Slow work on Shivaji, Ambedkar memorials embarrass BJP

The sluggish pace of two big-ticket projects dedicated to Chhatrapati Shivaji and Dalit icon B R Ambedkar in and around Mumbai may leave the BJP ill at ease in Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra, according to observers.

The work to build the tallest statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji in the Arabian Sea off the Mumbai coast is yet to take off, three years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed the 'jal pujan' at the site in 2016.

Though necessary technical clearances are in place for the project, whose cost is estimated to be around Rs 3,600 crore, the actual work is yet to commence at the site.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has consistently maintained that the project would not be delayed, but the Opposition is far from convinced.

"The government seems to be playing with the sentiments of people. Everyone in Maharashtra wants this memorial, except the government which is unnecessarily delaying the construction," alleged Leader of Opposition in Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde.

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader said that compared to metro projects, there is hardly any development on the construction of the Shivaji memorial.

Similarly, the Rs 500-crore project to build a memorial for B R Ambedkar on the Indu Mill land in central Mumbai is yet to take off. Fadnavis has extended deadline for completion of the project on at least two occasions.

On the infrastructure front, the Rs 12,000-crore Coastal Road project coming up in Mumbai metropolitan region has also not seen much progress as permissions for its construction were obtained late.

The Coastal Road is an under construction 29.2-km long freeway that would run along Mumbai's western coastline connecting Marine Lines in the south to Kandivali in the north. The eight-lane road is expected to be completed by 2022.

Political observer Abhay Deshpande feels that development on the infrastructure front shapes a favourable perception among masses.

"An infra project comparatively in advance stage is the Nagpur-Mumbai Super-communication Highway for which most of land acquisition is accomplished but construction work is yet to commence," he said.

He said voters in the areas where land acquisition is achieved may feel a bit dejected, as the construction work is yet to start.

The Rs 46,000-crore "Sammruddhi Mahamarg", said to be a dream project of the chief minister, aims to connect Mumbai with Nagpur. The highway will run through 10 districts, 26 tehsils and 390 villages.

On the memorials, Deshpande said, "Shivaji Maharaj and Ambedkar have dedicated followers in some communities and they might feel sensitive over the construction delay. This could also raise a question whether the BJP-led government is serious about such projects or not."

However, BJP chief spokesperson Madhav Bhandari dismissed such suggestions, noting that the party had raised the demand for memorials when it was in opposition and Fadnavis government took the initiative to build them.

"Voters know very well that when the BJP was in opposition, we demanded an international-level statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji in sea and that of Ambedkar on the Indu Mills campus," he said.

Bhandari said in the last five years, the state government has obtained almost all the clearances for these projects to avoid any litigation that would hamper the pace of construction.

"No government could obtain so many permissions in such short period. Besides, the construction contract is already awarded to L&T and the work on their level is going on," he said.

Maharashtra, which has 48 Lok Sabha seats, will vote in four phases between April 11 and April 29.

In 2014 elections, the BJP won 22 seats, the Shiv Sena 18, the Congress 2, the NCP 5 and the Swabhimani Paksha got one seat. 

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Slow work on Shivaji, Ambedkar memorials embarrass BJP

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