India’s love for its heroes is an expensive affair.
On Saturday (Dec. 24), India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, will fly down to Mumbai to lay the foundation stone for a Rs3,600 crore ($530 million) memorial for Chhatrapati Shivaji, the much-celebrated 16th century ruler of the Maratha empire. The 192-metre-tall structure— twice as high as the Statue of Liberty—will be built on 16 hectares of reclaimed land in the Arabian sea, some 3.5 kilometres away from Mumbai.
“Shiv Smarak (the memorial) in the Arabian Sea will be the tallest memorial not only in the country but in the entire world,” Devendra Fadnavis, the chief minister of Maharashtra, proudly said on Dec. 20.
But for all the statue’s world-beating dimensions, there are nagging questions over the ridiculous amount of taxpayers’ money likely to be spent on the project. The Maharashtra state government will fund the entire project and has already set aside Rs2,300 crore for the first phase of construction.
“This is tax-payers’ money and I am sure we would all like this money to be spent on something better—education, infrastructure, food…anything but a statue that is of no use to anyone,”a petition signed by 18,500 people on Change.org said. “This is not what Shivaji would have wanted and I am sure we can find other ways to honour him.”
Earlier, a group of marine conservationists and fishermen, too, had filed a petition with India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) seeking to stop the state government from constructing the project. The NGT had sought a response from the state, following which the Maharashtra government asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition as it had all the necessary environmental clearances in place.
Nonetheless, here’s a quick look at what Rs3,600 crore amounts to—apart from the cost of building a giant statue:
- Rs3,600 crore: The value of the AgustaWestland deal that the Italian government-owned Finmeccanica SpA signed with India to sell 12 helicopters. The deal is now mired in a controversy over alleged kickbacks.
- Rs3,590 crore: The value of all the undisclosed wealth detected by India’s income tax department since prime minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation exercise began last month.
- Rs3,508 crore: About half the total worth of loans owed by 63 of the State Bank of India’s top 100 wilful defaulters, which India’s largest public sector bank has reportedly written off.
- Rs3,500 crore: Tamil Nadu’s annual allocation for improving over 2,000km of state highways and district roads during the 2015-2016 financial year.
- Rs3,200 crore: In September, the Indian government got 36 Rafale jets for Rs58,000 crore. Roughly, therefore, Rs3,200 crore is the cost of two Rafale fighter jets.
- Rs1,800 crore: The amount India proposes to spend on the digital literacy mission for 60 million people in rural areas. So, this statue will cost twice as much.