Activists move NGT over Statue of Unity
The Statue of Unity seems to be on shaky ground, literally. For environmentalists have petitioned to the Pune Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), alleging that the statue is being built on an eco-sensitive zone on the Narmada riverbed, which has geological faultlines. Besides, its closeness to the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary is bound to threaten the biodiversity there. The ambitious project by the Gujarat government to construct the 182-metre Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel statue — touted to be the tallest in the world — 3.2 km downstream of the Narmada Dam on an island in the middle of the Narmada river has been strongly condemned by activists on another count as well, the fact that no Environmental Clearance (EC) had been issued for the project.Trupti Shah, one of the petitioners, said, “The most important thing is the Environmental Clearance (EC) required under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of September 2006, that has not been sought for any component of this elaborate project. Other than this, the government has disregarded a lot of environmental issues by constructing it in an eco-sensitive area. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue in Maharashtra has applied for EC and taken due environment clearances according to the law. Then why has Gujarat not felt it should do the same with Sardar Patel’s statue?”

The group of petitioners include economist and researcher Trupti Shah; Gujarat high court lawyer Girish Patel; environment activist Krishnakant Chauhan; director of an enviro- legal NGO, Mahesh Revabhai Pandya; Jawaharlal Nehru University’s social science professor, Ghanshyam Shah; health activist S Srinivasan; social activist Persis P Ginwalla; environmental activist Rohit Prajapati; writer Saroop Yogeshbhai Dhruv, and journalist Rajni Dave. The notices have been issued to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET) chairman, the chairman and managing director of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd., two people from the government of Gujarat — the chief secretary and the additional secretary of forests and environment development, and the secretary of the ministry of environment, forests and climate change, government of India.

The petition had been filed through Pune-based advocate Asim Sarode. The activists have mentioned that the project is illegal and violates the Environment Protection Act, 1986; EIA notification and a few orders given by NGT and other courts. The project is a joint-venture by Gujarat government and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET). The foundation stone of the Rs 2,063-crore project, comprising a memorial park as well as a water body, had been laid by Narendra Modi and senior BJP leader L K Advani on October 31, 2013.

The project is expected to be completed in four years. A work order of Rs 2,979 crore was given to Larsen & Toubro in October last year. Work on the construction of the Rs 176 crore Shreshtha Bharat Bhawan, a part of the project, has already begun. Girish Patel, another petitioner, added, “We have raised issues like the statue is only 3.2 km from the Sardar Sarovar Dam and is near the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary. The project also involves construction on the river bed, which has fault lines.” The project will put extra load on the geological fault line area and will affect the river and its biodiversity by bringing in lakhs of tourists to the ecologically sensitive zone, claimed the petitioners.

When asked if an EC had been sought for the project, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited chairman and managing director S S Rathore said, “We have received a notice from the NGT. Every person has aright to approach the tribunal as it has been set up for such purposes. But there is no question of commenting on the petition. We will definitely state our position before the tribunal but do not want to say anything at this point of time.”