Buddha statue row gets life

by Smitha Rao, TIMES NEWS NETWORK, Dec 12, 2005

BANGALORE, India -- Buddha is on the rocks again: the Centre (Central Government of India) has upbraided Karnataka for its "diametrically opposite views" on the proposed statue of Buddha at Ramanagaram. Did ecological wisdom dawn on the state government by accident?

That is the stinker the Centre has sent to the state. In a letter dated December 6, 2005, (a copy of which is available with TOI) the Union ministry of environment and forests has lambasted the state's forest, environment and ecology department for changing its stance overnight on ecological issues vis-a-vis the 712-foot Buddha statue to be carved out of the Handigondi rock.

Do a thorough field verification rather than take superficial stands that can be altered at a later date, is the Centres' parting shot.

For now, on paper the Buddha project is off simply because the state which had approved the behemoth plan, reversed its stance on the project and recommended that it be shelved.

Sources in the Sanghamitra Foundation, the organisation that has been fighting to see the project take off, say they will fight it out in the court.

While forwarding the Buddha project proposal to the Central government, authorities certified that "the project would not affect any monument of historical, religious, archeological or recreational importance... The project would not cause any environmental damage..."

This approval was granted in November 2004. In August 2005, the very department that granted unconditional approval did a 360 degrees shift and wrote to the Centre seeking withdrawal on grounds of: "antiquity of the rock, its archeological and heritage value, large variety of flora and fauna, critically endangered bird and mammal species."

Just what caused the reversal in the department's observations? "There was a lot of pressure from various quarters.

Besides the field report was done after information was collated from different quarters, it's not just one party that is to blame" acknowledge sources in the forest department.

Meanwhile, the 1,050 feet high Handigondi rock, from which a giant Buddha statue was slated to be carved out, stands as a mute testimony to controversies aplenty.