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Ambedkar Memorial Put on the Fast-track

Published: 26th October 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th October 2014 10:58 PM   |  A+A-

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NEW DELHI: What took the UPA Government four years to clear was tackled by the Narendra Modi-led BJP Government in just two months.

The speed with which the Modi Government moved a file pertaining to a proposed memorial for  B R Ambedkar in Lutyen’s Delhi provided a stark contrast in the style of functioning of the two governments.

Both files were mooted by the respective PMOs with their eyes closely fixed on the Dalit vote bank. However, the proposal put forward by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2010 never really moved.

It was towards the end of 2010 that Singh asked the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which was headed by Mukul Wasnik, to set up a “grand memorial” for Ambedkar. The timing was crucial as the UP Assembly elections were just a few months away.

Rahul Gandhi, who was leading the campaign for the Congress, wanted the party to win back its traditional support base of Dalits from BSP chief Mayawati.

And this grand memorial was part of the action plan. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) also issued a press statement saying that the monument would be developed in a manner “befitting the memory of the great leader”.

Though Singh directly asked the ministry to set up the memorial, nothing happened beyond the creation of another file. As things moved at a snail’s pace, the UP elections got over and the Congress faced humiliation. If anything, the file moved even slower post-UP elections.

Then it gathered momentum in the beginning of 2014 as the Lok Sabha elections approached, but again nothing much happened.

“The initial plan was to have a memorial, comprising a library and a big conference hall. Though we held a few meetings and discussions, nothing much happened,” said an official with the ministry, who was part of the deliberations.

After the new dispensation took over the reins in May, the PMO headed by Narendra Modi mooted a similar proposal and asked the Social Justice Ministry to work on a grand Ambedkar memorial in Lutyens’ Delhi.

This happened in the last week of August and the file was prepared in a week. The plan was to develop an international convention centre, museum and library named after the iconic Dalit leader in the heart of the capital.

The memorial was proposed at Rajendra Prasad Road, and the Social Justice Ministry approached the Urban Development Ministry for clearance in the same month.

The Urban Development Ministry referred the matter immediately to the Expert Appraisal Committee for projects related to infrastructure development, coastal regulation zone, building/construction and miscellaneous projects.

The expert committee met in the second week of October and gave all the necessary clearance for the memorial. It is another story that around 100 trees would have to be cut down for the building.

“We were told that the proposal needs immediate attention. The committee met last week and has accorded clearance to the proposal on the premises that compensatory plantation will be carried out,” one of the panel members told Express.

The file was then forwarded to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, who returned it  to the Social Justice Ministry with all the  necessary approvals. “The speed with which the file moved was amazing. Good or bad... no government must have taken any decision so fast,” the official, who had handled the matter during the UPA Government, told Express.

The budget outlay for the project is Rs 200 crore. “The decision is highly political. Winning over the Dalits is the BJP’s agenda, and it could be lethal for both the Congress and other parties,” said a source.

Of late, the Dalit icon has been in the news for several reasons. After the Modi Government announced its plan to build Sardar Vallabhai Patel’s statue, said to be the tallest one in the world, Dalit organisations had taken to the streets demanding that a gigantic statue of Ambedkar be erected, which would tower over that of Patel.

Two months ago, the then Congress-led Maharashtra government had written to the Modi Government, expressing its wish to acquire a residential property in London, where Ambedkar lived while studying at the London School of Economics in 1921-22. The 2,050 sq. ft. property on King Henry’s Road was up for auction.

The Maharashtra government wanted to build an international memorial in London and had sanctioned Rs 40 crore just before the Model Code came into force. That it did not help the Congress to win in Maharashtra is another story.

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