At 182 meters, the Statue of Unity which was recently unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat is the tallest statue in the world. Double the height of the Statue of Liberty and more than 40% higher than China’s Spring Temple Buddha, the statue could be seen from space, if the recent reports are to be believed. With 25,000 tons of steel, 3,500 tons of bronze and 210,000 cubic meters of cement and concrete, it towers over the world at a cost of about 400 million dollars.
On the onset, it might seem like an ostentatious display of nationalism which has come at the expense of India’s other more pressing issues and priorities. The cost was equivalent to around 90 per cent of the central government’s annual budget for the skill development and entrepreneurship ministry; double that of the ministry of shipping; almost as much as the biotech department’s planned spending; and around 90 per cent of the development expenditure budget for roads and bridges. The same amount could have irrigated 40,000 hectares of land, while all that cement and concrete could have been used to pave decrepit roads that cause thousands of deaths every year.
It is a lot of money being thrown on something that to a lot of Indians remain remote and elusive and only go on to serve the communities in Gujarat as something to talk about over dinner parties. For all the things that the statue did not do, it is however symbolic of the Modi government’s ability to push through spending on populist causes. Larsen & Toubro Ltd, India’s largest construction company, took less than three years to erect the statue while China needed 11 years to construct its Buddha. This does paint the sense of urgency with which the Statue of Unity was built.
There also was a sense of inclusion too – if though only limited to big corporates and govt agencies. They felt it their duty to shell out funds from their corporate social responsibility departments to support the building the of the statue. The gas giant GAIL India Ltd and Oil India Ltd each putting in about 250 million Rupees.
This grand efficiency of the government machinery stands however in stark contrast to India’s usual flow of operations when it comes to infrastructure. Road projects have been stalled for years because of not being able to find financing.
Statue of Unity will not just be a mute memorial like the rest, but a fully functional, purpose-serving tribute says its website, promising that it will spur all sorts of socio-economic development. That may be optimistic, given that an entrance ticket costs as much as an unskilled worker in Delhi earns in a day.
Still, at least it is finished. India’s infrastructure could use a dose of the same ironclad resolve that got this project done.