Panaji: If elephant sculptures caused a furore in Uttar Pradesh, four statues depicting the mighty lion being erected at a public park in Goa have the makings of another roaring controversy.
The erection of the lion statues, each carved out from individual granite blocks, are part of a grand beautification of Kranti Maidan in Ponda, some 30 km from Panaji. The Congress party has come out against the statues.
The Congress has accused Public Works Department Minister Sudin Dhavalikar of trying to politically appropriate one of the last open spaces in that town. Dhavalikar is one of the patrons of the ruling Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), Goa's oldest regional party, whose official symbol is -- no prizes for guessing -- the lion.
"They are trying to appropriate a public park and paint it with their political colours and symbols using public money," Congress organizing secretary Durgadas Kamat told IANS.
Both the MGP and Dhavalikar have rejected allegations of a scam and said that all due processes were followed while going about the Rs.4.26 crore project.
Kamat claims that the attempt to appropriate open, public spaces for political reasons was similar to former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati's controversial efforts to install larger-than-life statues of herself and elephants in the state's prominent towns.
"Like Mayawati and her BSP, he is trying to put a political stamp of the MGP on public spaces. While she (Mayawati) installed elephant statues worth crores, in Goa Dhavalikar is using his ministry to erect lions. The cost of each lion statue, according to tender documents, is Rs. 18 lakh," Kamat alleged.
Mayawati had courted controversy for her decision to erect the statues worth hundreds of crore depicting herself and the elephant, the symbol of her political outfit, the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The Congress spokesperson in Goa claims the scam in this state was not limited to inflated costs for sculpting lions alone. He also alleged discrepancies in the sanctioning and the tendering process.
"The original plan varies from the actual work being carried out at Kranti Maidan. There is also a significant difference between the estimated cost and the actual money being spent on the project," Kamat said.
The MGP has rubbished the Congress allegations and said the lion statues have more to do with history than politics.
"The lion was the official emblem of the Kadamba dynasty," said MGP spokesperson Lavu Mamledar. The Kadamba dynasty ruled Goa from the 11th to the 13th century AD, along with the other parts of northern Karnataka.
Dhavalikar, who has courted controversy in the recent past following his demands for a ban on pubs and bikinis in Goa, said the Congress charges were frivolous.
The entire project, he says, was as per a plan submitted by a local architect and his ministry was only executing a plan that has been submitted to it.
"The PWD ministry is only undertaking the work as per the plan prepared by an architect. There is no misappropriation and anyone is free to approach the vigilance department over the expenditure," Dhavalikar said.