It’s an eye for an eye, literally. If the UK capital and the chief minister’s model for the city has the London Eye, Calcutta, too, will soon have its own eye with the 157-foot-tall Shahid Minar set to be opened to the public next month.
A climb up the 223 steps and a walk around the circumference of the two would allow a breathtaking panorama of the Maidan, Victoria Memorial, Vidyasagar Setu, New Market, Assembly, high court, the dome of the GPO, the Eden Gardens, Howrah bridge and the Indian Museum.
The vast field to the south of the monument has a history of holding political rallies and fairs, the first such convention being presided over by Rabindranath Tagore to condemn the killing of a youth in Hijli by the British in 1931.
Curbs were imposed on climbing up the monument in 1997 after a tourist jumped off its lower balcony. Since then, one had to acquire police permission to climb up Shahid Minar.
Calcuttans who wished to climb up to the top of the monument had to submit photo ID and address proof at the Lalbazar police headquarters, while tourists from outside the city also had to submit documents from the hotel or guest house and a copy of the passport for those who came from abroad. Indians had to seek permission three days in advance and foreigners at least a week ahead.
“Such was the paraphernalia that many genuinely interested would back out as they did not have the time to go through the arduous process,” said PWD minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar.
“But Shahid Minar is our pride. It offers a bird’s-eye view of the city just like London Eye. So opening it for the public and making sure no untoward incident occurs was our priority.”
The public works department is renovating the 184-year-old monument on a war footing and will allow access to its top by mid-June.
“Now tourists can buy tickets and go to the top of the structure,” said Ghosh Dastidar, adding that the first and second-floor balconies will be enclosed with fibreglass or grills. Ticket counters would be set up at the foot of the monument.
Renovation of the monument will be completed in two phases. The first phase, scheduled to be completed by June 15, will cost about Rs 50 lakh. The repair and illumination work will be carried out, according to the suggestions of the members of the heritage committee.
“The Shahid Minar needed immediate attention. Its inner walls had developed minor cracks. Also when I visited it a few days ago, I could not climb up after a certain height as it was pitch dark inside and home to many pigeons. We will install lights inside at regular intervals,” said Ghosh Dastidar.
The monument will be lit both from the outside and the inside, for which a private company has been entrusted with the responsibility. The monument will also get a fresh coat of paint and the pathways leading to it would be cleaned up and decorated with flowering plants.
“In the second phase, we are thinking of setting up a temporary folding stage at the foot of the monument to avoid congestion at the Dorina crossing during rallies,” said Ghosh Dastidar.
Stalls selling souvenirs such as miniature Shahid Minar key rings, postcards, bags, guidebooks and maps will also be set up in front of the monument.