The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, has via its Expert Appraisal Committee given its approval for the construction of the pen-shaped memorial to former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi off the Marina Beach. With this the controversial proposal seems to have crossed yet another hurdle towards becoming reality – the next chapter on the pen memorial as it were. The party in power has not expressed much jubilation over this probably because of other matters demanding action but opposition, chiefly fishermen, seem to be adopting a wait-and-watch attitude. The question still remains as to whether the city really needs such a memorial.
A Conditional Approval?
That the Centre would give its nod was no-brainer. As we in Madras Musings noted (see Vol XXXII No 21, Feb 16-28, 2023), with its love for erecting outsize statues all over the country there was not a leg for the party in power at the Centre to stand on, on this issue. It also appears that the approval has been given conditionally – there are various other reports that need to be obtained. A no-objection certificate needs to be given by INS Adyar which is less than a kilometre away. There are numerous studies that need to be done regarding erosion, seismic impact, and sand accretion. Besides, certain stipulations have been made regarding construction itself – access to the memorial needs to be via a lattice bridge and not a structure that has pillars erected in the seabed – this is to avoid hurdles for marine fauna, fishermen and vessels. The area cannot be illuminated during turtle nesting and hatching periods. There has been a demand for an emergency control centre close by and a comprehensive disaster management programme especially for handling crowds.
Do We Need Such Memorials?
We have no doubt that all of these conditions will definitely be met on paper. What all of this will translate to in reality is another matter altogether. The fishing community, which is at present concerned over the loop road off the Marina has not yet reacted to the permit that has been given subject to CRZ clearance. But chances are that it will raise a query or two regarding the proposal. The EAC of the Union Ministry may have stipulated that there should be no permanent structure leading to the memorial but what is overlooked is that the memorial itself is a permanent structure. And this will be subject to the vagaries of nature, be high cost in terms of security and maintenance and also impact the seacoast. Is all of this really necessary? The Statue of Unity in Gujarat for instance costs Rs 48 crore to maintain annually. There are no details available on the cost of maintaining the Thiruvalluvar statue off Kanyakumari but whatever it is, there is a burden on the exchequer. Is all of this warranted when the money can be spent on education and healthcare, both of which may make better memorials for a departed leader and leave behind a better legacy?
A Pathway to More Such Structures?
Lastly, the very permission to build in the sea is throwing open a new can of worms. A simple pathway near Quibble Island led to an entire new colony off San Thome, namely MRC Nagar. And a loop road has led to permanent constructions of various kinds off the Marina. The imagination simply boggles over what a memorial and a bridge leading to it, lattice or otherwise, can do. This will certainly not remain one of its kind. Let us brace ourselves for more memorials, and maybe even a resort island or two off the seacoast. It has been known to occur elsewhere and we may remain no exception.
This article appeared in Madras Musings dated May 16, 2023 – https://www.madrasmusings.com/vol-33-no-4/next-chapter-on-the-pen-memorial/