Gandhi Smruti Peetha in Odisha’s Puri cries for attention

Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Puri, Mar 24:

While the authorities have pulled up their socks to meet the deadline to complete infrastructure augmentation works in the pilgrim town of Odisha ahead of Nabakalebar festival, the Gandhi Smruti Peetha (Mahatma Gandhi memorial) here speaks volumes of administration’s indifference and lack of political will towards its preservation.

GandhiThe beach town is gearing up for the upcoming Nabakalebar festival in July this year and funds are being pumped in for its beautification as over six million visitors are expected to descend here during the grand festival.

The Bhubaneswar Development Authority (BDA) has been entrusted with the task of beautification of the memorial since 2012 despite the existence of two statutory agencies –Puri-Konark Development Authority (PKDA) and Puri Municipality—responsible for development and beautification of the city.

Though BDA has splurged around Rs 1 crore in last three years on the beautification of the park, no visible change has been marked.  The manmade lake, lamp posts, joggers’ track, dustbins have been lying defunct in the premises of the park.

Unaware of the ground realities, the development authorities are however painting a different picture.

“Around Rs 1 crore has already been spent on development and beautification works and is in its final stage,” BDA, Chief Engineer, Jayamangal Nayak said.

“Electrification and gardening works are to be completed for which tenders have been invited. The works will be completed soon,” BDA, Executive Engineer, Ambika Prasad Mohanty said.

National Aluminium Company Ltd (NALCO), a government of India enterprise, had contributed Rs 49 lakh, as part of its corporate social responsibility initiative, to the memorial to turn it into a park. Interestingly, the navaratna company which had also spent Rs 41 lakh on the Gandhi park in Bhubaneswar is well-maintained and attracts many footfalls contrary to the one in Puri.

Former minister and BJD Puri MLA Maheswar Mohanty had inaugurated the illumination of the park in 2011. Though the foundation stone is holding fast onto its base, the lamp posts are intriguingly missing from their positions.

The memorial park situation near the beaches of Bay of Bengal has now turned into a haven for antisocial elements. During day time, the park provides unrestricted entry to cattle for grazing and turns a hangout for drug user and drunks with fading sun.

Besides, the place is a favoured destination for open defecation by the neighbourhood population.

This place has historical significance as it reminds of Mahatma Gandhi’s association with Odisha and Puri in particular. Gandhiji had visited Odisha seven times of which he had set his foot in Puri thrice in his lifetime.

His first visit to Puri was on March 25, 1921, second on May 8, 1935 and third on March 25, 1938. The holy city stands testimony to Gandhiji’s association with Puri during freedom struggle, campaign against untouchability and Swaraj movement. However, it’s fading away with the lack of care and preservation of Gandhi memorial here.

On November 15, 1951, the then President of India Rajendra Prasad had paid his tributes to Gandhiji during his visit to Odisha. A portion of the mortal remains of Gandhiji was immersed in the Bay of Bengal after which the place was named as Gandhi Ghat.

It may be recalled that the Odisha government had decided last year to connect all the places in Odisha which Mahatma Gandhi visited between 1921 and 1946, into a dedicated circuit. The circuit plan included infrastructure development of existing Gandhi memorials and setting up of additional tourism infrastructure at designated places.

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