An urban forest project launched on 47 acres of land on the Aji dam site, by then chief minister Vijay Rupani in Rajkot three years ago, was transformed into Ram Van, a cultural forest themed on the Ramayana and was thrown open to the public by Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel Wednesday.
Rupani launched the project, then officially called Urban Forest, by planting an Arjuna (terminalia arjuna) tree downstream the Aji dam on National Highway 8 on his 63rd birthday on August 2, 2019. The state government had allotted 47 acres of land to the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) downstream the Aji dam for the project with civic officials announcing that they would plant 22,995 trees, equal to Rupani’s age counted in days.
ICLEI, an organisation that helps cities achieve sustainable development also mentions the Urban Forest project while referring to the Climate Resilient Action Plan developed by the RMC and released by Rupani on August 2, 2019.
Rupani, who resigned as CM in September last year, claimed at Wednesday’s event that he had laid the foundation of the Ram Van on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
“I distinctly remember that it was Ram Navami in 2019… I had announced that that the dream of crores of Hindus is starting… on such an auspicious day, this forest is coming up in Rajkot, so we shall call this forest Ram Van so that we keep getting blessings of Lord Rama forever,” said Rupani Wednesday.
However, in 2019, Ram Navami was on April 14 and not on August 2 when Rupani had laid the foundation stone of the project. The official Twitter handle of the Chief Minister’s Office had posted: “Gujarat CM Shri @vijayrupanibjp today launched ‘urban forest’ program under which about 22,995 perennial trees would be planted & an ‘Ayurvedic Udyan’ would also be developed on 47-acre land near Aji dam in Rajkot that has achieved a milestone of planting 2-lakh trees in the city.”
Modi had laid the foundation stone of Ram Temple in Ayodhya on August 5, 2020 and not in 2019.
In its 2020-’21 budget, the RMC also earmarked Rs 12 crore for the development of the Urban Forest. However, leaders of the ruling BJP then decided to convert the project into a cultural forest based on the theme of Ramayana.
“The decision was taken around one-and-a-half years ago to develop this project on the theme of Ramayana and name it Ram Van,” an RMC source privy to the project said, adding, “It was an ad-on to the original idea and, therefore, the project changed to a theme-based urban forest. The decision-making for this involved the political as well as the administrative wings of the civic body.”
The Ram Van has 13 statues, sculptures and murals depicting incidents of the Ramayana, including Lord Rama roaming the jungles after leaving Ayodhya, meeting Kewat, Shabari, Sugriv and Jambuvan, and Hanuman lifting a mountain. The entry gates are themed on bow and arrow and Jatayu.
“By using material such as RCC (reinforced cement concrete), fibre, etc., and involving masonry work, work congruent with the theme of forest has been executed in this Ram Van so that people get inspired by the life incidents of Lord Rama,” an RMC note states.
The statues, sculptures and murals have been installed at the cost of Rs 1.61 crore while the entire project has cost Rs13.77 crore.
Addressing a public meeting after inaugurating the Ram Van on Wednesday, Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel said that his government has added new dimensions to annual Vanmahotsava (forest festival) and the tradition of developing cultural forests.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has exhorted us to walk the path of comprehensive, balanced and environment-friendly development. He chalked a new path by extending the tradition of cultural forests and vanmahotsava… Team Gujarat has added new dimensions to this tradition of cultural forests. These new dimensions are development of Namo Vad Van (Namo banyan tree forest) and urban forests,” the CM said, adding the government was developing oxygen parks in cityscapes dominated by cement-concrete structures.
Rupani who was at the event, said the BJP wants to create ‘Ram Rajya’ in the country. “We all are working to turn into reality the imagination of Ram Rajya where there is prosperity and happiness in the country,” Rupani said.
The RMC has planted 80,000 saplings of 80 species, according to a note from the civic body. The landscape has been divided into 25 blocks and the project includes two small lakes, Ram Setu bridge, an adventure bridge, children’s play area, a 3,000-square metre lawn, an amphitheatre, 25 artistic benches and eight gazebos.
“We got instructions to develop this on the theme of Ramayana when Rupani was the chief minister,” an RMC official said.
Pushkar Patel, chairman of the standing committee of the RMC, said, “It was decided to develop the project on the theme of Ramayana so that people who visit the van, which is like a social forestry project, have an enhanced experience.”