Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Table of Contents for Infratrack


“The Statue of Unity is a challenge in terms of construction. It presents a huge opportunity.”


The urgency in the portals of power in Gandhinagar may, on the face of it, seem to have an unstated linkage with the national elections in May, but it is not difficult to discover that hyperactivity is what defines everyday life for the Gujarat bureaucracy under Chief Minister Narendra Modi. In a sense it is also a reflection of the Gujarati's gung ho spirit of enterprise and industry. Veritably, this is a state on the move as witness the slew of infrastructure and construction projects implemented and under way and the investments pouring in. But no one is complaining of the frenetic pace. Not K SRINIVAS, SECRETARY, GOVERNMENT OF GUJARAT, who enjoys the challenge of wearing multiple hats – including that of steering the implementation of the commemorative Statue of Unity project. The 182-m-tall monument, a tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – the man who single handedly united the country – will leap up at Sadhu Bet, an island on the Narmada, in the vicinity of the Sardar Sarovar Dam.SHRIKANT RAO met the bureaucrat at his office in the Gujarat capital for an understanding of the emerging contours of the prestigious project.



Give us an update on the Statue of Unity project? What are the major works for which bidding has taken place and what are the specific business opportunities available?


This is a single EPC tender that involves construction of the statue itself including the pedestal and the entire structure plus the connectivity infrastructure, which is a 250 meter long bridge and some support administrative complexes which will house the convention areas, office spaces and all the services like plumbing and electricity. The statue will essentially be a steel structure cladded with a core of concrete.

This is the initial process, the core of the project. Once this project is up, of course, we will be expanding it and moving on to other aspects of the larger plan. We are hoping that by the end of February we should be able to decide on the preferred bidder. Then we would be getting to the award stage.


What specifically is your role in this project?


I wear several hats. For one I am Secretary in the Government of Gujarat and member secretary of the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET) created to implement this project. The Trust is chaired by Chief Minister Narendra Modi and has amongst its other members the Chief Secretary, the Finance Secretary and other civil servants on board.  So that is as far as the apex policy making body for the project is concerned. It is my job to get the project delivered. Now, on the implementation side, I am also wearing another hat, which is of Joint Managing Director of the Sardar Sarovar. That means that the policy made in the Trust, gets implemented in the Sardar Sarovar. So in a way, I suppose, my role is to ensure that there is no transmission loss.


What are your requirements of the construction people to whom you will finally award this project?


We’ve indicated to bidders that we want them to finish the project in a construct time of 42 months. The tender is very specific. The Statue of Unity is a challenge in terms of construction. It presents a huge opportunity. We are asking for people with capacity, who have had demonstrated capability in people-oriented spaces. I mean the requirement was for an EPC contractor of a certain size, scale and capability to finish; experts who could   translate our vision for a monument based on an understanding of movement of people around it, and on a particular method of construction.


How has the response been?


We will know once the tender is opened, but so far in terms of pre-bid it has been very good, large number of people participated.  There are plenty of overseas companies in the fray judging by the queries that come as part of the bid process. We are seeing that there is a very good interest and I think it’ll be a very competitive tender.


What is the approximate cost involved?


We will know the real cost only once the tender is opened. Our benchmark figure for the initial phase, which is the statue and its immediate zone, was roughly, inclusive of maintainence and other things, to the order of Rs 2000 crore with Rs 2500 crore being the outer estimate. I can’t put a figure on the entire project at this stage. It is a massive project that will happen in phases over a period of time.


Obviously you would have done some approximate financial assessment? And a related question: How do you deal with criticism of such huge expenditure on a single public monument? 


Usually people tend to debate on various numbers and whether we should spend this money on X, or Y or Z. It is actually wrong to put a number there.  Let us take the Sabarmati riverfront project in Ahmedabad for instance. What is its value? Can we put a cost to it? I remember I was Collector of Ahmedabad when that entire stretch of land was transferred under my signature, to this company — the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Ltd — for can you believe it, just Re 1 at that point at that point of time. All that one could see there then were slums, a few people playing cricket or the odd circus tent being pitched there. If at that point what if somebody had challenged the transfer saying, “Why Re 1, it should be something else. After 50 years this is going to be worth whatever.”  Would the remarkable development that you see now have taken place? Today when we talk about the Manhattan waterfront, we are talking about per sq metre value being something, and believe me after 10 years per sq metre value that we’re talking about today would really seem so insignificant. So, I think it is very wrong to put numbers. I think planning as a process should look at the final outcome and the public good that takes place, which is very difficult to quantify.


Would it be fair to characterise the Statue of Unity project as a business plan with an emotional tug? Surely there is nationalistic sentiment attached both to the Sardar’s memory and monument, but at the same time, the Gujarati being a practical person would be thinking of business at the end of it?


