PIL filed against Sabarmati Ashram redevelopment

Tushar Gandhi files PIL against Sabarmati Ashram redevelopment in Gujarat HC

He said that the Asham and other Gandhian organisations are supposed to be run independently without the government's interference

Sabarmati Ashram. Credit: DH Photo

Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in Gujarat High Court against the proposed redevelopment of Mahatma Gandhi founded-Sabarmati Ashram here in Ahmedabad. The litigation is likely to come up for hearing post-Diwali vacation.

The Rs 1,200 crore project, as several Gandhian organisations have alleged, threatens to change the topography of the existing Ashram. The PIL has raised concerns that due to redevelopment and "over-sized involvement" of the government officials in conception, the "Ashram may lose the Gandhian ethos that have been painstakingly preserved by the trusts."

When contacted, Tushar Gandhi told DH that the PIL has been filed after much deliberations and collecting papers as evidence to show how the redevelopment project threatens the idea of Mahatma Gandhi in running the Ashram, its autonomy and its purpose.

He said that the Asham and other Gandhian organisations are supposed to be run independently without the government's interference but in the name of redevelopment, the government has formed a new trust and almost sidelined the existing trusts. The PIL argues that "any redevelopment that is sought to be done at the said Ashram should be spearheaded by the Trusts which presently run the Ashram" while the government may fund it. 

Tushar, 61, has filed the PIL against the state government, Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, New Delhi, Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT), which runs Sabarmati Ashram, Sabarmati Ashram Gaushala Trust, Harijan Ashram Trust, Harijan Sevak Sangh and Khadi Gramodyog Prayog Samiti, Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Ltd and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.

He said that after Gandhi's death, Gandhi Smarak Nidhi was established and given responsibility as an umbrella body to take care of all organisations related to Gandhi.

Also read: Gandhian organisations oppose Sabarmati Ashram makeover, say govt turning it into 'entertainment zone'

"... The proposed project for the redevelopment of Gandhi Ashram Memorial as it is diametrically opposed to personal wishes and bequeathal of Mahatma Gandhi and would reduce the shrine and memorial of our freedom movement which attracts national and international visitors and turn the same into a commercial tourist attraction. The petitioner has no personal interest in the matter.

"The only interest and intent the petitioner has is that he has a spiritual connect with the Ashram since his grandparents, Sushila and Manilal Gandhi and his father’s sister Sita stayed with Kasturba and Bapu at the Ashram thus the petitioner feels the need to protect and preserve that spiritual connection to his ancestors," the PIL states.
He said the constitution of Gandhi Smarak Nidhi is clear that there is no role of government in these organisations.

"Later, amendments were made which allowed the government funding but nothing beyond that. What is happening today is against the constitution and what Gandhi wished for these institutions. What we have argued in the petition is that there is no need for spending Rs 1,200 crore on Sabarmati Ashram. What is the need of building a five-star toilet. If parking is a problem, then you block the thoroughfare that divides the Ashram precinct and spend the money on building health infrastructure," he added.

Citing several news reports on redevelopment project, Tushar has stated, "Petitioner fears that the said project will change the physical structure of the ashram and corrupt its pristine simplicity and frugality that embodies the ideology of Gandhiji and make the same diametrically opposite to the Gandhian ethos of simplicity and frugality, that the Ashram embodies."

The petition has been filed by Ahmedabad-based lawyer Bhushan Oza while Mumbai-based lawyer Mihir Desai will be appearing as a senior lawyer to lead the arguments.

When contacted, Desai said, "This (Sabarmati Ashram) is a historical monument which represents Gandhi's idea of frugality and simplicity. The redevelopment may change its character. Besides, the government wants to control it by forming a new body which is against Gandhi's idea of decentralisation."

Earlier this year, the Gujarat chief minister office released a short video film on its Twitter and Instagram handles, showing its plan for the Ashram.

The film revealed that the government has formed a new trust "Mahatma Gandhi Sabarmati Ashram Memorial Trust", said to have been formed to look after redevelopment work and the subsequent management of the Ashram precinct.

The name clashes with the existing Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust which runs the Ashram. Sources said that the formation of the new trust and particularly its name has angered many who were not opposing the redevelopment. 

Ever since the announcement of its redevelopment, various Gandhian organisations, scholars and activists have been opposing the move. Recently, a group of Gandhian organisations including Gandhi Smarak Nidhi took out a rally from Sevagram Ashram in Wardha to Sabarmati Ashram here against the proposed plan. Meanwhile, the government has already got several residents of the Ashram precinct vacated by compensating them. Tenders have also been issued for the developmental work. 

Check out latest videos from DH:

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox