Shiv Sena's intended birthday present to Bal Thackeray: 8 times larger memorial at Shivaji Park

Shiv Sena wants the memorial area to be expanded to eight times its current size, along with an iron grille and gate to demarcate it; garden department writes to heritage committee for approval

How much space does the Shiv Sena want for Bal Thackeray? Exactly 11 months ago, Shiv Sainiks had marked the birth anniversary of party supremo Bal Thackeray with the inauguration of a 12x6 metre memorial torch in his honour at Shivaji Park. But it seems with every passing year, the Sena’s demands are also increasing. Even though the CM has already announced that the Mayor’s bungalow will be converted into a memorial for Thackeray, with the party founder’s birth anniversary coming up again on January 23, the Sena also wants the Shivaji Park memorial to be expanded to eight times its current size, with an iron railing and a gate to set it apart from the rest of the park. Never mind that this will result in the ground being dug up, as well as a material change in the appearance of the park, which is a heritage site.

Also read: Plot opposite 'Matoshree' ideal for Bal Thackeray memorial, says Nitesh Rane

Aluminium sheets have been put up around the 12x6-m area to mark the 27x21-m enclosure. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
Aluminium sheets have been put up around the 12x6-m area to mark the 27x21-m enclosure. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

In fact, soon after the inauguration of the akhand jyot (eternal flame) in January this year, an unsightly temporary aluminium fence was put there to mark 27x21 metres around it, even though the BMC heritage committee had only given permission for a 12x6 metre mound on which the memorial torch could be placed. Since then, the public has been denied access inside that chunk of the park. Besides that, the landscaped enclosure also has lights, tiles and a watchman’s cabin — all of which were put there without permission. The Sena now hopes that this encroachment in the heritage park will be legitimised and made permanent with the Heritage committee’s approval. The Garden department sent a proposal to this effect to the Heritage committee at the beginning of this month.

“The plan started gaining ground after the jyot was installed. It now requires the approval of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) and the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA). A meeting was held to discuss this matter in the first week of December. Soon after — say around 20 days ago — a plan was submitted to the MHCC,” the deputy municipal architect (garden cell), Meenakshi Mane confirmed to mid-day.

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In October 2013, the MHCC had only given approval for the memorial torch itself and explicitly mentioned there was to be no construction there. The No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the committee reads: ‘It was noted by the committee that the scope of work proposed was purely for landscaping and without any construction and open to sky.’

The letter from the Garden department to the heritage committee also includes a sketch that shows the current size of the memorial site and the proposed expansion to make it eight times as large. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
The letter from the Garden department to the heritage committee also includes a sketch that shows the current size of the memorial site and the proposed expansion to make it eight times as large. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

After this permission was granted, the demands began for a larger enclosure. A December 2014 letter from the then assistant commissioner of G-North ward to the chief engineer (DP), also states: ‘The original area of the smruti sthal is 20 ft x 40 ft. Now heritage grills on four sides of the smruti sthal having size of 21 m x 27 m are required to be constructed. Therefore, chief engineer (DP), Assistant Commissioner (estates), superintendent of gardens should give NOC/remarks for construction of heritage grill on the extended portion of 21 m x 27 m.”

Sources said, for the past year, a flurry of similar letters have been passed between the various authorities — the deputy municipal architect’s department, MHCC, the Development Planning (DP) department, ward office and others in this regard, and the matter will now come up in the next heritage committee meeting again. But when mid-day contacted assistant commissioner (G-North ward) Ramakant Biradar, DP chief V P Chithore and MHCC chief Ramnath Jha in the matter, they all said they knew nothing about it.

No digging?
Sena leader and BMC’s Standing Committee chairman, Yashodhar Phanse told this paper, “We hope that the iron grille will come up at the location before Balasaheb Thackeray’s birth anniversary on January 23. The objective is to make sure the jyot is visible from all four sides to the public.”

When this reporter pointed out that this would involve digging up the park premises, he said, “There will be no digging or construction on the location.”

Also read: Congress opposes Bal Thackeray's memorial at Mumbai Mayor's bungalow

However, deputy municipal commissioner (zone II) Anand Vagralkar said, “The iron grille will have to be dug into the ground. But everything will be done with due permissions. The proposal is before the heritage committee right now.”

A senior official from the MHCC said, “The proposal for the iron grille has been in existence since the jyot was put up. However, it did not get approval due to various permissions required. It is now being considered by the Heritage committee.”

BMC to pay
The memorial site at Shivaji Park was the brainchild of Sena MP Rahul Shewale, who had vouched to maintain the torch. However, it is the BMC which has had to foot the R1 lakh bill for the torch fuel every month. The civic body will now also end up paying for the iron grille.

Rs 6 Lakh
The cost of installing the memorial torch

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