Shivaji and Sardar Vallabhai Patel: Bigger than their proposed statues

Two statues of two great leaders are to be built inside the Narmada river and the Arabian sea. While we know how much they will cost the exchequer, how much will they cost the environment?
Shivaji & Sardar Patel to be immortalised as statues (Source: Wikipedia & www.statueofunity.in) Shivaji & Sardar Patel to be immortalised as statues (Source: Wikipedia & www.statueofunity.in)

What do these two iconic figures -- Shivaji, the great Maratha leader and Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the ‘Iron Man of India’ -- have most in common? While one might think that it was their fight for the freedom of their motherland, albeit at different times, that is not all. Recently, these national heroes have converged at an unlikely meeting point -- statues.  

Sardar Patel is to be immortalised by the ‘Statue of Unity’ on Sadhu Island in the Narmada river, 3.2 km away from the Sardar Sarovar Dam, while Shivaji will find a place on a 16-hectare bedrock in the Arabian Sea off the Mumbai coastline. Homage to both is to be completed by 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Two statues, two leaders, many differences 

What is EC?

EC is a mandatory process, which upcoming projects, new or involving expansion of existing structures have to undergo before construction commences.

The Shivaji statue, proposed to be 190m tall, is expected to cost the exchequer Rs 1,400 crore. Projected as a tourist attraction, it will boast of a world class security syatem that includes an anti radar system to safeguard it from terrorists, an independent security unit and 24 hours CCTV coverage. The 'Statue of Unity', on the other hand, will be 182m tall. The project will be built at an estimated cost of Rs. 2,989 crore, with the time for construction fixed at 42 months, with no escalation on labour, fuel, and material allowed.

Both are to be built on a piece of land in a water body, both have strong political backing, but most importantly both are in the news for their interaction with the green ministry and enviromentalists regarding Environmental Clearance (EC). 

Two statues, two scripts 

Steps involved to get EC

  • Screening: Identify a suitable location for the proposed project and assess if it requires EC
  • Scoping: If EC required, then proponent conducts an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study that includes the ‘Terms of Reference’ (ToR), that document & clarify the purpose & structure of the project  
  • Public Consultation: Concerns of local affected persons & others who have plausible stake in the environmental impacts of the project are ascertained through a public hearing (PH) and written responses. 
  • Appraisal: An Expert Committee, at the Centre/State level, reviews the project & makes recommendations, either to grant/ reject the EC after detailed scrutiny

The Shivaji statue is to be built on a rocky outcrop 3.6 km towards the sea from the water jetty at Girgaon. The site falls in Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) IV and will involve new construction, reclamation of land and fortification of the sea wall. Under CRZ norms, reclamation or any construction activity in the water up to 12 nautical miles (nearly 20 kilometres) into the sea is prohibited. However, an amendment proposes to ease these norms, which would allow the construction of memorials or monuments in the sea. Once finalized,'exceptional projects' such as this, which were prohibited earlier will be considered and allowed after applying for and being granted EC. Interestingly, the Government of Maharashtra (GoM) had requested the waiving of a Public Hearing (PH), an important step for EC, in view of larger public interest and National Monumental importance and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) has obliged

The Statue of Unity follows a different script. It is to be built 3.2 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam that falls in an earthquake-prone zone and is near the Shoolpaneshar Sanctuary. It will involve massive construction that will have serious impact on the ecology and environment in the area. Construction work has begun, and the hillock in Sadhu Pet, where the statue is to be installed, is to be flattened to 60 metres. Environmentalists claim that the project is in an environmentally sensitive area hence making EC a must. However, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd. (SSNNL), the project implementing agency of the Gujarat government, counters this claim by saying that EC is needed only if the construction area is more than 20,000 sqm, and as this project spread is lesser no green clearance is required.

Activists have petitioned that the activity area of the project is much higher than the stipulated 20,000 sqm, and have demanded a halt to this 'illegal' activity. Trupti Shah, economist, researcher and one of the petitioners, who has moved the NGT against the statue clarifies, "The case is still pending as the respondents have not submitted a proper design, and as per their affidavit, the design is not yet ready". Rohit Prajapati, an environmental activist, reasons that the project is not simply the construction of a 'mute monument' but an elaborate Tourism Project that will include a man-made lake, parking site and also a hotel, and that the statutory authorities cannot abdicate their legal and procedural responsibilities to obtain an EC.

Need for green clearance

As Rohit asserts, "The construction for the Statue of Unity Project is bound to result in damage to the river, riverbed, its biodiversity, people living downstream and their livelihoods". Development, or as in this case, inspirational monuments, must not be at the expense of tweaking existing environmental rules especially if they ignore public opinion.

After all the Statue of Unity is being promoted as 'A project by the people, for the people'.

A well placed green clearance process is not only imperative for the people and the environment but also for the government. These two projects may set a precedence for other development projects to bulldoze their way through green checks in the future. An exemption from Public Hearing is a lost chance to gain public trust and build people’s involvement. 

Aren't both these men bigger than the statues we plan to build of them, anyway?

The case filed against the Statue of Unity has been placed before the National Green Tribunal. The verdict is still awaited.

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