Process under PM’s direct supervision involves expansion of Ashram to 55 acres, and setting up a world class memorial to Gandhiji
The Gujarat government has embarked upon an ambitious project to redevelop Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram and expand it from its present five acres to approximately 55 acres. The redevelopment will involve restoring all heritage buildings that were built during the Mahatma’s time in 1917, relocating families that live there and bringing to life Gandhiji’s philosophy and message for those visiting the Ashram.
The project, being monitored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, includes plans to spend ₹1,200 crore to turn the Sabarmati Ashram into a world-class memorial with facilities and amenities to allow all Ashram visitors to have a “truly educational and immersive experience with full measure of the meaning and significance of Mahatma Gandhi’s life, work, philosophy, and message to the world.”
With Gandhian values
The State government has emphatically held that the in redevelopment project, also known as the Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development Project, will be done in a manner that is respectful of the original ashram’s ethos as it will retain the values that Gandhiji preached — austerity, simplicity, and authenticity.
“It is Prime Minister Sir’s commitment to undertake the redevelopment of Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram. In the past, many attempts were made but somehow, no progress was made earlier. Now, in the 75th year of Indian Independence, the government wants to restore and augment the Ashram and its entire periphery so that India has a fitting memorial for Mahatma Gandhi,” said K. Kailashnathan, Prime Minister Modi’s most trusted bureaucrat in Gujarat, who is personally handling the Ashram redevelopment project.
At present, the extent of today’s Gandhi Ashram is a mere one-fifth of the extent of the original ashram when it was set up way back in 1917.
“Since most of the original buildings lie outside today’s ashram, visitors get an incomplete sense of how the original Ashram functioned and how it embodied Gandhiji’s philosophy. Many of the original buildings are also in disrepair. To add to this, the atmosphere of the ashram is also rudely disrupted by noise of traffic, and it is often crowded on account of the continually increasing number of visitors,” stated a presentation prepared by the authorities with details about the redevelopment plans.
The revamp project has been conceptualised by leading architect Bimal Patel, who is also involved in the revamping of the Central Vista project in the national capital.
As per the details, the original Ashram was approximately 120 acres when it was first established in 1917 and its buildings were spread across 47 acres along the Sabarmati river in the city. During Mahatma’s lifetime in the Ashram from 1917 to 1930, there were 63 buildings built within the Ashram’s area. Today, only 43 of the original buildings remain.
“The area that is known to the world as Gandhi Ashram today is merely 5 acres. The Ashram will be expanded to include all the original 43 buildings, to a total extent of approximately 55 acres by undoing fragmentation of Ashram activities and land to include all the original buildings of the Ashram —restore them and make them accessible to all visitors,” states the presentation.
250 families to move
There are around 250 families who currently reside in the Ashram area for historical reasons. They have been offered alternate accommodation within the larger Gandhi Ashram precinct or a one-time monetary compensation as per the plan prepared by the State authorities.
Of 250 families, 54 families have already accepted the first instalment of the monetary compensation, and 36 families have accepted the second instalment as well. The rest are still considering their options.
“Through dialogue and consultation, we have been able to persuade the families to move out with option of either get an alternate accommodation to be provided by the State or take one time monetary compensation,” Mr. Kailashnathan said.
Controversy and disquiet
The revamp has, however, triggered controversy and outrage among a section of Gandhians, activists and scholars. At least 130 personalities from various walks of life have opposed the plan to revamp the Sabarmati Ashram, calling it the “second assassination of the Mahatma”.
In a joint statement, they criticised the Centre and the State governments for embarking upon the redevelopment plans, and said the proposed project will severely compromise the simplicity and sanctity of the present-day Ashram. The proposed memorial is more likely be called at best as a ‘Gandhi Theme Park’ and at worst, the Mahatma’s ‘second assassination’, they said.
“The present government is all set to reclaim the visual wholesomeness, tranquility and uncluttered environment of 1949 and make it a world-class tourist destination spread over 54 acres. Reports say that the project will be under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister. This is in keeping with the present government’s strategy to appropriate and commercialise all Gandhian institutions in the country,” the joint statement issued by them said.
In August of this year, the trustees of Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT)in statement said they shared many of the concerns expressed by several citizens regarding the future of Sabarmati Ashram.
“The trustees are committed to ensuring that the ethos and values which this space has communicated to the world for all these years is to be protected and enhanced. By which, we mean that the Ashram should always remain a message to the world which reminds all of us of Gandhiji’s call for attention to the last person, his ideas of simplicity, economy and frugality in all matters and his respect for nature and for each one of our fellow human beings.”
“Our understanding is that these values are fully shared by all stakeholders including the authorities with whom we as trustees are in touch,” the statement added.
Earlier this week, noted Gandhians including Ram Chandra Rahi, Chairman of Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, Kumar Prashant, president of Gandhi Peace Foundation, Delhi, and Sanjay Singh, secretary, Gandhi Smarak Nidhi came to Ahmedabad to hold a meeting with SAPMT chairperson Ela Bhatt and other trustees about the proposed redevelopment.
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