With love, despite hate: How the 182-metre Sardar Patel statue was built

Final touches being given to the Statue of Unity at Kevadiya Colony, about 200 km from Ahmadabad. Photo: PTI
All roads in Gujarat's Narmada district lead to Kevadia. The statue of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the tallest in the world, is being given the finishing touches as senior officials descend on the town, tiny restaurants struggle to feed the multitudes, and schools and hostels double up as accommodation for police forces and officials on duty to oversee the inauguration on Wednesday by the Prime Minister. 

At 182 metres, the Statue of Unity, as it is called in honour of the role Sardar Patel played in unifying the princely states into the Union of India, is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. It is located downstream on the Narmada river, facing the Sardar Sarovar Dam (conceived by Patel) which supplies much of Gujarat's water. The site is over three kilometres from Kevadia, the housing colony for the dam which lies mostly vacant today. 

In a last minute frenzy of activity, workers clean a pathway that leads visitors to the statue. Officials inspect a road on foot along the dam that guests may have to take if a new bridge connecting Kevadia and the site is not ready in time. A detour under the bridge has got filled up after water was released from the dam. The Circuit House at Kevadia is bursting at the seams with officials mobilised from across the state.

SALIENT FEATURES
  • At 182 meters, the SoU will be the tallest statue in the world; taller than the 153 m Spring Temple Buddha in China and almost twice the size of the Statue of Liberty in New York 

     
  • Similar statues took 11-12 years to complete. SoU has been built in 33 months with another 13 months for design & engineering

     
  • It comes with a viewing gallery at the chest level at a height of 135 metres, that can accommodate up to 200 visitors at one go affords a breath-taking view of the dam and its environs 

     
  • It can survive earthquakes measuring up to 6.5 on the Richter Scale, at a depth of 10 km & within a radius of 12 km. It is also designed to withstand wind speeds 180 km/hour

     
  • The statue is conceived as a naturalistic depiction of Sardar Patel in characteristic garb in a walking pose 

     
  • It rises out of a star-shaped, geometric base that covers the entire Sadhu Hill

     
  • It has a unique, slender width to height ratio, far more exacting than existing technical norms that calls for special engineering considerations

     
  • The structure has two vertical cores each housing a high-speed passenger elevator 

     
  • The vertical cores support the steel frames to which about 6500 bronze panels are clad

The Baroda-Kevadia highway, single-lane till a year back, has been converted into a four lane highway.  The owner of a local restaurant, who plays cricket for Mizoram, has taken leave till December to cope with the influx. Business has grown 20 times since work on the statue started. 

A key attraction of the Sardar Patel statue is the viewing gallery located at chest level of the statue, at a height of 135 metres, offering spectacular views. An exhibition hall on the ground level depicts Patel's life. As you enter the statue area, a food court on the left provides refreshments, on top of which is a viewing gallery facing the river. A newly-constructed bridge, with well-laid pathways and moving walkways, leads visitors to the exhibition hall and the statue.

A STATUE & MORE 

 
  • An exhibition centre at its base will showcase the life and achievements of Sardar Patel

     
  • A 320-metre long designer bridge connects Sadhu Hill to the mainland

     
  • Complex will include an administrative complex, 3-star hotel and conference centre, parking for 800 cars

     
  • Complex will have two tent cities, a ropeway, tourist trails, water sports and boating, and eventually an entertainment complex 

     
  • Kevadia will have a rail link; an airstrip in nearby Rajpipla will be upgraded

The site was originally just a hillock called Sadhu Bet. The hillock was flattened for the foundation of the statue which rises 240 metres up from the river bed. Eventually, the area will be surrounded by water released from the dam, allowing visitors to circle the statue in boats. A three-star hotel, two tent cities, and a forest trail across the river will come up. Kevadia will have a rail link while an airstrip at nearby Rajpipla, which can take 30-seater planes, will be upgraded.

While the tent cities, one next to the dam and another close to a hill surrounding the dam, are almost ready, a hotel is coming up at the entrance of the complex, opposite the office of Sardar Sarovar Nigam Ltd, three kilometres before the statue. A parking lot for 800 cars will come up here and visitors will be taken in buses to the statue. The states have been asked to build guest houses similar those in Delhi.

A brainchild of Modi — it is said he conceived it on seeing the Statue of Liberty — the Sardar Patel statue and the adjoining complex are expected to boost tourism in this tribal area bordering Maharashtra to the south and Madhya Pradesh to the east. ''We expect more than 15,000 people to visit it every day,'' said Gujarat chief secretary J N Verma. In future, it could also have an entertainment complex. 

Designed by eminent sculptor Ram Vanji Sutar, the statue has been built by engineering major Larsen & Toubro (L&T) at a cost of ~30 billion. L&T built the statue in a record 33 months as opposed to the normal time of 8-10 years. ''Unlike other engineering projects, this was more like an art work. Sardar was a legend. The challenge was to get his features and posture right,'' said Mukesh Raval, project director, L&T. 

The first challenge was how to evolve the engineering. L&T worked closely with Sutar, made 3-feet and 30-feet replicas of the statue and did public consultations, going from village to village. The process culminated with a conference at Ahmedabad Corporation, where Sardar used to be the mayor. People who had seen him or worked with him conveyed their perceptions. 

Collecting archive photographs, the team reproduced 3D images from 2D to arrive at Patel's exact biometrics in term of features, expression, physique, and demeanour. It had to look like Patel instantly and unmistakably. The folds of his costume were just one challenge. They had to look fluid, not static. ''It is a marriage of art and engineering - it is not just engineering,'' said Raval. 

Dhirubhai Patel, grandson of Patel's eldest brother Purshottam Patel, gave it the seal of approval when he visited it few days ago. "It could not have been better. This will make Sardar's name more popular,'' said the 90-year-old who lives in Baroda. Apart from getting the exact likeness of the man who was India's first home minister, the statue's sheer size threw up engineering challenges. Other tall statues have a wide base at the bottom for support. But Sardar Patel, being a farmer, is shown wearing his dhoti  above his ankle. The team had to show the two legs separately. 

The statue has been designed to withstand wind speeds of 180 km/hour seen in coastal areas, though the maximum wind speeds in the area are 130 km an hour.  Typically, an EPC contract involves taking stage-wise approvals, which take time. Often, L&T had to take a risk and just go ahead without waiting. Had it waited for the paperwork to be finished every time, the statue would only have been half ready by now. Of course, the team enjoyed the backing of its top management and the client — the state-owned SSNL — which owns the land and is executing the project on behalf of the state-owned Sardar Vallabhai Patel Smarak Trust.  The excitement in the air has infected the residents of Karamsad, Sardar Patel's village in Anand district. Asked if they plan to visit it once it is thrown open to the public in January, most nod. Sardar Patel's house, nestled in the narrow bylanes behind the town's municipal office, is being lit up for his birthday. 

Like most huge projects, the statue has had its share of controversies. The forthcoming inauguration has triggered a call for a token bandh on the big day by a number of tribal villages in the vicinity. The bandh is to protest against the lack of adequate rehabilitation for people displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Earlier news reports suggest that the weir being built across the river, downstream from the dam, to create a water body around the statue, will flood a few villages in the area.   

Officials say the weir was, in any case, part of the dam project to reverse pump the water to the turbines; it's just that its construction was advanced. Officials say real estate prices in the area have shot up and locals will benefit from tourism; 100 locals have been hired as tourist guides. But in a year when several parts of the state received scanty rains, any diversion of water will hurt farmers and could have a political cost. 

 

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