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Statue in monumental waste row

Mumbai, March 13: Mumbai’s “Statue of Liberty” threatens to get shackled in controversy again.

The row over a 300-foot Shivaji statue in the Arabian Sea is likely to be re-ignited with Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan saying today he had requested the Centre to examine a fresh site for the Rs 350-crore memorial.

But a legal battle looms. Music director Vishal Dadlani, who had launched a campaign against the memorial when it was being pushed in 2008 saying it amounted to a waste of public money, said he would file a PIL.

“The politicians want to waste public money on such a project when several districts are facing severe drought. They talk about this when elections are round the corner. They did it in 2008 and they are doing it again. It was estimated to cost Rs 350 crore in 2008. I don’t know how much they will peg it at now,” Vishal, part of composer duo Vishal-Shekhar, told The Telegraph. State polls are due next year, a little after the general elections.

Earlier in the day, Chavan said he had written to Union environment minister and Congress colleague Jayanthi Natarajan seeking a meeting on the issue on April 2. “The new (mid-sea) spot identified by experts is around 16.5 hectares, which will be used for the statue, along with the surrounding 12 hectares,” Chavan told the Legislative Council after Shiv Sena member Ramdas Kadam expressed fears about a possible shortage of funds.

While the Sena is pushing for the project, rival Raj Thackeray has termed it an “election gimmick”, almost echoing his uncle and Sena founder Bal Thackeray who had once slammed the plan as a poll-driven exercise.

The project was first proposed by the Congress-NCP government in 2005 but picked up pace in 2008 ahead of the 2009 polls.

State officials said the chief minister spoke about a “fresh” site as the previous one, chosen during the tenure of Natarajan’s predecessor Jairam Ramesh, could have run afoul of coastal regulation zone norms.

The height of the statue will stay the same as earlier at 310 feet — five feet higher than the Statue of Liberty.

But Vishal suggested there were other pressing needs. “We mean no disrespect to the memory of Shivaji, who was a truly great king. However, the proposed statue/memorial is an unnecessary expense for the exchequer,” Dadlani says in his petition addressed to the chief justice of Bombay High Court and uploaded on http://smallchange.in.

Vishal, who had supported Anna Hazare’s agitation, claims over a lakh signatures on his online plea against the statue.

Vishal agreed with suggestion made by Raj that upgrading Shivaji’s forts would be a better tribute than a mid-sea statue. The MNS chief had criticised the memorial last month at a rally in Kolhapur, a key centre in Shivaji’s empire and now a stronghold of ruling coalition partner NCP with which Raj has been locked in a turf battle recently.

“When real issues are raised, they bring out their ultimate weapon — of announcing memorials. A memorial to Babasaheb Ambedkar, a memorial to Chhatrapati Shivaji which would be higher than the Statue of Liberty,” Raj told the rally.