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The Statue of Unity: A Show of India’s Competitive Capabilities

Posted by
on November 13, 2018 at 02:15 PM

© Courtesy of internet resources

‘Tallest, fastest, strongest’ says the large plaque placed on the premises of The Statue of Unity – the 182 m tall and presently the world’s tallest statue of India’s first home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel located on the banks of the Narmada at Kevadiya in Gujarat. This one is the last in a series of hundreds of boards, dotting like milestones the newly refurbished smooth road of nearly 100 km from the nearest airport at Vadodara to Kevadiya, proclaiming the virtues of this monumental accomplishment. This statue of the ‘Iron Man of India’ honours Sardar Patel’s strong will and his contribution to the sovereignty of India by bringing together the then separated princely states and regions under the union of nationhood, thus prompting its naming as ‘The Statue of Unity’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who initiated this project in 2013, as Chief Minister of Gujarat state then, proudly inaugurated the completed statue on 31st October 2018 and opened it to public view, presented to the country as a validation of his government’s world-class competence and his own supreme capacity to lead.

Notwithstanding the controversies surrounding the statue – of the futile and wasteful allocation of funds much needed for development to an exercise in showmanship, of the wisdom of its location vis-à-vis its impact on surroundings, of whether ‘height’ should even be considered a significant parameter for competition between monuments in today’s context – it’s a done thing. ‘The Statue of Unity’ stands tall (literally) and completed at record speed in a total of 56 months including the planning, construction and handing over, already thronged by visitors to many times the full capacity during the holiday season. The Future of Design pays a visit to dwell on the design of the country’s newest tourist destination.

The statue and its environs occupy a site of 2 hectares (almost 5 acres) on the island of Sadhu Bet in the Narmada River at Kevadiya colony, surrounded by an artificial lake of 3000 acres formed between the famous Sardar Sarovar Dam upstream and the Garudeshwar dam downstream. Entry passes can be purchased online or physically at the entrance after which visitors are asked to leave their vehicles at a sizeable parking facility created for the purpose and hop on to one of the fleet of shuttle buses that will take them to the site of the statue. 

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of Aparna Rao

The smooth 10 minute bus ride along the Narmada, which is especially pleasant in the earlier hours of the day as the approaching vision of the statue through the parting haze adds to the thrill and anticipation, ends at a paved bay for people to alight and queue up (subject to the size of the crowd on a given day) to enter the avenue that approaches the statue after the customary security checks and luggage deposit post. This avenue, the surface of the bridge connecting the monument to the mainland, is a considerably long walkway flanked by three lengths of walkalators on either side, while walking on which one closes in on the statue and gets an opportunity to see it at close quarters and take pictures of it and the river flowing alongside. 

© Courtesy of Aparna Rao
© Courtesy of Aparna Rao

It ends at the entrance of the plush lobby-cum-museum housed in the statue’s pedestal, an air-conditioned, marble clad, expansive circular space where videos, photographs and text describing parts of Indian history relevant to Sardar Patel’s life are on display along with a smaller replica of the statue as well as a large sculpture of Sardar’s head. A walk around the space leads one to the central core where one of the two high speed lifts going through the legs of the statue takes the visitor to the viewing deck located in the chest of the statue at a height of 153 m, from which one can have a bird’s eye view upstream and downstream the Narmada.

© Courtesy of Aparna Rao
© Courtesy of Aparna Rao

The two lifts, each of a capacity of 26 persons per trip, go through the twin cores of the structure located in the legs of the statue, up to the viewing deck which can accommodate 200 persons at a time. This concrete core of the structure took up 180,000 cu m of cement concrete and 18,500 tonnes of steel reinforcement. 6,500 tonnes of structural steel and 1,700 tonnes of bronze plates form the human frame, over which 1,850 tonnes of bronze panels cast in a foundry in China create the surface form of Sardar Patel’s statue. Contrary to other tall statues and structures, this statue is more slender at the base as compared to its higher parts, with a gap of 6.4 m between the two legs pictured in a walking pose. To aid the stability of the structure, L&T has used 250 tonne tuned mass dampers, and the structure can withstand wind speeds up to 130 kmph and earthquakes of magnitude upto 6.5 on the Richter scale. 

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

After a competition for the purpose, nonagenarian sculptor Shri Ram Sutar’s version, a smaller replica of which is installed at Ahmedabad airport, was chosen. Various replicas of increasing details and heights were created by him, out of which a detailed 3D scan of the last one of 9.1 m was produced, developed to the desired final scale and taken by L&T to a foundry in China where the surface cladding panels were cast. A consortium of three international firms was formed to supervise the project with the construction and 15 year maintenance contract awarded to Larsen and Toubro. L&T’s 250 engineers and 3000 construction workers completed the entire construction in 40 months, of which the jigsaw-like assembling of the surface panels was, perhaps, the speediest process.

© Courtesy of internet resources

The lift’s return trip drops visitors off at a higher level, i.e. the top of the pedestal base of the statue, virtually at the feet of Sardar Patel at 58 m from the ground. This double level pedestal deck can be negotiated by stairs and escalators and it affords a relatively more open view of the surrounds as compared to the 153 m high deck; a good spot for a photo session as well. On returning to the mainland, visitors can refresh themselves at the cafeteria which offers washroom facilities along with food kiosks. From here visitors return to the bus bay where they can choose a ride to the Sardar Sarovar Dam, Valley of Flowers and Tent City or simply return to their vehicles at the entrance parking. Of course, lights put a spin on the monument as evening sets in to create a magical aura for visitors to enjoy.

© Courtesy of Aparna Rao
© Courtesy of Aparna Rao

From a critical view point, some design glitches do hamper a pleasant tourist experience. For starters, the south Gujarat sun is unrelenting even in winter and most tourists spend the middle of the day at the monument, where there is a woeful lack of shaded spaces from which to appreciate it except for a covered viewing gallery atop the cafeteria which very few venture to. Though this may well be on the list of works pending after the hurried project completion, one does hope the resulting additions won’t end up as patchy eyesores. There has obviously been an underestimation of numbers of visitors, as the first holiday after the inauguration saw long snaky queues at every point, proving the lifts and even the shuttle service inadequate at handling the crowd, even leading the management to halt ticket sales. The queues lined up for more than a kilometre at the main entrance under the noon sun to board shuttle buses was a particularly painful sight! 

© Courtesy of Aparna Rao

As for the statue itself, one cannot see its front/face from the site as it faces the river, so visitors get only the side view or a view from under its awesome form. And, the viewing deck at 153 m, for which the visitor pays most both physically and monetarily, does leave one a tad disappointed with its offering of strained views through the narrow openings in the grill. In an age of skyscrapers with panoramic rooftop views, this viewing deck proves a no-show.

© Courtesy of Aparna Rao

Yet, there’s the awesome form of the statue and the scale of the achievement of those who have realised this monumental dream – tallest, fastest and strongest - despite all controversies and constraints, already an incredible tourist attraction with 1.28 lakh tourists visiting it in the first 11 days! 

One does wish for the same spirit of competitive excellence, procedural expeditiousness and determined political will to back pressing developmental issues as well..... can we hope?

© Courtesy of internet resources

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