Vijayawada's Gandhi Hill in shambles

The Gandhi Stupa atop Gandhi Hill in Vijayawada.

The Gandhi Stupa atop Gandhi Hill in Vijayawada.   | Photo Credit: CH_VIJAYA BHASKAR

A piece of history special to the city lies in the throes of insouciance

It’s a monumental irony. Ahead of the proposed 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi, the historic eponymous hill lies in shambles.

Gandhi Hill, a stone’s throw from the Vijayawada Railway Station on the Tarapet side, got its name after the Mahatma’s visit in 1921 to address a gathering at the foot of the hill, during the freedom struggle. From here Bapu gave a clarion call to people to embrace Swadeshi, eradicate untouchability and donate for Swaraj Koti Nidhi (of ₹1 by each person towards Swaraj Fund) which evoked enormous response and people contributed liberally.

As the place acquired importance, a memorial project was developed. A foundation stone for the first of the six Gandhi memorial columns or stambhas planned by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, was laid here by the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri on November 9, 1964 and a 52-ft memorial stupa was unveiled by Dr. Zakir Hussain on October 6, 1968.

Books in tatters

Termites rule the shelves of a library with a vast collection of books on Gandhi and his teachings. Inaugurated by the then Congress president S. Nijalingappa, the building is almost falling apart. A Gandhian Study Centre with a sound-and-light show on the life of the Mahatma is mute and dark for many years. The planetarium at the foot of the hill, once a hub of science-lovers, is forever shut in the guise of renovation.

The stupa on an 18-acre memorial site on a 500-ft high hill was designed by a close associate of Gandhiji, Acharya Nandalal Bose, and was built with red marble procured from Rentachintala in Guntur district. “The pedestal of the column has carvings depicting Gandhi’s birthplace, Sabarmati Ashram and a motif of cottage industry, chiselled at the Durgi stone-carving co-operative centre,” explains G. Rashmi, member, Andhra Pradesh State Gandhi Smarak Nidhi.

Built with people’s love

The cost of the stupa - ₹ 1 lakh back then - was jointly borne by the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya and the Central Gandhi Samrak Nidhi. The two-storey library building was constructed with granite stone of Perecherla in Guntur district at a cost of nearly ₹ 3 lakh, entirely donated by the zilla parishads and panchayat samithis in the State who wanted to pay homage to Bapu.

The work of the memorial, started by the State unit of the Smarak Nidhi, was shifted to the Gandhi Hill Society formed in 1967 with Dr. G. S. Malkote, the chairman of the State Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, as its president and Dr. K.L. Rao, Union Minister for Irrigation and Power, as the vice-president.

A colourful toy train introduced to attract tourists, is perhaps the only functional feature of the project today. “The Tourism wing promised to release funds for renovation which got delayed and the subsequent change of the government has brought back the uncertainty,” said V. Durga Prasad, secretary, Gandhi Foundation, set up in 1977 and responsible for the Hill’s upkeep.

Eluded for too long

“For some reason, development has always eluded this place of great historic importance,” said Samiullah Beg, Manager of the Hill since 1974.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 10:31:57 AM |

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