India criticised for spending £200 million on world's tallest statue
India is to spend more than £200 million on building the world's tallest statue despite fierce criticism from aid and charity groups that the money would be better spent on reducing poverty.
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
6:48PM BST 17 Jun 2011
Gujarat in Western India announced its plans to build a towering memorial to Sardar Patel, India's first home minister and deputy prime minister, who is regarded as the unsung hero of the independence movement, with a full-page advertisement in The Economist.
The 'Statue of Unity' monument will be 597 feet high, dwarfing the world's current tallest statue, China's 420 feet Spring Temple Buddha, and towering above New York's 151 feet Statue of Liberty. It will be built on an outcrop in the state's Narmada River, close to the Narmada Dam hydroelectric power station.
Charity groups said the statue is a waste of money which could instead be used to help Gujarat's 3.6 million people officially living below India's poverty line – on less than 80 pence per day. The statue will cost more than two-thirds of the international aid Britain will give to India this year.
Vijay Parmar, of the charity Janvikas (Working for the Poor) said the statue is a political stunt which will bring no benefit to the public.
"This money could be spent on health, education, or housing. Large numbers of urban poor people are living on roads. Government-run primary schools are in a pathetic condition. The money could have at least helped improve the educational standards of poor children in Gujarat," he said.
Gujarat's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government was unmoved by the criticism.
Its controversial chief minister Narendra Modi said the statue will "stand high, not just in metres and feet, but much more in terms of academic, historical, national and spiritual values. My vision is to develop the place as a source of inspiration for ages to come," he said.
The monument will also have a museum dedicated to the story of India's freedom fighters, focusing on Sardar Patel, the 'Iron Man of India' who is credited with consolidating its territory in the first few years of independence. He ordered the assault to seize Muslim-majority Hyderabad from its Nizam and incorporate it into India.
"Sardar Patel has not been given his due place in Indian history and the nation owes this project to him," said Gujarat government spokesman Jai Narayan Vyas. He dismissed criticism of the project by India's "English-speaking elite" and said all the costs will be met by voluntary donations.
He drew a contrast between the tens of millions of pounds spent by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati on statues of herself, and the Statue of Unity's celebration of Sadar Patel.
"Other national heroes have monuments to immortalise them. Patel was the one who united India with a strong will and made an immense contribution in forging what we call India. He has altogether a different place in the Indian history," he said.