A year after its inauguration on October 31, 2018, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Statue of Unity (SoU) is undergoing maintenance with several teams of cleaners perched on the statue by way of magnetic ropes and rope-suspended platforms to clean the world’s tallest statue of 182 metres. Officials of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) refuted reports that the statue is undergoing a “structural modification”, but say that the SoU — which has a bronze cladding — will gradually change its colour from the existing brown to green, eventually settling at a shade of grey.
According to SoU officials, the maintenance and cleaning activities have been undertaken by deploying trained personnel to physically clean the statue from head to toe, literally. Refuting reports that the statue is undergoing a structural modification in order to make the bronze cladding “openable” for maintenance purposes, SSNNL officials said that removable panels of the cladding have been in place throughout the structure, since the design’s inception.
Chief Engineer PC Vyas told this newspaper, “There are many portions of the approximately 6,600 pieces of the bronze cladding which are removable to allow maintenance staff to reach the facade of the statue. This was in place since the design stage and there is no structural modification being made right now. The cleaning staff which is well-trained is going about the statue’s cleaning with the help of magnetic ropes and wire suspended platforms, wherever they can be put.”
Vyas said that while some removable panels are part of the chest of the statue, which also houses the viewing gallery, the head of the statue is accessible only to the maintenance teams by design. “The cleaners are able to reach all parts of the statue, including the exterior of the face, with help of magnetic-climbing systems which include a special pair of shoes as well as hand grips, especially meant for climbing metal surfaces and tall structures. No special chemicals are being used to clean the statue, as this activity is primarily undertaken to only clean the surface of dirt, blemish and bird droppings,” he said.
Apart from the dust that may have settled in the crevices of the labels put together as the exterior facade of the statue, the authorities are aware that many parts of the statue’s bronze cladding are beginning to turn green, owing to its natural property of oxidation. Top officials of SSNNL said that the design teams had also prepared a projection of how the statue’s look would change over the years, as the bronze completes its process of natural oxidation to form patina — the green-ish tarnish which also lends the sturdy metal its artistic feel.
“Just like the Statue of Liberty in the US, which is made of copper and has turned into the present day green-ish colour that it is now recognised by, the Statue of Unity will also change its colour over the years. The bronze, which mainly consists of copper as part of its alloy composition, reacts with the atmosphere as a natural process and tarnishes over time. For many statues across the world, this tarnish actually lends depth to the art. We have estimated that the statue will turn green-ish over the next few decades,” Vyas added.
Another top official said that the design teams have estimated that the SoU will eventually turn a distinctive grey, which will also “add to its artistic attraction”.