An Edifice Complex

By Ashwin Tombat
28 January 2020 16:46 IST

On Thursday, the Bombay High Court criticised the Maharashtra government for delaying financial aid to the Wadia Hospitals for Women and Children in Mumbai. A division bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and R I Chagla – hearing a public interest litigation – said the government has money for statues but not for public health.

The Court was referring to Wednesday’s decision by the Maharashtra Cabinet to raise the height of the proposed statue of Dr B R Ambedkar near Shivaji Park in Mumbai by 100 feet, from 350ft (107m) to 450ft (137m). This will raise the cost of the project from ₹709 crore to over ₹1,000 crore.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who holds the Finance portfolio, had announced that there would be “no dearth of funds” for this. "Do people require medical aid or statues to rid themselves of ailments and diseases?" Justice Dharmadhikari asked.

It is an important question.

At a rally to campaign for the Jharkhand elections on 16 December, Union Home Minister Amit Shah promised that a “sky high” Ram Mandir would be built in Ayodhya. Construction would start within four months, he said.  

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has more grandiose plans; a gigantic statue of Lord Ram at Ayodhya on the banks of the Saryu river. At 251 metres (824ft), Lord Ram’s statue would be the world’s tallest. It would tower over Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's Statue of Unity in Gujarat (183m). At a cost of ₹2,500 crore, the complex will include a museum, auditorium, hotels, restaurants and, believe it or not, a hospital for monkeys!

A 212-metre (696ft) tall statue of the Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is to come up on a reclaimed artificial island of 1.30 lakh sq m, in the sea around a kilometre off Mumbai’s famous Marine Drive. It will include a garden, library, food court, convention centre for 10,000 people, museum, amphitheatre, hospital, helipad and a jetty for boats. It will cost ₹3,643.78 crore.

The Government of Karnataka recently announced its intention to build a giant 120-ft statue of the 16th century Vokkaliga chieftain Kempegowda, believed to be the founder of Bengaluru city. A budget of ₹500 crore has been earmarked for the project.

India already has 23 giant statues over 30m (98ft) in height. These include seven of Lord Hanuman, four of Lord Shiva, four of the Buddha, two each of Lord Basava and of Jain Tirthankaras and one of Shirdi Sai Baba. All of them were built in the 21st century.

Right now, the country’s economy is at an all-time low. Unemployment is at a 45-year high. Prices of essentials like onions are shooting into the stratosphere. Farmers are committing suicide. These do not seem to feature in the priorities of our governments. But, regardless of which party is in power, statues do.

The Statue of Unity is built with a concrete core covered with 6,500 bronze 6,500 bronze panels. The core is built by Indian firm L&T to withstand winds of up to 180 kmph and earthquakes measuring up to 6.5 on the Richter scale. The bronze cladding is made by Jiangxi Tongqing Metal Handicrafts, a foundry in China. Hundreds of Chinese workers travelled to India to set up the statue’s exterior. Totally, it cost the taxpayer ₹2,989 crore.

According to its critics, the Statue of Unity cost could fund any one or more:
– Two new IIT campuses (one IIT campus costs ₹1,167 crore).
– Two AIIMS campuses (one AIIMS costs ₹1,103 crore).
– Five new permanent IIM campuses (one IIM campus costs ₹539 crore).
– Five new 75MW solar power plants (one plant costs ₹528 crore).
– Six Mars missions (the last mission cost ₹450 crore).
– Three Chandrayaan missions (the last mission cost ₹800 crore).
This criticism applies equally to each of the above planned mega-statue projects.

The justification for the ₹3,600-crore statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, for example, is that it will attract tourists. But if even a fraction of that amount was spent to restore dozens of Maratha hill and sea forts and the approach roads to them, tourism and development will reach the most backward tribal areas of the state. It will constitute an even greater tribute to the great Maratha warrior king.

Statues are not for ‘unity’ but for ‘vanity’. They are outdated, and not in tune with today’s technology dominated world. Statues are like dinosaurs; they belong only in museums. Public resources must be used to create useful public assets. That is a more fitting tribute to the immense contributions of our great leaders.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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