Mayawati’s dream Buddha statue project gets delayed

June 24th, 2008 - 1:44 pm ICT by IANS  

By Darshan Desai
Kushinagar (Uttar Pradesh), June 24 (IANS) Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s dream project of building the tallest Buddha statue in the world at 152 metres - taller than the Bamian Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan - has run into rough weather. The execution of the plan has slowed down thanks to massive protests by farmers in Kushinagar town, where the project is to come up on a sprawling 750-acre plot. It is located around 330 km from Lucknow, on the border with Nepal, where the Buddha died, or attained Nirvana, 2,500 years ago.

Rights activist Medha Patkar has taken up cudgels against the project on behalf of farmers and held meetings with them earlier this month.

Protests against the project began in 2002 when Mayawati first conceived the plan during her third stint as chief minister, but the government had later succeeded in bringing around the farmers.

“Now, with Medha Patkar taking up the campaign, the agitation has revived and the project has slowed down. We hope to convince the villagers that Kushinagar would become an international tourist destination and create jobs for them,” P.K. Mohanty, commissioner of Gorakhpur division, told IANS.

The proposed 152.4 m bronze statue would sit atop a 17-storey building. It would be higher than the world’s tallest Buddha statue of 67 metres in China’s Sichuan province. The ones destroyed by the Taliban were 52 m and 34 m tall.

The building on which the Buddha would sit will have another 12 m statue, besides prayer halls and terraced gardens. The campus would also have a museum, an art gallery, a university for the study of philosophy, a women’s college, a hospital and a hotel.

The $222-million project is being implemented by a global private organisation called Maitreyi, which has set up a trust in Gorakhpur, about 50 km from here.

The state government is acquiring the land from the farmers and would lease it out to the Maitreyi Trust free of cost.

Patkar and the agitating villagers are questioning the purpose of depriving the villagers of fertile land for the construction of the statue.

Officials told IANS that 660 acres of land belonging to about 3,000 farmers of seven villages was being acquired for the project, while the rest 90 acres belongs to the government.

Govardhan Gaur, who heads the campaign against the project under the banner of Bhumi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, told IANS: “It’s not just about us being deprived of our fertile land. The land that the government wants us to give away has an irrigation canal passing through it, which caters to some 50 villages and an approximate population of over 50,000.”

Gaur claims he has been holding an indefinite sit-in “for more than three years” on the road outside his village Dumari, about three kilometres from Kushinagar, which is also to be acquired for the project.

Guar, who owns a half-acre plot, said: “We will continue our agitation till the project is dropped. We are not concerned about the compensation to be given to us.”

The land in Gaur’s village will fetch compensation of Rs.345,000 per acre, while the range of the compensation the government has offered is up to Rs.5 million per acre. It would vary depending on the quality and location of the land.

“We have announced a very fair compensation and villagers should not have any problem with it,” said Mohanty. He believes the government will succeed in completing the acquisition process by October.

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