Maya's miracle boom

Maya's miracle boom

New Fame

Concrete Luck: Bayana is a small dusty hamlet famous for stone-cutting in Rajasthan. A stone worker in Bayana.

Mayawati and her gigantic statues have been much in the news of late. With the Supreme Court refusing to stay her statue building spree of herself, and her Dalit gurus in Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati’s luck seems to be on a high.

A PIL, filed by Lucknow advocate Ravi Kant, had complained that over Rs 1,200 crore had gone into creation of the memorials of Dalit icons. He asked the court if the money couldn’t have been better utilised for poverty alleviation. UP has a lot of hungry mouths to feed in starvation zones like Bundelkhand.

The SC observed that if a democratically elected government decides to do something without misappropriating public money there is little courts can do.

Conceived as a symbol of Dalit empowerment, the idea of the Sthal (the reverred place) came up when Mayawati came into power the first time in 1995. After she assumed power once again in August, 2007, the UP Rajkiya Nirman Nigam (UPRNN) and the Lucknow Development Authority (LDA) were entrusted to complete the unfinished work.

Untouched by all the political brouhaha raised by the statue controversy, work is on in Bayana — a small, dusty hamlet in Rajasthan, whose economy is booming despite the creeping domestic slowdown and global meltdown, thanks to Mayawati’s maya.

Said to be founded by demon Banasur, Bayana, 45 km from Bharatpur (famous for Keoladeo National Park), had been just another sleepy, sluggish stone-cutting destination in the desert state till the other day when the Dalit leader sought it out in 2007 to give shape to her Rs 5 billion dream project comprising Ambedkar parks, gardens, rally ground and memorials around the state. Since then the destiny of Bayana has seen a turnaround.

During the early 16th to 19th century, Bayana was an important town under the Mughal emperors. It was close to this town that Babur defeated Sangram Singh of Chittor. A stronghold of the Mughals, their relics can still be seen around here. Bayana was ruled by several great rulers like Mohammad Ghori, Sikandar Lodhi and Humayun.

Bayana is also famous for the Vijaygarh Fort, built by Raja Bijai Pal in 1040 AD, and contains several old temples and a red sandstone pillar bearing an inscription of Vishnuvardhan, a feudatory of Samudragupta.

Says Dharam Singh, a contractor and owner of several stone cutting units in the area, “Bayana was zeroed in by Mayawati firstly because of an abundance of skilled stone cutters and stone carvers in the area comprising Sikandra and Manpur. And secondly, because with so many stone cutting units close by, the work of actually cutting the sandstone slabs into right size and shapes becomes much easier and was accomplished within a short time.”

Earlier, around 45 stone cutting units around Bayana had been engaged in cutting and engraving sandstones from nearby areas like Bansi Paharpur for the Swami Narayan temples and Jain temples, who provided the stones themselves.

But once Mayawati’s orders started flowing in via contractors and sub-contractors from Lucknow Development Authority and Nirman Nigam, around 80 more units have sprung up in the settlement, increasing the workload by more than double.

Putting up a stone cutting unit needs an investment of around Rs 25-30 lakh but in the stone cutting industry, a highly unorganised sector, nobody seems to worry as there is enough work for everybody.

Dharam Singh, who has put up two more units himself, says, “Earlier about 600 labourers
used to work here but now more than 4,000 daily wage earners are working round the clock to get past the deadline. The labourers earn anything between Rs 140 and Rs 300 per day.”

He adds that though there is a deadline for the completion of the work, the labourers usually finish it as quickly as possible once trucks unload in Bayana. Moreover, with so many units, the work is also equally distributed amongst them.

The work mostly comprises cutting and chiselling stones for the pillars which would form the boundary walls of the parks, upvans (gardens) and rally ground in Lucknow, Noida and other places in the state. The actual fine tuning of stones would be done by engravers from Orissa at the site.

Body parts of elephants, the symbol of Bahujan Samaj Party, and fountains are also being carved here although the exact assembling will be done in Uttar Pradesh. The stone cutters have been provided the drawing model of the elephant with each piece shown according to right size.

Reports say that as many as 62 statues of elephants for the controversial Ambedkar Park and Memorial cost more than Rs 38 crore. Stone cutters say each of the elephants being chiselled in sandstone, costs around Rs 62 lakh. The cost of the entire exercise in pink sandstone is not known.

The scale is too huge — there are at least nine memorials being built in Lucknow, including the Kanshi Ram Memorial, and the Buddha Stahl in Alambagh. And elephants are omnipresent.

Dharam Singh has already completed 60 such elephants and orders of 40 more are awaited. But unit owners in Bayana are reluctant to divulge the exact arithmetic of their business although they only say there has been a 2.5  per cent increase in their business, owing it solely to Mayawati. There has been no problem with payments so far from UP, say the stone cutters.

But observers say the actual increase in business is manifold, as much as 300 percent.

Although sandstone is found in abundance in Bharatpur and Karauli districts and are believed to have provided the Mughal kings the red sandstone for the Red Fort  in Delhi, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, present-day political queen Mayawati’s peach coloured sandstone slabs are being transported from Chunar, about 150 km from Varanasi in UP’s Mirzapur district. Rajasthan, however, is the largest producer of sandstone in the world.

Pramod Jain, another unit owner, says: “Big trucks carry a load of around 25-30 tonnes while a smaller truck carries upto 18 to 20 tonnes of sandstone.”

Hesitant to disclose any business figures, Jain admits, “Mayawati’s orders have spelt boom time for Bayana. The money inflow is good, we are getting our returns immediately, keeping our labourers happy.”

Shyam Singh, a stone carver, who has been working on Mayawati’s project for the past 13 months, says, “The Gujjar agitation in May-June last year had affected our work as most roads around the region were blocked and practically there was no business but now Mayawati’s maya is no less than a miracle for us. We are getting work everyday and are naturally elated. We make a minimum of Rs 150 per day, which can go up to Rs 2,000 if we work extra hard.”