How the 182me­tre Sar­dar Pa­tel statue in Gu­jarat over­came en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenges

India Today - - CONTENTS - By Uday Mahurkar Pho­tographs by Chandradee­p Ku­mar

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.


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.”


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.”


VIEW FROM ABOVE Drone im­age of the statue’s feet and sur­round­ing area

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