Running behind schedule, the much-awaited Golden Temple Entry Plaza project has begun to take shape finally, with the first phase likely to be ready by Diwali.
The open space is coming up before the Clock Tower entrance to the shrine that receives nearly 1-lakh devotees a day. The first phase includes the plaza's top and ground floors, as the remaining section is underground. "You cannot have a structure higher than the main entrance," said SS Behl, professor in the department of architecture at Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) here. "This was the main condition when the design was selected and approved."
A private company of Noida won the government's design competition. Srishti, a private company based in Punjab and Delhi, is in charge of construction under the supervision of the state public works department (PWD).
Need for entry plaza
Many times since Independence, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) proposed the beautification of the area around the Golden Temple, yet barring the road by Dharam Singh Market and Jallianwala Bagh, most routes to the shrine remained too congested for all the traffic.
Demolishing the bustling bazaars in the narrow lanes would have destroyed a part of the holy city's heritage, and would not have happened but for Operation Black Thunder of June 1988. After flushing out terrorists from the shrine, the government decided to demolish anything that could give them cover again or deny access to the forces.
So began the project to beautify the 30-metre periphery around the Golden Temple, with liberal funding from the union government. The first four phases, of demolishing the buildings and creating an open green space that will include musical fountains, were planned and completed in five years.
The Clock Tower entrance remained the only gap. The area outside the SGPC serais (rest houses) and offices turned an eyesore. After 2003, the market opposite the entrance gave way to small trees. However, in 2007, when the Akalis were voted back to power, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal asked for a new design to go with the shrine's marble flooring.
In the late 2010, under the supervision of the-then deputy commissioner, KS Pannu, the plaza began to take shape.
Anatomy of delay
In the winter of 2012, the CM laid the project's foundation stone, and then assumed it would be finished in two years. The way the cranes and bulldozers worked in the initial days, the deadline seemed realistic.
It wasn't long before the private engineers and PWD officials found that it wouldn't be so easy, as a mesh of underground sewers and water pipes would require months to be uprooted and re-laid.
"We had no maps of the sewerage network, and before disconnecting any pipe, we had to first lay an alternative line," said an official in the construction company (he didn't want to be named).
As design required major part of the plaza to be below the surface, the massive digging involved caused a lot of inconvenience to the devotees, who had to take a detour to reach the shrine. VIP traffic led to logjams in Katra Ahluwalia Market and near Jallianwala Bagh.
In April last year, the CM then set a deadline for completing the first phase; he wanted it done by Diwali in 2012. He asked the engineers to use every inch of space and not worry about money.
He got his technical adviser, lieutenant general (retd) BS Dhaliwal, to inspect the work every fortnight and give him the update. Still, the ground floor won't be ready before this Diwali, and no deadline as yet fixed for the basement.
Focus on blending
Constructors are using the same-quality "markana" marble that covers the Parikrama (walking circle) of the shrine. "The flooring will meet the surface outside the Clock Tower entrance and be identical," stated a PWD official, making it clear that the shops outside will remain.
It's possible to marble a major portion by Diwali, including the basement that will have audio-visual information centre.
The basement will also include VIP parking lot, conference room, Internet cafés, train-ticket booking kiosks, and waiting halls. "The inside is also marble, making the way easy and adding to the beauty," stated GNDU professor Behl.
Rs 78 crore estimated cost
3 sections (two floors and basement).
8,000 square yards total marbled area (as big as international football field)
Open marble space on the ground or top floor
Height to be same as shrine's entrance
Plaza won't be a marketplace but an open space