On the eve of Diwali, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal dedicated the first phase of the Golden Temple plaza to the people, with the promise that his government was committed to making Amritsar a heritage city.
“The heritage city project is in the pipeline. Like all major projects, it will take time to put it on track. However, we have already begun the groundwork,” Badal told the media after inaugurating the plaza. The CM, who was accompanied by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, said funds would be sought from the Centre for the project.
He added that the Golden Temple plaza was built with the aim of spreading the message of love and communal harmony.
Others present on the occasion included local bodies minister Anil Joshi, Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Avtar Singh Makkar and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) chief Manjit Singh GK.
The plaza project has had its share of criticism, with heritage lovers accusing the state government of destruction of heritage of the holy city, including areas in the vicinity of the Golden Temple.
Prof Balwinder Singh of the Guru Ram Dass School of Planning, Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), said, “In the name of beautification, we are fixing marble in every nook and corner of the shrine and even outside. The old buildings on the periphery of the plaza are being concealed behind a wall of marble. Has our heritage begun looking ugly?”
Former SGPC secretary Kulwant Singh observed, “When Guru Ram Dass ji established the shrine, he attached business establishments with it. We have demolished this heritage of the Guru.”
Environmentalists such as Deepak Babbar of Mission Agaaz questioned the use of marble, pointing out that in the summer, it would be tough for pilgrims to walk barefoot on the plaza surface while entering or leaving the shrine. He stated that the 1988 Golden Temple beautification plan around the 30-metre periphery of the shrine had laid emphases on a green belt.
However, despite the criticism, the SGPC had given its consent for having a marbled open space where pilgrims could sit and listen to kirtan. The gurdwara body argued that the narrow lanes and overcrowded bazaars around the shrine had outlived their utility, and with the number of visitors to the shrine on the rise each day, a proper entrance was required.
Cast in marble
The first phase of the plaza is a 8,250 sq ft space made up of marble in front of the Ghanta Ghar or Clock Tower entrance of the Golden Temple. This space makes up the ground floor or top of the plaza. A lot of work needs to be done for the second phase, which features the basement.
The initial cost of the project was fixed at Rs 78 crore, but due to delays, it shot up to Rs 117 crore. As per latest figures given by the public works department (PWD), the cost of the two phases is pegged at Rs 130 crore.
The plaza’s design was prepared by Designer Associates, a Noida-based firm; it is being executed by Srishti, a private construction company based in Punjab and Delhi. The PWD is the supervising authority.
The plaza top has a ‘Jora Ghar’ (room for keeping shoes) and a ‘Gathri Ghar’ (cloak room), both airconditioned.
Two arched gates will serve as the entry points to the plaza. A fountain with coloured lights has been constructed, around which pilgrims can sit and have a clear view of the sanctum sanctorum through the archways of Ghanta Ghar.
The basement, when completed, will have three VIP lounges, an interpretation centre, an information centre, tourism office, a VIP parking lot for 18 cars/SUVs, a conference room fitted with latest gadgets, internet cafes, railway ticket booking kiosks, waiting halls and other facilities.