In the 125th birth anniversary year of Gandhian social activist and Bhudaan movement pioneer Acharya Vinoba Bhave, an illegally-constructed temple at the public square earmarked for his memorial in Wai town in Maharashtra’s Satara district has become a sensitive issue locally.
In this town, located at the foothills of Mahabaleshwar, Vinoba spent a few years in his early 20s around 1917-18, studying Vedas and doing social work. During his stay in Wai, Vinoba lived on the premises of Koteshwar temple, which later became the centre of the progressive movement in the region.
In 1929, the temple was opened up for the Dalits and ostracised communities after an initiative by Vinoba’s father Narhari Bhave, along with freedom fighter and industrialist Jamnalal Bajaj and Mahatma Gandhi. Vinoba was also a founding trustee of the Koteshwar Temple Trust, which has done social work in the area over the years and has continued his legacy after his death in 1982.
But, in the years since, several buildings have come up around Koteshwar temple, which is located in the Brahmanshai area of Wai.
In 2006, on the recommendation of the Koteshwar Temple Trust, an intersection of the roads in front of the temple was named ‘Bharat Ratna Acharya Vinoba Bhave Circle’, in a resolution passed by the Wai Municipal Council.
A small cement structure, with a plaque denoting the name of the circle, was unveiled at the hands of Gandhian social worker, close associate of Vinoba and then Rajya Sabha MP Nirmala Deshpande, within days of the resolution.
Earlier this year, a Ganesh temple was illegally constructed by the Manacha Ganpati Mandal after allegedly removing the earlier small cement structure that had the name of the square. The mandal has also constructed another cement structure, placing the same board denoting the name ‘Bharat Ratna Acharya Vinoba Bhave Circle’ next to the temple.
Vijay Diwan, Gandhian social activist and member of the Koteshwar Temple Trust, said, “Over the years, the square had become like a parking bay and a few years ago, the cement structure with the name of the square was hit by a truck and partly damaged. The 125th birth anniversary year of Vinoba Bhave started on September 11, and the Koteshwar Temple Trust was planning to redecorate the structure on the occasion, but the illegal structure of the temple started coming up at the spot. We had submitted a complaint in this regard to the chief executive officer of Wai Municipal Council and others concerned while the construction was on, but no action was taken.”
Ashok Maltane, head of the Manacha Ganpati Mandal, told The Indian Express, “After it was damaged by a truck, the structure of the plaque was neglected. The place used to be occupied by some alcoholics and anti-social elements and was untidy and cluttered. In order to clean the place and respect its sanctity, we decided to act. Along with the temple, we have rebuilt the plaque next to it, with due respect to Vinoba Bhave. The new structure does not cause hindrance to traffic.”
When pointed out that the temple structure was illegal, Maltane said, “We want the administration to intervene in the issue between us the Koteshwar temple trust. We hope that our sentiments are not hurt.”
Local municipal officials have, however, made it clear that the temple structure is illegal.
Vidya Pol, chief executive officer of Wai Municipal Council, said, “The temple has been illegally constructed on the land owned by the council. When construction began a few weeks ago, we sent them a notice to stop the work, but they did not. We have now served them notice to demolish the illegal structure themselves. If they don’t do that, we will have to do it and for that we have also notified the police authorities to provide us with the deployment. We will take action soon and remove the structure.”