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Prominent citizens of Gujarat ask Government of India to initiate environmental clearance of Statue of Unity

By Our Representative
In a letter addressed to Dr V Rajagopalan, secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, around two dozen prominent intellectuals and activists have demanded a “detailed environmental scrutiny of the Statue of Unity, planned inside Narmada river, 3.2 km downstream of Sardar Sarovar Dam and Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary. Proposed as joint venture of the Government of Gujarat and the state-supposed Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET), the letter wants the top Indian official to “immediately stop all construction activity in the region.”
The letter says, “We would like to bring to your attention that work on a project that proposes to build the world’s largest statue in the form of Statue of Unity near Sardar Sarovar Dam in the river downstream from the dam, just 3.2 km from the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary, in eco-sensitive zone and involving massive infrastructure has started work without legally mandatory environment clearance, environment and social impact assessment or any public consultation process.” The proposed statue, in the memory of Sardar Patel, is envisaged as three times higher than the Statue of Liberty of New York.
Calling this as “clearly illegal”, the letter says, this is “in violation of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of September 2006 and a number of National Green Tribunal and court orders about such massive kind of construction on the riverbed”, the letter regrets, On October 31, 2013, the foundation stone was laid for the project amidst huge fanfare and media attention. Tenders have also been floated. Even the work for the Garudeshwar weir, proposed about 12 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, began without any social or environmental impact assessment, public consultation and environmental clearance from the Environmental Sub Group (ESG) of Narmada Control Authority’s (NCA).”
Citing the Statue of Unity website http://www.statueofunity.in/, the letter says, it “clearly states the purpose of tourism and involvement of the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET) to build Statue of Unity, 3.2 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam inside the Narmada River on an islet called Sadhu bet.” It quotes the website to say that a “13km long water body (pond) will create an excellent tourist spot with available infrastructure on both the banks” and that “the Statue of Unity is planned to be erected in the river bed on downstream of the main dam in the Garudeshwar Weir pond. A permanent standing water pool in and around the Statue of Unity will be created by Garudeshwar Weir, which will enable boating activity around the statue.”
Pointing out that the estimated cost of the project is more than Rs. 2,500 crore, the letter says, Rs 2063 crore is the cost of “design, engineering, procurement, construction, operatio and maintenance of the Statue of Unity.” It quotes from the website further to say that the tender for the statue states that the monument “will not just be a mute memorial like the rest, but a fully functional, purpose-serving tribute that will boost tourism and facilitate development in the surrounding tribal areas”.
In view of this, the letter wants the Government of India to begin “immediate scrutiny” of the following facts:
* The project clearly needs environment clearance under the EIA notification of September 2006, but has not applied for or obtained the clearance at any stage.
* The Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary boundary is touching the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir (as a part of the environmental protection measures of the Sardar Sarovar Project, the earlier Dhumkal Sloth Bear Sanctuary was extended to meet the reservoir boundaries and is called Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary) Since the statute is only 3.2 kms from the Sardar Sarovar Dam, it is certainly near by Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary.
* The project involves construction in the river bed and proposed reservoir, close to sanctuary in eco-sensitive zone, and hence will have serious impacts on the ecology and environment. Hence, and EIA and environmental clearance is crucial.
* The project will affect the downstream river, its biodiversity, people and livelihoods and other related aspects.
* A comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the ‘Statue of Unity’ and its contribution to the cumulative impact of all the projects and activities in the area has not been done.
* The project also needs public consultation, but none has happened so far.
* During the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam due to hard rock digging, the seismic area already carries the burden of artificial activity in the bed rock and added load in what is deemed geologically fault line area. Public reports on geotechnical and geological studies on the proposed site have raised issues of structural stability as well as safety. This cannot be taken casually by authorities. The seismic hazard analysis claimed to have been done by the Gujarat Government’s in-house “Institute of Seismological Research” (http://www.statueofunity.in/execution.html#sthash.jEBrofSN.dpuf) or the Geological and Geotechnical investigation commissioned to another government institute WAPCOS cannot be considered credible unless peer reviewed and put in public domain.
In view of the above facts, the letter demands the Government of India to:
* Direct the Government of Gujarat to submit application for environment clearance and till that is obtained, not to do any work related to the project.
* Direct the Government of Gujarat to immediately stop planned project called ‘Statue of Unity’ and direct them to stop all other activities related to the ‘Statue of Unity’.
Declare the action – of the foundation stone installation on October 31, 2013 for the project called Statue of Unity of the Chief Minister of Gujarat State as illegal, in violation of the EIA notification of September 2006 and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Among those who have signed the letter include environmentalist Rohit Prajapati and Himanshu Thakkar, senior Gujarat High Court advocate Girish Patel,activists Nandini Oza, Trupti Shah, Shripad Dharmadhikary, Lakhan Musafir, Chinu Srinivasan, Persis Ginwalla, Prasad Chacko, Rajni Dave, Anand Mazgaonkar, Swati Desai, Krishnakant, Xavier Manjooran, prominent sociologist Prof Ghanshyam Shah, and environmental expert Mahesh Pandya.

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