From his childhood home in Porbandar to the place in Madurai where he first started wearing the loincloth, from his prison cell at Pune Yeravada prison to the spot on the Marina Beach where he made a stirring speech, Gandhians and tourists alike can soon follow, both literally and virtually, in the footsteps of the Mahatma.

The Culture Ministry will soon formally launch the Gandhi Heritage Sites Mission, which will develop the 2,000-odd sites identified by a panel headed by the former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, and also create a portal compiling all the documents related to the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Over a five-year period, the government plans to spend Rs. 42 crore on this Mission, according to sources. An eminent Gandhian will be appointed chairperson of the Mission, while the director will be a Joint Secretary level-official. The Mission will be assisted by the five zonal cultural centres which will be provided additional officers and a fixed budget outlay. The Comprehensive Master List is being published by the Publications Division of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry with Rs. 21.55 lakh of support from the Culture Ministry.

That list includes every single place visited by Gandhi, whether in India or abroad — over his 78 years; he spent time in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Mauritius, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, as well as what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh. The focus, however, will be on 39 core sites, which include those described above.

However, as the panel noted, Gandhian heritage really refers to two indivisible yet distinct parts — the tangible heritage in terms of structures and sites on the one hand, and the legacy of texts and visuals on the other, consisting of published and unpublished documents, non-text photographs and audio-visual footage.

Accordingly, the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust will receive Rs. 4 crore (out of a Rs. 8 crore corpus fund) this month to set up the Gandhi Heritage Sites Portal which will compile this textual and visual legacy.

The site will serve as an electronic library to promote serious research, but its interactive nature also aims to provide a virtual walk through Gandhi's life and achievements. The Ashram library already has over 34,000 letters written by or to Gandhi, all of which have also been microfilmed and stored digitally.

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