Indias Most Debt-Ridden State To Build A Memorial Worth Rs 3,600 Cr: Are Our Priorities Correct?
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India's Most Debt-Ridden State To Build A Memorial Worth Rs 3,600 Cr: Are Our Priorities Correct?

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On Saturday, India witnessed the commencement of one of its most ambitious and biggest projects ever made. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the memorial dedicated to Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj that is being built in the Arabian Sea, 1.5 km from the shoreline of Mumbai. The inauguration comes a few months ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections.

The Shivaji memorial will be a 192-metre-tall statue (double the size of the Statue of Liberty) of the iconic 17th century Maratha king brandishing a sword astride a galloping horse. It would be the biggest statue ever built in the world at an estimated cost of Rs 3,600 crore, which will be spent by the Maharashtra government. The statue will be surrounded by an art museum, an amphitheatre, auditorium, exhibition gallery and other facilities.

The project is expected to be completed by 2019.

History of this project

The idea of this proposed statue was first presented in 1980. In 2004, a Rs 100 Cr budget was allocated to built this statue. The Rs 100 Cr increased to Rs 700 Cr in 2009 and finally the price got inflated to Rs 3,600 crore in 2016.

Despite facing stiff opposition from environmentalists who have claimed that the project will destroy the marine habitat along with destroying the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen, the government has pushed ahead with the project.

Chattrapati Shivaji and his legacy

Chattrapati Shivaji was among the stalwarts of Indian kings. His valour and prudence bear a strong sense of cultural and national pride. He has fought against foreign invaders of the country, and this memorial is to pay respect to his legacy.

It is being said seeped in history and made with modern technology would be a symbol of pride for the country, like many other wonders of the world. India will also make a mark in the world regarding having a modern and architectural marvel.

It is expected that there would be a high demand among tourists to visit the statue just like with the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. This becoming the next hot tourist spot is also expected to garner revenue for the state. This would mean local shops would set up their branches here.

How feasible is it for India and what is the price that the state or the country is paying for this memorial?

Historical perspective: A.H. Salunkhe, a noted scholar from Maharashtra, said in 1980 that the Maratha leaders of the time “are selfishly marketing Shivaji”. It seems that this trend continues to this day. Shivaji has a cult following among the Marathas. But many historians argue that his valour, prudence, and leadership symbolise feudal ideologies. He was never a promoter of education during his time or a philanthropist. Since the Maratha sentiment is closely related to Shivaji’s deeds, both Congress and now the BJP have tried to encash on this feeling.

Tourism perspective: If paying homage to Shivaji or boosting the tourism is the primary objective, then why is it that the many forts built under his regime by the powerful Marathas lie in a state of neglect today? There has barely been any work on restoring these places.

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 Cr 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.

Environmental perspective: Amidst severe environmental challenges, how a statue in the Arabian Sea can be sustainable for the ecology?

Environmental experts opine that this memorial would prove to be deadly for the marine life around the statue. The air pollution levels will go up; the traffic congestion will increase in South Mumbai, and also cause serious strain on the garbage disposal mechanism.

As per the government-commissioned Environmental Impact Assessment report, the project will also severely affect the trajectory of the migratory birds and alter their breeding patterns. The city has been delaying the setting up two new sewage treatment plants although a World Bank-funded project had been approved years ago. Nearly 45% of untreated human waste is flushed into two creeks and the Arabian Sea, causing the marine environment to suffer as it is. This project would worsen the environmental woes in the city.

Not to forget that the memorial would require power to illuminate the statue, which will cause load on the power supply and severe power cuts in the city.

The fishing community in danger: The worst hit would be the Mumbai Kolis, the fishing community whose livelihoods will be directly affected by the memorial. The proposed 16-hectare area is the fishing ground of the Kolis. One of the access points of this monument, the Cuffe Parade area would see severe traffic which would be a massive blow to fishing activities.

The Koli community is not against the project, but they want it to be built on another site so that it doesn’t affect their livelihood. On December 23, a day before PM Modi’s visit, hundreds of members from the fishermen and boatmen Association went on a silent protest, but the police silenced their voices as at least 150 of protesters were detained on the same day. They had also planned to stage a protest on December 24 during the inauguration, but an informal enforcement of Section 144 in the area broke the protest even before it started.

The area is breeding ground of 32 varieties of fish that are most commonly consumed in Mumbai, including Pomfret, surmai, rawas and prawns.

Maharashtra has the highest rate of farmer suicides: As many as 3,228 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra in 2015. This is the highest in the last 14 years. While a major part of the state reels under drought and absolute scarcity of water during the summers, the government has not been able to successfully intervene in the situation even after the centre sanctioning Rs 3,049.36 crore relief funds for tackling drought in the state for this year.

Economic perspective: Maharashtra is already the state with the highest debt in the country with Rs 3.8 lakh crore outstanding amount as of March 2016. And erecting a monument for Rs 3,600 crore is a blatant misuse of public funds while farmers are dying in the monument’s backyard. How can spending such huge amount of money be justified for a city which hosts Asia’s largest slum?

This money can help run municipal schools for 1.5 years, boost healthcare infrastructure for two years, solve Mumbai’s drainage problem and prevented flooding during monsoons or contribute to restoring 300 medieval forts, and boosted the tourism sector too.

This money can also help repair the roads and improve connectivity in rural Maharashtra or even to help the farmers. The proposed budget is even more than many public welfare schemes by the government.

Regional political advantage: This monument of the Maratha leader in Maharashtra may draw the ire of other states in the country. We have a rich history of Rajputs in the north, the Cholas in the south. This might woo the sentiments of regional political groups, and they might also come up with building such extravagant memorials, which would inevitably end up as a chain reaction.

While building memorials for heroes of the country is a way of showing respect to them, it is also important to carry forward their vision and pass it to the next generation.

It could have been a feasible option for the government to launch a welfare scheme in the name of such heroes, which would have a stronger impact on the society.

Launching new plans for education or improving roadways would have benefited the people more.

At the least, the construction could have been delayed until the time that the exchequer is able to afford to spend such large sums of money.

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Editor : Md Imtiaz Imtiaz

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