x

Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

India PM warned to stay away from opening of world's biggest statue

Villagers living near Statue of Unity accuse Narendra Modi of destroying natural resources

Workers put finishing touches to the statue of Indian freedom fighter Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat state. AP Photo
Workers put finishing touches to the statue of Indian freedom fighter Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat state. AP Photo

Angry local communities have warned India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stay away from the inauguration this week of the world's biggest statue, a 182-metre-high tribute to an independence hero.

The Statue of Unity, which is twice the size of the Statue of Liberty, has been built in a remote corner of Gujarat state as a flagship project of Mr Modi, who is to open it on Wednesday.

But people living around the 29.9 billion rupee (Dh1.5bn) statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who played a key role in unifying India after its independence in 1947, want more compensation for damage to the environment.

Posters of Mr Modi with Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani in a town near the statue were torn down or had the faces blackened at the weekend.

The chiefs of 22 surrounding villages have warned Mr Modi to stay away from the inauguration of the mammoth figure, which will push the 128-metre Spring Temple Buddha in China into second place.

"We villagers are determined and would like to inform you that on October 31 you are not welcome here. If you come here as an unwanted guest we won't welcome you," they said in an open letter to Mr Modi sent to the district administration.

"You and your companies have not only destroyed the natural resources, but are openly and brazenly exploiting them for business."

The letter said that building the Statue of Unity and the nearby Sardar Sarovar Dam had "destroyed" the Narmada river, India's fifth longest, while the local population did not have enough schools, hospitals and drinking water.

Local leader and former member of parliament, Amarsinh Chaudhary, said: "If Sardar Patel was alive today he would never have agreed to build such a statue at such a huge cost.

"This is being done for political gains as tribal groups in Gujarat are still suffering and devoid of basic human necessities."

Mr Chaudhary said protests were being planned for Wednesday's inauguration. Authorities have already laid on tight security because of Mr Modi's presence.

Chotu Vasava, a legislator in the state assembly, said the statue should have been built in New Delhi, and that Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party government picked Gujarat to buy the votes of Sardar's community.

More than 80 per cent of the local population are from tribal groups with special protected status. But the Gujarat government said the 185 families moved to make way for the statue had been compensated and given 485 hectares of new land.

______________

Read more:

India's Modi inaugurates controversial dam project

India begins construction of world’s largest cricket stadium in Gujarat

______________

The statue has been under construction for nearly four years. About 3,000 workers, including hundreds from China, have put 5,000 squares of bronze cladding over a concrete and steel frame.

Mr Modi has said the statue will attract hordes of tourists, just as the Statue of Liberty does for New York.

According to the Gujarat government, it will bring 15,000 tourists a day. Up to 200 visitors at any one time will be allowed on to the viewing gallery 153 metres up.

Critics point to the lack of hotels in the region. The nearest city, Vadodora, is about 100 kilometres away and Gujarat's main city, Ahmedabad, is more than 200km away.

It is also in a high security zone as the Sardar dam is on a list of sensitive national installations, so all tourists will have to undergo identity checks.

There are no trains, and most tourists will have to take a bus on a four-lane highway from Vadodora.

The state government is hurriedly building a new guest house complex with a large food court to cater for an expected tourist rush.