Statue of Unity project rusts, no new iron in 2 months

Last December, Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, flagged off a convoy of trucks that were to travel across India on a drive to collect iron tools from seven lakh villages.

Written by Aditi Raja | Vadodara | Published: June 25, 2014 2:57:21 am
Shed housing contributions from Andhra Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir has only 94 cartons. Shed housing contributions from Andhra Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir has only 94 cartons.

The drive to collect iron to build the world’s tallest statue, the Statue of Unity, on the Narmada, seems to have fizzled out. The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) godown in the Chhani area of Vadodara, which has been the repository for the iron brought from across India, has seen little action over the last two months.

The last truck carrying palletized cartons containing the trademark white and orange boxes of farm tools, a bottle of village soil and a satin scroll containing the names of the contributors and a form with details of the village, arrived here on April 24 from Ahmedabad, according to official records.

A laminated white placard hangs on the gate, directing those wishing to hand over “contents” for the Statue of Unity to three representatives of SSNL, whose phones numbers have been mentioned. Inside the compound, the sheds stand locked.

Records at the SSNNL office in Narmada Bhavan in Vadodara show 16 states have contributed zero iron tools to the project, which was an important part of Narendra Modi’s campaign for prime ministership. Some of these states are BJP ruled — Rajasthan, for example, has sent nothing.

The entire Northeast — Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim, Mizoram and Nagaland — has remained aloof, while kits from Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Punjab are “awaited”.

Karnataka has sent only five resource kits, while BJP-ruled Goa has sent 386.

Uttar Pradesh has contributed the largest number of kits — 40,000 — beating Modi’s home state Gujarat to the second place with 33,000 kits. Tamil Nadu sent 12,000; Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Chandigarh 10,000 each.

Sources said the movement to collect iron for the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, which was compared to the drive to collect bricks for the Ram temple in Ayodhya, fell flat after NGO Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) exited in January, after having completed its mandate of designing and rolling out the project’s pan-India outreach and social mobilisation plan.

According to sources, SSNL was entrusted with the implementation of the project three years ago, but for two years, it could not come up with a plan on how to collect iron for the project. It was then, in August 2013, that CAG was roped. It was asked to come up with a plan to reach out to people, ask them to contribute iron and soil for the project, and to build a buzz around it. The CAG website says it conducted “1 regional workshop in each of the South, East, West and North-East regions and 2 workshops in the North region”.

Last December, Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, flagged off a convoy of trucks that were to travel across India on a drive to collect iron tools from seven lakh villages. The statue was to be 182 metres tall, and was to come up 3.5 km downstream from the Sardar Sarovar dam, soaring nearly 19 over above the height of the dam measured from its foundation.

The CAG’s web site claims that 700 tonnes of used farm iron has already been collected from several states across the country. It says three lakh “Resource Kit Box” had been sent across the country “to collect used farm tools as symbolic contributions towards the construction of Statue of Unity”.

Sources said only 1.26 lakh kits have so far “returned” to the godown.

When the Indian Express team visited the shed shared by Andhra Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir in the SSNNL godown last week, only 94 boxes were marked “J&K”. The boxes, purportedly from J&K, bore transport stickers that read “Uttar Pradesh”, with “Jammu” written by hand on the back of the cover. Like other boxes, they had rusted parts of an old cycle, blades of farm equipment, screws, nuts and bolts.

“The CAG was behind the concept of taking the Statue of Unity to villages to make it an all-India campaign to take Modiji’s name to villages. They created a buzz around it on social media and it became popular. It worked during the election campaign, but now the CAG has taken a back seat, and so has the Statue of Unity campaign,” said a BJP leader.

Sources in CAG, however, blamed the Gujarat government. “CAG had a limited mandate to put together a strategy on how to reach out to people and involve them in the drive to collect iron and soil from across the country. We were also asked to build a buzz around the project which we successfully did. The implementation, collection, etc., was never our responsibility. We ceased to be part of the project from January onwards,” said a senior CAG member.

Another member said the Gujarat government had lost interest in the project because it had served its purpose.

According to the Statue of Unity web site, technical bids were to be opened on January 31. Asked about the delay, SSNNL managing director J N Singh said, “We will be opening tender bids in 10 days’ time, and work will start soon”.

(With inputs from Parimal Dabhi)

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