Iron Man 2.0

It’s just over a month to go for the inauguration of Statue of Unity, which at 182 metres would be the world’s tallest statue. From wind and the structure’s unique shape, to Sardar Patel’s posture and face, The Indian Express takes a measure of the challenges since construction began in Jan 2016, as the statue enters the final countdown.


Just specks against the folds of the Statue of Unity’s dhoti, three workers in yellow hard hats and orange fluorescent safety jackets take a lift up 155 metres carrying patterned bronze sheets with buttons moulded on them, to form the structure’s jacket, taking 10 minutes to cover the distance from the ground to the chest. Down below, the other labourers at work are about the size of the statue’s smallest toe, shod in a sandal.
With a little over a month to go for inauguration, “the world’s tallest statue”, dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, stands at about 120-130 metres height — minus the head and shoulders, which will together add up to the final 182-metre (597-feet) plan. The ‘182’ number was picked to match the total Assembly constituencies in Gujarat, and will make the Statue of Unity more than double the 93-metre Statue of Liberty, off the coast of New York City. From sea level, the height would be 237.35 metres — the 70-metre hillock of Sadhu Bet having been flattened to 55 metres to lay the foundation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to come for the unveiling on October 31, Sardar Patel’s birthday, and with BJP leaders admitting it could mark the launch of the party’s 2019 Lok Sabha poll campaign, time is of the essence.
Work is on at five major sites that make up the Rs 2,989 crore project. Apart from the statue itself, these include the walkway, the ticket counter, the food court, the four-lane approach highway, the yard where the parts are being assembled, and the Shrestha Bharat Bhavan (a 52-room three-star lodging facility). Altogether, 4,076 labourers are at work, divided into two shifts. Around a thousand of those are working on the cladding of the statue alone, which has been forged in China. They include around 800 locals and about 200 workers from China, who have been working in batches for two-three months each since September 2017.
With the countdown beginning, three security personnel, two home guards and three State Reserve Police personnel were recently deployed to guard the site, while new checkposts have come up. Right now, no outsider is allowed closer than 250 metres to the Sardar; from there, all you can see is his feet. The statue itself is visible from a 7-km radius, dwarfing a landscape once known for its dam, that ironically fought a long and hard battle to its eventual 163-metre height.
They began with the feet in January 2016, moving on next to the dhoti, the knees and then the shawl flung over the statue’s shoulders, reaching all the way down. This was five years after Modi, then CM of Gujarat, on October 6, 2010, announced such a statue on the occasion of 50 years of formation of the state, to come up on Sadhu Bet hillock in Kevadia Colony, home to the Sardar Sarovar Project on the Narmada river. Modi promised “a world-class statue befitting the stature of the Iron Man of India” — “double the height of Statue of Liberty and four times that of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro”.
A Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust was set up, and soon after Modi became PM in 2014, the Gujarat government handed the construction contract to a multi-firm consortium. L&T was picked as the executing firm, while the consortium includes Michael Graves Architecture & Design and Turner Construction, which previously developed the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
Says an L&T official, “The construction has been done in four stages, including a mock-up, 3D scanning technique as well as a computer numerical control production technique for accurate reproduction of minute details.”
It was on L&T’s recommendation, say officials, that Chinese foundry Jiangxi Tongqing Metal Handicrafts Co. Ltd (or the TQ Art foundry) was chosen to mould the cladding, that essentially makes up the bronze statue. An official who was part of the planning process but has retired since says that in April 2015, a team of engineers visited several foundries in India and abroad before picking TQ Art. “There are a few well-known foundries in India but none has the expertise to cast a bronze statue as tall as this. They are mostly foundries sculpting statues of up to 100-150 feet. This particular Chinese foundry is known for its bronze casts and has several intricate statues to its credit,” the official adds.
What also decided matters in favour of the Jiangxi unit, which is spread over 50,000 sq feet and employs close to 1,000 skilled workmen, was that it was at the time working on what was then the world’s tallest bronze statue. The 62-metre statue has since been installed in China.
“The speed with which they were willing to complete the casting was also a factor,” says the retired official. “The project always had an October 2018 deadline, given the 2019 general elections, and the project could not be delayed by bringing in foundries that were not equipped to handle this kind of project.”
The selection of the TQ Art foundry was somewhat of a departure from Modi’s call during his 2014 poll campaign to build the statue from “iron farm tools” collected from across India, to represent the “unified India” that Sardar Patel stood for. This was part of Modi’s Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat slogan, and the movement to collect iron for the statue was compared to the drive to collect bricks for the Ram temple in Ayodhya. It was spearheaded by the NGO Citizens for Accountable Governance, mentored by election strategist Prashant Kishor (who has recently joined the JD-U).
On December 15, 2013, Patel’s death anniversary, Modi flagged off 1,000 trucks to travel to seven lakh villages, carrying about three lakh empty kit boxes, to collect soil and the scrap-iron farm implements.
By 2016, 135 metric tonnes of iron had been collected in various forms, but mostly scrap. After much deliberation on the unusable condition of this scrap, about 109 tonnes was used to make the foundation of the statue after undergoing processing.



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