It is not so much about business.  It is actually a new method of engagement with government and a new method of delivery of public good. The chief minister’s emphasis is not on bigger government, but better government and it is not just government but it is a partnership between government and society where they engage for public good. I think this is really a project that is meant for social growth, human growth using what is potentially a huge amount of nationalistic and patriotic power but allowing that to be articulated in a very positive manner. But I would agree that out of the social objective a huge business opportunity will be realised. 


Briefly take us through the concept of the Statue of Unity and what propelled Chief Minister Narendra Modi to take up this project?  


There were two dimensions to this project.  The first is commemorative, meant to honour the memory of Sardar Patel, a great leader of India’s freedom movement, also a son of Gujarat, and his huge role in unifying the country. Historically as a politico-geographical entity, very few people have managed to achieve the kind of integration he achieved in all the thousands of years that we have been a civilisation. So if you really look at it from the integration perspective, hardly 3-4 names crop up.  Ashoka could be one, Akbar and Sardar Patel being the others. So if one really put it in a different historical context, the achievement, and a bloodless one at that, is astounding. Witness the political unification of Europe; it took place over several centuries and it was not a bloodless path.  In India this happened in a bloodless manner, due to the vision and contribution of Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Pandit Nehru, and many more. All these people, they’ve contributed immensely to events that require us as a society to remember, so this is one dimension. The second dimension is to see how we can use this to carve out and create a new vision of a developmental model.  So we call it an icon-based development model. This is not just about a statue but of using it as an icon for development in areas that have hitherto remained undeveloped.  


Does your development model derive from known examples?


It has been done in some places but certainly not in India. For instance at Bilbao in Spain they built a huge museum and such was the impact of its construction was that revenue started flowing into Barcelona transforming the entire region. They now famously know it as the Bilbao Effect where a new icon was created in the form of a museum Similarly, I can even think of Munich where they re-invented the area around an old airport, and it has become one of the world’s greatest industrial exhibitions. So we have cases of an entire economy driven by the activity around an icon.


When exactly was the project conceived?


I’ve been in Gujarat for almost 25 years now and I’ve known it to have a very methodical bureaucracy. So instead of a knee-jerk approach we have followed a scientific and methodical approach to all projects.  So when we started articulating on how to commemorate a great man like Sardar, we were looking at two dimensions. One, of course, was the physical manifestation because it helps people to remember you and to connect.  A monument will remind you that there are certain things that an individual or an age stood for, so it’s a constant reminder. On the other hand that should not be all.  There should be something more which should evolve out of the monument, a public good, positive spinoff that flows out of it. When the site for the statue was decided it seemed to be a natural choice. We  realised it was a very big opportunity because the monument would be located in one of the most backward spots of Gujarat, a tribal heartland where relative to other parts of Gujarat growth levels and livelihood opportunities are definitely less. We saw this as a very big opportunity for us to try to transform the entire tribal tract.


Tell us about your partners for this exercise?


When we started the Statue of Unity project, we went in to have our own Project Management Consultants.  So then we went for a global bid and hired a consortium that has amongst its members Turner Project Management India Pvt Ltd, Michael Graves and Associates Inc, USA, and Meinhardt India Pvt Ltd, the structural people.  So this is the consortium that is currently working with us as our own internal resource. Besides, the approach of the government has been that we should try and optimally utilise our resources because we have good engineering capability and there are organisations that have done phenomenal jobs. One of which is the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited which has a very strong engineering cadre, then we have our own resources. We have our own structures in place. So we did not choose to replicate them because replicating another structure or building de novo doesn’t make any sense.  Therefore at a government level a decision was taken that we will give the job on an agency basis to Sardar Sarovar which will do the job for the government that is the Trust, on a no-additional cost basis.  So which means using an existing in-house resource optimally.


It is never easy to decide the agencies that are best suited for the job? For instance, what led you to the choice of Turner Consortium as consultant for the project?


There were successful in the bid process which was very transparent.  We were looking for somebody who could help with the design, design management and also construction management. The philosophy that public sector participation in construction should be aligned with private sector participation in its management has been embedded in many important areas of Gujarat infrastructure and in many of our core projects. That was because we long ago realised that the typical touch and feel government method of doing things may not always work very well. This has been my experience personally when I was associated with the earthquake reconstruction work here in Gujarat. It was a massive project, 14 cities were being rebuilt.  So, we had a large number of firms, many of them international firms and we had good Indian firms working as engineers and agents.


Tell us about the benefits that will accrue from construction of the Statue of Unity project in the area?  


