollution exercise. What is more, Government authorities and especially the Municipal Committee of Udhampur have turned Nelson’s eye to all these depredations that not only pollute the environs and atmosphere but also become a major source of health hazard for human and animal life. Protests by social workers against wanton destruction of environs and their persistent demand that Devika be reclaimed on the patter of Ganga have invariably fallen on flat ears.
Polluted and desecrated Devika has become feel point in the politics of Udhampur. In the past candidates of different political parties fought election on the premise that they would reclaim Devika to its original purity and glory. None of the politicians ever planned the reclamation and never succeeded in meeting the aspirations of the people or the commitments made. Even there has been a PIL in High Court demanding reclamation of Devika to its pristine purity.
However, it appears that the days of reclamation of this river have come. On the initiative of Dr. Jitendra Singh, MoS in PMO, whose constituency is Kathua-Doda, the comprehensive project of reclaiming Devika on the patter of Ganga is now on the anvil. A formal letter from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has come to State Government suggesting it to take up as a matter of urgent necessity action for pollution abetment of Devika. This is Rs. 60 crore project for the rejuvenation of the river under the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP). Consequently, Deputy Commissioner of Udhampur called a meeting of the officers of concerned departments and discussed the entire plan as has been communicated by the Central Government. He has asked for preparing the blue print. It will be remembered that the Union Ministry of Environment’s team has already conducted survey and made specific recommendations about the plan. This is a comprehensive plan which proposes to take care of sewage and sewerage issues of the town and stopping these from flowing into the Devika. Solid waste disposal plants are suggested alongwith all steps to stop the flow of all 16 drains into the river that are the major source of its pollution. This is for the first time that a comprehensive plan has been formulated and even the smallest detail has been stated to facilitate its implementation. It is a time bound plan and once completed, Udhampur will get a new face lift and the Devika will be rejuvenated to its pristine purity. People of Udhampur district have to be thankful to Dr. Jitendra Singh whose personal persuasions led to the culmination of a long promise and effort of giving Devika the due respect it deserve.