THE TALLEST OF THEM ALL
How the 182metre Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat overcame engineering challenges
IIt isn’t until one stands below the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on Sadhu Bet island on the Narmada that the enormity of the creation hits home. The 182 metre tall Statue of Unity—twice the size of the Statue of Liberty—will be the world’s tallest statue once it’s ready, a sheer marvel of engineering being pieced together by an army of over 3,000 workers, including 300 engineers from infrastructure major Larsen & Toubro (L&T). The statue is to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 31 to coincide with the 143rd birth anniversary of Sardar Patel.
As Gujarat chief minister, Modi had announced the project in 2010 ahead of the civic elections in Ahmedabad. Then it was seen as a mere prepoll sop. Eight years on, the statue stands tall, thanks to the zeal of thousands of workers (some of whom left foreign assignments with L&T), Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and chief secretary J.N. Singh.
To many, the statue is as much a symbol of national unity. Here’s why: the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET), set up by Modi in 2011 arranged some 129 tonnes of iron implements from nearly 100 million farmers in 169,000 villages across all states, a symbolic contribution used to construct the base of the statue. K. Srinivasan, an IAS officer and member of SVPRET, who coordinated the iron supply, says, “The Statue of Unity symbolises the prime minister’s vision as reflected in his slogan ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat (One India, Best India)’ on the lines of the architect of united India Sardar Patel’s ideals.”
How the Rs 3,050 crore project, fully funded by the Gujarat government, was brought to fruition in a record 42 months (work started in May 2015) is a story of grit, eyepopping artistry by Padma Bhushanwinning sculptor Ram V. Sutar and intricate bronze cladding work by a Chinese foundry, the Jiangxi Toqine Company (JTQ).
The statue is a threelayered structure. The innermost layer is made of reinforced cement concrete (RCC), comprising two towers 127 metres high that rise till the statue’s chest. The second layer is a steel structure and the third an 8 mm bronze cladding on the surface. The RCC towers, which at the bottom form Patel’s dhoticlad legs, have two lifts each. Each lift can carry 26 people to the top in just above half a minute.
“In terms of both art and engineering, the Statue of Unity demanded much greater effort than the Buddha statues in the Spring Temple of Buddha (China, 153 metres) and Ushiku Daibutsu (Japan, 120 metres),” says S.S. Rathore, chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd that constructed the Narmada dam. In fact, the challenges were many. One, the Buddha statues are imagined depictions of Buddha in robes whereas the Statue of Unity is inspired by a reallife 1949 photograph of Sardar Patel in dhoti and jacket. Two, the weight of the statue had to primarily rest on its feet. And a survey of 15 renowned bronze foundries in India indicated they were not capable of executing a project of this size.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
First, L&T created an image of Patel based on the 1949 photograph. Sutar was roped in to make an 18 ft bronze statue of the same. The statue was taken to Patel’s birthplace Karamsad in Gujarat’s Anand district to elicit public opinion, including from two individuals who had actually seen Patel in real life. Based on the feedback, Sutar made a 30 ft statue, which was finalised after consultations with diverse groups. Sutar and SSNNL officials, including Rathore, went with L&T officials to China to finalise JTQ as the bronze cladding firm. Sutar visited China four times to oversee JTQ’s work. As work began, the bronze cladding started arriving in parts from China by sea. Some 7,000 plates of various sizes were welded together to finish the entire cladding. All this happened under the watchful eyes of Mukesh Raval, the L&T project director.
“Getting the precise connecting pieces and welding together the entire thing was like cracking a jigsaw puzzle,” says Raval. “It was most challenging. The 7,000 pieces of bronze cladding were welded into 550 pieces and then affixed onto the statue.” A weekly report on the progress of the work went to PM Modi, Rupani and deputy CM Nitin Patel.
Jayprakash Navik, engineer incharge at the site, says,
“This was a dream project and a great challenge. Nothing of this size had been built before, so there was no fixed method to it. The methods used changed day by day. That no mishap occurred is proof of our precision.” According to Satish Sharma, one of the two foremen who bolted the claddings from within the statue at a height of 175 metres, “The role of bolters has been as important as the pulley crane operator, who had to send the pieces up and ensure that each part landed at the spot it was intended.”
A LEG-UP FOR TOURISM
The statue has a giant base about 25 metres high, equivalent to an eight-storey building which will have and exhibition and film centre showcasing Patel’s role in national integration, the importance of the Narmada dam as well as the Shoolpaneshwar wildlife sanctuary in the vicinity of the project. P.C. Vyas, the SSNNL chief engineer in charge of the dam, says, “This will be a big tourist spot soon, given the attractions—a great statue, the dam and forests around it.”
Using the lifts, one will be able to reach a 135 metre high gallery with perforated windows, from where breathtaking views of the Narmada dam, the valley, and the pilgrimage site of Garudeshwar can be seen. The gallery can accommodate about 200 people at a time. An estimated 3,000 tourists will be allowed in every day. A walkway, fitted with travelators, takes one from the food court and massive plaza to the statue’s base. The hospitality industry, too, is making its presence felt. A three-star hotel, Shreshtha Bharat Bhavan, is coming up near the statute.
Modi’s plan is to develop the Statue of Unity as a mega tourist attraction. To aid that, a four-lane highway, covering 90 km, is being constructed from Vadodara. Tourists can reach Vadodara by air or rail and proceed to the statue. A ‘tented city’ is also being raised in the middle of the forest behind a nearby hill, with plans to promote adventure tourism.
There is another angle to the project. The area which is backward and mostly tribal will get an economic fillip. Back in 2010 itself, Modi had visualised the region’s potential, organising Gujarat Tourism exhibitions near where the statue was coming up. At these events, all the food stalls were run by the local tribals. The experiment was a hit. At the Statue of Unity grounds now, to begin with, officials say there will be 2,000 direct jobs and 5,000 indirect ones.
In order to give a national vision to the area around the statue, the Gujarat government is also offering land to other states to build guest houses near the site. These guest houses will be built at the sites of the SSNNL colonies vacated after the dam work got over. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has already made a request for land.
However, controversy dogs the project over its costs, although it includes the 15-year expenses on operation and maintenance. Prime Minister Modi has faced criticism from several quarters for spending such a vast sum on a statue. But as a source close to the PM says, “Certain things are beyond money. The legacy of Sardar Patel is one such thing. Plus, with some effort, it will be a money generator for the state from the tourism point of view.”
TO HELP DEVELOP THE SITE AS A TOURIST HOTSPOT, A ‘TENTED CITY’ IN A NEARBY FOREST AND A 3-STAR HOTEL ARE COMING UP
VIEW FROM ABOVE Drone image of the statue’s feet and surrounding area