Current we are looking at a 2 square kilometer area in the first phase, but as we expand on the other side we have lot of forested areas. These areas will obviously not be touched, but only to the extent that they are useful for the purpose of employment generation.  We have currently a few societies serving the local tribal people – these are the joint forestry management societies which  run some major trails, walks, indigenous cuisine and those kind of things. It is not much now, but I would imagine as the potential explodes, we will have more and more of these activities taking place. There will be community ownership. We will be looking at bringing in larger infrastructure, looking at what kind of larger employment generation is possible, how we can locate some of the clean industry that is coming up and all those issues. We will be focusing on areas like education, development of skills and livelihoods, research, edutainment and MICE activities within this clean environment. There is a huge economic prospect that these five activities will generate. We will have universities related to livestock, animal husbandry, agriculture and tribal development etc. We are also going to locate skill building and training institutions here so that as the service sector evolves we’ll have service providers who are locals, not people who are coming from outside. So for the population living there it will acquire a lot of social and economic significance. In order to ensure setting up of all these facilities, and to ensure their usage, we are looking at infrastructure like expressways, metro, even a rail system to connect to this area from other places like Mumbai, Vadodara and Ahmedabad. That will allow the area to become a huge draw for tourists. Since there is a lot of infrastructure to be built the Statue of Unity project will be a business generator for construction firms.  


Have you computed the possible visitor potential?    


We have noted the numbers at all the leading monuments in the world. The Statue of Liberty, for instance, can support around 20,000 to 25,000 visitors per day, so we picked up that number and enhanced it slightly. We are working on a number of around 30,000 visitors per day. For 30,000 people to come, and to ensure that a significant portion of them are able to access the highest level of the statue, which is 153 metres from the base, we are planning two high speed lifts with a capacity of 200 people that can take people up to the observatory on top on a 20-25 minute cycle. We do anticipate that with the initial public investment that we are going to make, the spinoff will be enormous and this area will be transformed, but in an ecological manner.


What are you doing to ensure that all this is done in a sustainable manner and there is no negative fallout which usually happens in such cases when local residents and environment groups raise objections to the development? 


When we talk of negative development you are talking about project fallout such as leaving behind construction debris and such As part of the project implementation and project completion plan we are quite conscious that this is a project built on a river and around it. We do not want to sully the river, its natural surroundings or its beauty in any manner.  That is one part. The second part of the negative fallout is when there is displacement. We saw that in the Sardar Sarovar Project. When there was a huge debate over rehabilitation and displacement and all that.  Without getting into the merits of all of that, I can say now that the Sardar Sarovar Rehabilitation is perhaps the best in the world. We certainly have the sensitivity and the skills to handle such human issues. Thirdly, when we talk about development of this project we are also talking about allowing people to participate and grow. This project can potentially help them in terms of developing educational facilities, offer employment opportunities for people living in the area, the Narmada Valley, including the tribals. We are also looking at the issue of developing skills, how to ensure that they become direct beneficiaries of the social and economic spinoffs of this project. 


How are you taking the message of the Statue of Unity project to the people?


We have been doing all it takes to convey the message of the project which is of resurgence of nationalism and a spirit of unity among people. This project is intended to promote strength within ourselves and to give back to the nation. Recently we had what could possibly be the world’s largest run. About 50 lakh people participated in the Run for Unity on December, 15, which was a Sunday. Obviously there must have been something that struck a chord. They were there on the streets for a cause for which there was no immediate tangible benefit. We have been trying to create and share authentic information about Sardar in the best possible manner. We have co-published a biography of Sardar. All these will be housed in a museum which will be around the pedestal. This is a project which can offer inspiration for the rest of the country.   


So you see this model of development being emulated by other states as well.


I would imagine so. As a civil servant one always feels there is so much of energy that this country has and we find it so often coming out and spilling out on to the streets.  So I always wonder as the citizen of this country if only we could channelise that energy so that some positive benefit would come out of it. So if you have a collective outrage, we need to see if that outrage can result in something good and lasting. By the time the project exercise is over we will have at least 1000 engineers who would have been exposed to the construction challenge and will be able to share their learnings and skills with the rest of the nation and the world. They will be the talent bank for the country. Tomorrow, if we want to do a project of this scale, in any other part of the country, you will certainly have 1000 people who will not be challenged for want of imagination.


  • Project: Statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
  • Statue height: 182 metre
  • Location: Sadhu Island on the Narmada near the Sardar Sarovar Dam
  • Approximate initial phase cost: Rs 2,000-2,500 crore
  • Features: 400 feet viewing gallery, museum, audio visual gallery, sound and light shows, restaurants and recreational areas.
  • Expected date of completion: 42 months
  • Agency in charge of the project: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust
  • Implementation mode: Conventional contracting and PPP
  • Consortium of consultants: Turner Project Management India Pvt Ltd; Michael Graves and Associates Inc, USA; Meinhardt India Pvt Ltd

Leave a Comment

Email Address
(will not be published)