The only fiction I enjoy is in books and movies.
On 24 December 2016, the Maharashtra government laid the foundation stone of the 192-metre-tall statue (double the size of the Statue of Liberty) of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj on the Arabian Sea, 1.5 km from the shoreline of Mumbai. The project will likely cost the exchequer Rs 3,600.
Maharashtra is already the state with the highest debt in the country, with Rs 3.8 lakh crore outstanding as of March 2016 and it recently sought a Rs 1,600 crore loan from the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (Hudco) for the repair and reconstruction of old and dilapidated bridges, reported The Times of India.
Last year on August 2, British-era bridge on the Savitri river near Mahad collapsed killing 30. Since then, the state government began drawing a roadmap to repair and reconstruct all dilapidated bridges across the state. The total funds required for the project is nearly Rs 1,750 crore.
Maharashtra is already reeling under a mounting debt of over Rs 4 lakh crore, its interest burden is Rs 31,027 crore and the state expenditure on salaries is Rs 81,147 crore. Despite the government not having money for repairing public infrastructure, it decided to spend Rs 3,600 crore on the Shivaji statue.
The Taj Mahal has been the face of Indian tourism for many years now. With its global popularity and millions of tourists every year, the revenue generated is around Rs 25 crore every year. If the Shivaji memorial also becomes equally popular, at the same rate of return, it would take 140 years to recover the money spent for the construction. This amount does not include the cost of maintenance and upkeep.
“We are not against the Shivaji Maharaj statue as he is the inspiration for all Marathi people but, to preserve his memory, forts built by him should be maintained well and conserved by the government instead of spending on building the tallest statue of his,” MNS general secretary Sandeep Deshpande said, reported The Times of India, adding that if the state had to seek a loan for a mere Rs 1,600 crore, the financial position of the state was not anywhere near good.
Earlier in June, farmers in Maharashtra were protesting for a farm loan waiver and after an 11-day strike, CM Fadnavis agreed to churn out about Rs 35,000 crore.
“Even after the (farmer) loan waiver scheme, the state is in a good position to handle the situation,” argued Public Works Department Minister Chandrakant Patil.
However, the numbers clearly paint a different picture. If the PWD had enough funds, the Rs 1,600 crore from Hudco wouldn’t be needed.
For the financial year 2017-18, the budget for PWD was upped by Rs 2,700 crore to Rs 7,000 crore, but officials remain sceptical regarding spending even with the increase. Apart from the farm loan waiver, the state finance department also approved the budget for a few other schemes.
A PWD structural audit showed 271 of its bridges were in the ‘most dilapidated’ category and would need Rs 570 crore for total reconstruction. Another 896 bridges need major repair works immediately, while 2,127 bridges need minor repairs.
A senior official said that even if the Rs 1,600 loan is sanctioned, repayment would come at an interest of 10.4%.
Preserving a country’s heritage is important; our history educates us on who we are in today’s date. But not at the cost of development.
If preserving heritage and boosting tourism are the main reasons for the government to build the Shivaji statue, why is it that the many forts built under his regime by the powerful Marathas lie in a state of neglect today? Moreover, tourism can only flourish if India provides safe travel to tourists. When bridges are collapsing and/or are in a state of degradation, the focus clearly needs to be shifted from political encashments to development.
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