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New Delhi: Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, has filed a PIL with the Gujarat high court opposing the Union government’s plan to redevelop the Sabarmati ashram into a “world class” establishment, the Leaflet reported.
The PIL, filed through advocate Bhushan Oza to be argued by senior advocate Mihir Desai states that the proposed redevelopment project goes against Mahatma Gandhi’s personal wishes and bequeathal and would reduce the shrine to a tourist attraction.
The government’s 1,200 crore project was introduced in 2019 seeks to transform the ashram into a 54-acre attraction which would bring together 48 heritage properties located in and around the area and is set to feature an amphitheatre, a VIP lounge, a new museum (despite one already existing on site), a food court and shops.
In March, 2020, the Gujarat government passed a resolution which formed an executive council and a governing council to oversee the project. The plan’s execution is meant to be undertaken by the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Limited, a body owned by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.
Along with the Gujarat government, the six trusts which currently look after the functioning of the Sabarmati Ashram – including the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT) – as well as the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, have been made respondents to the PIL, the Hindustan Times reported.
Speaking to the Leaflet, Tushar Gandhi noted that none of the Mahatma’s ashrams have ever been under government control and have been maintained in good condition by the trusts for over 70 years. There is no reason for the government to take over, he said.
He went on to note that, when the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi was formed, the founders stated that the government would play no role in it. The funds which were collected initially were taken from industrialists and private individuals. Subsequently, government grants and funding was allowed for various projects, however, the government has never had any control vis-a-vis management of the ashrams and properties.
In August, several eminent citizens had written a note of opposition against the government’s redevelopment plan, in which they expressed concerns that the proposed overhaul would “appropriate and commercialise the spirit of Gandhian institutions”
The letter also noted that Hriday Kunj, the erstwhile residence of the Mahatma and his wife, Kasturba, which is looked after by the SAPMT, already draws thousands of visitors from across the globe every year.
The authors even made note of the existing museum building, designed by Charles Correa, reflects the values which they seek to maintain and is convenient enough for visitors to Hriday Kunj to drop by, as per their convenience.
The Sabarmati Ashram is an important site in India’s history and the history of the freedom struggle. It served as the Mahatma’s home from 1917 -1930 and it was from here that he began his march to Dandi which began the salt satyagraha.
Tushar Gandhi went on to note how this redevelopment plan can be seen as part of the trend within the Modi government to rewrite history, citing specifically the recent revamp of Jallianwala Bagh, in reference to which he said, “…the spirit of the gruesome incident that occurred there has been completed whitewashed”.
The PIL is likely to be heard only after the Diwali vacation.