Till Wednesday evening even state environment minister Sanjay Deotale was unaware that during her scheduled visit to Mumbai, union minister of state (independent charge) for environment and forests Jayanthi Natarajan would meet chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to thrash out crucial pending issues.
Consequently, he had to cancel his scheduled tour to Nashik at the last moment and stay put in Mumbai to attend the parley. The agenda of the meeting was drafted the same evening.
Statue politics is not new to the country and from time to time leaders have fallen back on this tried and tested manoeuvre to entice voters. With prevailing ambiguity over the timing of the Lok Sabha polls -- officially scheduled for 2014 -- the Congress-led Democratic Front government in the state can allow itself a pat on the back after securing an in-principle nod from the centre to the proposed 312-ft Chhatrapati Shivaji statue and memorial in the Arabian Sea, off Mumbai’s coast. The approval came in the conference between Chavan and Natarajan, planned at the eleventh hour.
The in-principle endorsement for the memorial comes as a shot in the arm for the ruling Congress as it has become a contentious issue in the last few months. The memorial is a decade-old promise of the Democratic Front, made during state assembly elections. The delay in its fulfilment was enough ammunition for opposition parties as well as collation partner NCP, whose MLC Vinayak Mete moved a breach of privilege motion against the CM.
Height of the proposed statue in the Arabian Sea
Sources say as soon as the CM’s office came to know of Natarajan’s Mumbai tour, a formal request for the meeting was sent. A word by CM to the MoS environment and forests finally brought in her consent. Natarajan had a prearranged meeting with oil companies to review response and preparedness for spills at Hotel Trident. A luncheon meeting between the CM and Natarajan thereafter is believed to have paved way for the go-ahead, sources in the know of the developments claimed.
The meeting with the state government happened at Sahyadri state guesthouse followed by a joint press conference by the CM and the MoS, where the announcement on the memorial was made.
“We have studied the case in detail and are satisfied. No commercial activity will be allowed,” Natarajan said. The CM said as many as 40 clearances of different kinds were required for the construction of the memorial.
Meanwhile, the state has submitted a concept for the memorial to Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA), which has been forwarded to the ministry of environment and forests for further approvals.
The state is expected to submit study reports of coastal modelling and geotechnical investigation with respect to structural stability. Besides, analysis on socio-economic impacts on local fishermen, marine biodiversity surveys, mapping of the area, baseline assessment of the study area, disaster management plan etc would also be tendered.
Another subject that topped the meeting’s agenda was the memorial of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar at Indu Mill land in Dadar. Proposals on Navi Mumbai International Airport, car shed for the metro rail project at Charkop and coastal road – the pet project of the CM – were also discussed.
The site, a rock with an area of 15.96 hectare, 1.2 km away from the Raj Bhavan at Walkeshwar was a safe place, said Natarajan. Even during high tide, the rock stands 3 to 4 metres above sea level, said the minister. The project that falls in Coastal Regulation Zone- IV, where no construction is allowed, was approved in principle as a special case.