Speaking to the Indian Express, Sarabhai said that PM Modi’s idea and vision was that instead of a limited ‘ashram experience’, people should rather see the whole of the ashram on both sides of the road, which would then include removal of the road dividing the ashram area in two sides.
The Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT) put out a release on Friday stating that while Prime Minister Narendra Modi had suggested during his visit last October that a larger Ashram premises might be recreated by consolidating all the properties on either side of the ashram road, “lack of formal communication with the residents regarding the plan has created anxiety, concerns and misunderstanding at many levels”.
This was in response to a sit-in the ashram residents held at the Hriday Kunj on Friday to protest against the proposed “modernisation of the ashram premises” and to seek a stand of the ashram authorities on the issue.
The plan, said SAPMT trustees, is being made by HCP Design, the firm headed by Dr Bimal Patel who is also the president of CEPT University, and is heading the redevelopment project of the central vista of the parliament.
According to SAPMT trustee Kartikeya Sarabhai, while they have been invited to participate in discussions regarding the suggested plan for restructuring of the ashram premises, SAPMT has not received any official intimation of the said plan so far. Sudarshan Iyengar, a SAPMT trustee said, “From what I know, informal discussions are on between the PMO and (K) Kailashnathan (chief principal secretary to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani) and Bimal (Patel), but to that (effect) there has been no formal communication to the SAPMT and the other trustees.”
Currently different parts of the ashram are being managed by six independent trusts - Gujarat Harijan Sevak Sangh, Sabarmati Harijan Ashram Trust, Sabarmati Ashram Gaushala Trust, Gujarat Khadi Gramodyog Mandal, Khadi Gramodyog Prayog Samiti and SAPMT. SAPMT is in charge of management of the historic heritage buildings of Hriday Kunj, Prarthanabhumi, Vinoba-Mira Kutir, spread over an area of nearly three acres.
Speaking to the Indian Express, Sarabhai said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea and vision was that instead of a limited ‘ashram experience’, people should rather see the whole of the ashram on both sides of the road, which would then include removal of the road dividing the ashram area in two sides. The idea had been pitched during Modi’s visit to the city and the Sabarmati Ashram in October last year. Though no deadlines were fixed, the intent to commence the work before October 2, 2020, as part of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations was expressed.
According to the press release, while only three (tenant) families live in the area managed by SAPMT, Sarabhai and Iyengar added that majority of them reside in the area managed by the Gujarat Harijan Sevak Sangh, headed by Jayesh Patel, whose father Ishwar Patel set up ‘Safai Vidyalaya’ in the Gandhi Ashram that built toilets in the rural areas. Jayesh is also the son-in-law of former CM Anandiben Patel.
“The residents have come to believe that it is the moral responsibility of SAPMT to address their repeated representations. While Jayesh has done some wonderful work, the communication (of the trust members, with the residents) appears to have not been there,” said Iyengar.
According to the press release, “The suggested plan requires thoughtful consideration of many issues such as autonomy and mandate of different trusts, consensus of residents living on the ashram premises, and preservation of the sanctity and Gandhi’s ethos so as to maintain the legacy.”
Chairperson of the SAPMT is Ela Bhatt, a Gandhian and founder of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).
However, though the Prime Minister’s office has been in informal talks with the SAPMT trustees, no official communication or documentation has been provided with respect to the re-organisation of the ashram. “Since no clear communication is being done directly with the stakeholders, there have been several apprehensions among residents and other members. Some have raised an apprehension that if re-structured, everything will become government-controlled. Others said that their houses will be bulldozed. Their (residents) apprehensions need to be addressed. While we (as trustees) have always conveyed whatever we know, it has not alleviated their concerns,” Sarabhai said.
“I suggested to the PMO that someone, say an IAS officer, has to be there in the state, formally appointed by the PMO, for communication. I’m only saying that let this (any detail regarding the restructuring plan) be officially coming from an authorised person and not Kartikeya Sarabhai,” said Sarabhai.
Atul Pandya, director of SAPMT, said “We have not received any formal proposal yet.”
While a concrete documented plan remains to be formulated, the process has begun with working drawings chalked by Patel’s city-based firm HCP Design, Planning and Management. “I’ve seen the drawings but an official meeting with all the stakeholders (with respect to the drawings) has not happened yet. I have given my view that the drawings be discussed in an open meeting in consultation with all the stakeholders. If there are too many people, the meeting can be kept over a period of two days,” added Sarabhai.