Of poor states and expensive memorials

According to the Maharashtra Government’s 2017 budget, the state’s debt burden has climbed to Rs. 3.71 lakh crores, and is set to breach the Rs. 4 lakh crores mark by March 2018. The budget has also reported that the actual revenue deficit would cross Rs 14,377 crore this year – amounting to 0.63 percent of the GDP. However, despite the rising deficit and debt burden, Maharashtra has decided to allocate budget for the construction of the Rs. 3,600 crores Chhatrapati Shivaji Memorial, which it plans to construct in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Mumbai. The idea was first mooted by the Congress government in 2008, and is now being realised by the state BJP government, with the help of the Central Government. The first phase is expected to be completed by 2019 and will house the statue, a library, art gallery, an administrative office, a Bhavani temple, jetty, a helipad, eight museums and an amphitheater where people can view 3D and 4D display of events of Shivaji’s life.

However, the exorbitant cost of building the memorial, especially at a time when the state is reeling under debt, has not gone down well with many. While a signature campaign, which has garnered 43,700 votes so far, has been launched on the petition social website, Change.org, asking the government to stop building the memorial and wasting tax payers’ money, the Kolis – the fishing community of Mumbai – have also been protesting against the construction of such a memorial, stating that this would affect the marine life and ecology of the Arabian Sea. Several celebrities have also lent the voices in support of the protest.

Maharashtra is not the only state to dip into its depleting coffers to build statues and memorials for former and current leaders. One of the poorest states in the country, Uttar Pradesh, under BSP leader and former chief minister Mayawati, reportedly spent between Rs 2,500 crores- Rs 6,000 crores in the construction of a total of five parks and memorials honouring herself, and many other leaders.

By Leonegi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28551345

Rashtriya Dalit Smarak : One of the most expensive memorials in the country – the Rashtriya Dalit Smarak, was built in Noida at a cost of Rs 7,00 crores.  It houses the statues of Dr. B.R Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram, founder of the BSP and Mayawati, herself, who has been captured complete with her handbag. Spread over 33 acres of land and built along the banks of the river Yamuna, the memorial also houses a mini museum, and statues of elephants – the symbol of BSP. However, the project has been mired in controversy ever since it was announced.  The Supreme Court had ordered that the construction work be halted in October 2009, when angry residents raised their voices against the Government closing the public park on which the smarak was being built on it.  Though environmental concerns were also raised over the potential damage threat to the nearby Okhla bird sanctuary, in December 2010, the Supreme Court cleared the project and paved way for construction to continue, with a rider that not more than 25 percent of the total 84 acres should be tarred, and the rest should be planted with trees.

By Vikraman23 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18811114

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Memorial : Another of UP’s exorbitantly priced memorials is the Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Memorial. Located in the posh residential colony of Gomti Nagar in Lucknow – described as the largest planned residential complex in India – the Memorial was built to honor leaders who have fought against social injustice and for equality, such as Jyotirao Phule, Narayana Rao, Dr Br Ambedkar, Shahuji Maharaj and Kanshi Ram. It has also been embroiled in a legal battle since 2009, with the Supreme Court issuing a stay against further development of the project, until a PIL which was filed questioning the expenditure, was settled. Meanwhile, members of a group that called itself ‘Uttar Pradesh Nav Nirman Sena’, damaged a statue in the park in July, 2012 but the Lucknow administrators got a replacement statue reinstalled, overnight.

Statue of Equality: At 350 feet, the Statue of Equality, which is being built in the land that belonged to the erstwhile Indu Mills in Dadar, Mumbai, in the memory of Dr Ambedkar, will be taller than the 330 feet tall Statue of Liberty, once it is completed.  With an original estimate of Rs 425 crores, which has now increased to around Rs 900 crores, the memorial will house a stupa, museum and a bronze statue of Dr Ambedkar.  The brain child of Minister for Social Justice, Maharashtra, Rajkumar Badole, the construction work is yet to begin. Dr Ambedkar’s family has raised concerns over the design of the Memorial, while some others have stated that the memorial is not befitting a leader of Dr Ambedkar’s stature.

CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29580640

Statue of Unity: Slated to be the tallest statue in the world, at 597 feet, the Statue of Unity, which is being built on an island opposite the Narmada Dam, is among the most expensive of all memorials and statues. The humongous statue – twice the size of the Statue of Liberty – which is being built in the memory of freedom fighter and first Deputy Prime Minister of India, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, will be constructed of iron.  Larson & Toubro won the contract for the construction, which started in October 2014, at a cost of Rs. 2,989 crores. While people have been protesting against the excess expenditure involved in building the statue, activists have also written to the government complaining that the memorial is being built without environmental clearances. The people of the nearby villages, have also opposed the construction, demanding land rights of the acquired area of 927 acres which was taken for the construction of the dam.

Rashtriya Shaheedi Gau Samarak : A debt ridden Punjab went a step further when it decided to set up a cow memorial, the Rashtriya Shaheedi Gau Samarak  worth Rs 5 crores at Joga village in Mansa district. When completed, the Smarak will be the most expensive memorial built for an animal, in India. The decision to build the memorial was made by the Prakash Singh Badal government, after carcasses of cows were discovered at the site of an abandoned mill in 2012. However, with the local panchayat opposing the move, work on the memorial has been halted.