About 10 acres of land - approximately the size of 11 Oval Maidans - will be reclaimed 1.5 kilometres into the Arabian Sea to realise the Congress-NCP state government's dream of creating a mid-sea memorial to the Maratha warrior-king Shivaji Maharaj.
The memorial will have a statue of Shivaji, which, when erected, will be taller than the Statue of Liberty. It will measure 321 feet vertically (about as tall as a 19-storey building) and be 2,060 ft long (about as much as a 100-storied building laid on its side) and cost us Rs 350 crore.
It will also rise from the sea in violation of all coastal regulation norms, which do not allow any construction within 200 metres from the coast.
Environmentalists are understandably up in arms. “The reclamation will have deep ecological implications, considering its effect on the movement of sea waves and water currents,” says environmental activist Darryl D’Monte.
We have an example staring us in the face, he points out, in the reclamation of the Backbay area. Now a huge business district on the southernmost tip of the island city of Mumbai, it was built on 440 acres of land that were reclaimed in 1970. The effects of that reclamation are seen even today, says D'Monte.
“The backlash can be seen in the form of the huge erosion that took place at Versova and at Chaityabhoomi at Dadar. This new reclamation might affect the coastline near Raj Bhavan and of course, Nariman Point itself,” he adds. Another reclamation that Mumbai has paid for heavily is that of the Bandra Kurla Complex that was formed by grabbing parts of the Mithi river.
The 2006 Chitale committee's fact-finding report on the great flood of July 26, 2005 pointed out to this reclamation as one of the main reasons for the disaster.
Will it clear the hurdles?
However, the executors of the project — a consortium between city architects Team One and a Bangkok construction company — have promised to carry out an environmental study studying the seismic zones and tidal waves in the waters around Nariman Point and the Marine Drive Chowpatty.
The proposal will also need to obtain several central government clearances through the Ministry of Environment and Forests and finally come back to the state government and be placed before its legislature for approval. Given all these hurdles, will the project go ahead, and will the Shivaji statue see the light of day some three years from now?
Thanksy Thekkekera, Principal Secretary of the General Administration Department, which is in charge of the project, is cautious: “The project will be put to tender for civil works once all clearances from the Government of India come through,” she says. The environmentalist lobby is, of course, hoping the project doesn't reach that stage. Not without their approval, at least.
Says environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal, “There should have been an environmental impact assessment before the proposal was put up. Also, none of the environmental reports are put up in the public domain, so we don't get to look at them,” Aggarwal complains. He hopes the project will be reconsidered, and remains merely a political move in an election year.
Points out Aggarwal, “If it does come up, it will set a precedent for many more such projects and more reclamation in the sea. I hope it never goes ahead and we look instead at using Rs 350 crore on other issues that are more urgent.”
‘It is more than just a statue’
Chief Minister Ashok Chavan sees nothing wrong in spending Rs 350 crore on a Shivaji memorial in the Arabian sea.
“The government will not just erect a statue of Shivaji Maharaj. It plans to create a memorial of global standards that will make every visitor understand the warrior who is revered as a demi-god in Maharashtra,” he declares.
Chvan, who unveiled the memorial plan last week, adds, “This is going to be bigger than the Statue of Liberty in New York. It will be a global structure that we will be proud of. And this is the best way to express our gratitude to the king who fought for our freedom.”
When informed that a survey conducted by HT revealed that most of the Maharashtrians polled would rather see the Rs 350 crore spent on farmer welfare schemes or additional infrastructure, Chavan’s response is, “This isn’t the only memorial [of other personalities, that the state has funded] in Maharashtra. And this one was demanded by the people.”
In their manifesto for the 2004 Assembly elections, the Congress-NCP combine had assured voters that they would build the memorial if they were voted to power. However, Chavan dismisses the politicization of the issue.
“The parties or people who oppose the memorial don’t have enough issues to fight for,” he says. State Congress chief Manikrao Thakare and Mumbai Congress president Kripashankar Singh supported Chavan’s stand. Says Singh, “The money is not important here. What is important is the people’s wishes.”
(Interview by Dharmendra Jore)