23
Dec

KING-SIZED CONTROVERSY

Alka Dhupkar, Pune Mirror

Link to news article

PM Narendra Modi will be in Mumbai on Saturday to inaugurate the construction of the highly contentious Shivaji Maharaj memorial off the city’s coast. We take a 360 degree look at the Rs 3600-crore complex

THE STORY SO FAR

Soon after it came to power, the state government announced plans to build a memorial to Chhatrapati Shivaji on a rocky outcrop in the Arabian Sea. The BJP government was merely taking forward the Congress-NCP’s plans. “The decision to build the Shivaji memorial was taken by the Congress-NCP government in July 2005,” said former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. “The final government resolution was passed by us in February 2014.”

The bronze statue will be located about 1.2km southwest of Raj Bhavan, and the proposed project area comes under the jurisdiction of the Port of Mumbai. The state government approved the location of the site via a government resolution issued in February 2014. When complete, the 400-feet tall statue, expected to be unveiled in 2019, will be taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York. The entire project will cost Rs 3,600 crore, and the memorial will also house a temple dedicated to goddess Tuljabhavani (Shivaji’s tutelary deity), an art museum, a library, an auditorium and an amphitheatre among others. The man overseeing the work on the statue is Delhibased sculptor Ram Sutar. “The hard part is already over. Half the battle was won when we completed construction of a 25-feet model at our studio in Noida,” Sutar told Mirror. He added that the actual construction on the site would take more than a year, and estimated that 2000-odd workers would need to work round the clock to finish it on time. Sutar, who is also constructing a monument of Sardar Vallabhai Patel (‘The Statue of Unity’) in Gujarat, said that around 1,700 tonnes of bronze would be needed for the construction of the statue. The first phase of the project will be completed by 2019, and the second by 2021. On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Mumbai to inaugurate the construction of the project. According to Vinayak Mete, chairperson of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Memorial Committee, “This is a matter of great pride for the state and the country. It will be a great tourist attraction.”

WHICH DEPARTMENTS HAVE APPROVED THE PROJECT?

Between 2014 and 2016, the project received no-objection certificates from the Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change; The Western Naval Command; Coast Guard; Coastal Regulation Zone Management Authority; Mumbai Police, the BMC, Bombay Natural History Society and the Department of Fisheries among others. But, Prithivraj Chavan said, “Only NoCs are not enough. The government should put up all the necessary permission on its website, especially since this project is being inaugurated by the prime minister.”

WHAT DO MUMBAI’S FISHERMEN HAVE A PROBLEM WITH?

The Machhimar Kruti Samiti, a federation of different fishermen unions, had a meeting regarding the statue with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Wednesday, and will be meeting senior minister Mahadeo Jankar on Thursday. Jankar is expected to talk them out of agitating against the construction of the statue on December 24. The fishermen are not against the monument per se, but they do have an issue with its proposed location. “If they build this huge statue here, it is going to affect our livelihood. Fish breeding sites will be affected. Over 30 types of fish breed in the area, and over 250 fishing boats operate in those waters,” said Leo Colaco of Macchimar Kruti Samiti. Instead of the chosen location, the fishermen have suggested seven other sites, including Ambu Island near Madh, Khar Danda and Uttan.

According to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report, the routes of ferries carrying tourists from Nariman Point and the Gateway of India will pass through the fishing areas, and hence, these boats would interfere with local fishing activities.

“We have had a series of meetings with the fishermen, and have requested them not to protest on the day the prime minister is here. But, if they still continue with their plans, it will be a law and order issue and the police will have to handle it,” said BJP leader Vinayak Mete, who is chairman of the committee formed to supervise the memorial’s construction.

WHAT DO THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS HAVE TO SAY?

Debi Goenka, executive trustee and founder of the Conservation Action Trust, has questioned the proposed project. “Shivaji Maharaj is a respected warrior in the country. But, all the forts he built are suffering due to the government’s apathy. Why is the government dedicating a memorial to a warrior who spent most of his life in the Sahyadri mountains?” According to Goenka, the state government should have had a mandatory public consultation before making the EIA of the project.

“The EIA was done overnight. If the hearing had taken place, then all views, including those of fishermen and environmentalists, would have been heard.” Goenka also said that there have been reports of the presence of corals around the site, and the presence of corals indicates that it is an ecologically sensitive location. “The outcrop is special. It is submerged during high tide and has a fragile eco-system. The project will destroy the little island.”

Goenka warned that the huge number of boats ferrying tourists, and the consequent littering that will take place in the waters, will only make matters worse. Environmentalist Girish Raut said, “Sea levels in Mumbai are increasing. Apart from this statue, we also have the Coastal Road coming up and mangroves are being destroyed to accommodate Metro 3. If we look at these in totality, we are in for a tough time.”

Journalist Karishma Upadhyay took to the internet to petition Fadnavis and Modi. Over 11,000 people have signed the petition in just two days. “This is tax-payers’ money, and I am sure we would all like this money to be spent on something better — education, infrastructure, food…,” Upadhyay argued in her petition.

According to the EIA report, the construction of the statue would mean noise pollution that will affect marine life; environmental pollution caused by vessels and barges; and an adverse impact on air quality. The EIA has also warned that illumination during construction and post construction would affect marine birds and fish. It has said that the artificial illumination would confuse them and affect their breeding and foraging patterns.

— With inputs by Sobhana Nair

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