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War memorial controversy intensifies


GUWAHATI, Jan 4 - The controversy over the construction of a war memorial within the Dighalipukhuri campus intensified today with the All Asam Ex-Servicemen Association asserting that the project would in no way distort the heritage appeal, aesthetic beauty and ecological sanctity of the historic water-body, as there had been no earth-filling on any portion of the site on the north bank.

The claim of the ex-servicemen, however, was vehemently contested by the citizens� body opposing the construction, saying that the concrete structure already laid there violated norms concerning preservation of heritage/historical sites and water-bodies, besides impacting the tank�s ecology adversely.

�It's unfortunate that some citizens have raised objections to the construction of the proposed war memorial at the portion of the land which was till now lying absolutely disused with a dilapidated Assam-type house. This filthy area was an eyesore to the onlookers and also frequented by anti-social elements for their nefarious activities for years, besides remaining a dumping ground for garbage � a far cry from a heritage building,� Col (retd) Rabin Das, secretary, All Assam Ex-Servicemen Association, said.

Besides aesthetic landscaping, the war memorial proposes to have the great Assamese general Lachit Barphukan and his soldiers in full battle gear going for the Battle of Saraighat on a boat, an Amar Jawan Jyoti reverse rifle with a helmet on top, a uniformed soldier with his rifle reverse arm salute and suitable panels/murals depicting battle scenes and historic scenes from pre- and post-independent India. The memorial will also have a Vijayanta Tank and MiG24 aircraft on display.

�This will be a source of inspiration and motivation for the present generation and to instill a sense of patriotism in them. Much emphasis has been put in greening the whole area with lawns, gardens and plantation of decorative trees. It will also have a park for citizens to be constructed on the available vacant land only and not on any portion of the water-body,� Col (retd) KK Bora and Col (retd) Pankaj Rajkhowa said, adding that if a large portion of the west bank could be utilised by a restaurant, the unused northern end could be better served by a war memorial.

Later, addressing a press conference, Dr Hiren Gohain, Dr Dinesh Baishya, Khanindra Das and Manjit Mahanta said that under no circumstances should the Dighalipukhuri�s natural and historic sanctity be allowed to be damaged through construction of any concrete structure.

�As per the Central government�s policy for maintenance of heritage and historical sites and also under the State government�s water-body protection laws, no concrete construction can be allowed on the Dighalipukhuri�s banks. At the most, some natural gardening activities can be done without affecting the water-body�s ecology. It also needs to be ensured that there is no disturbance to the turtles� breeding ground,� they observed.

They added that concretisation of the north bank and construction of a wall through piling had jeopardised the breeding habitat of an endangered turtle, a traditional resident of the pond. The developments were also disrupting the water-body�s link with the Brahmaputra � something with long-term and irreversible implications for the wetland.

�Open space for the public and water-bodies in the city are fast disappearing. The wetlands � besides being storm-water reservoirs � are also the city�s lungs, as they are the best indicators of the city�s natural environment. The least we can do is to hasten their degradation process,� they said.

Conservationist Hiten Dutta said that the trees around the pond sheltered birds in their thousands, and artificial lighting in the proposed war memorial-cum-park could cause serious disturbance to the avifauna.

�The turtles and the birds have equal right to the Dighalipukhuri campus. Today, very little natural habitat remains for these urban wildlife and birds. No modernisation activity in the tank�s campus should be allowed, which can disturb wildlife,� he added.

The citizens� body said that the war memorial could easily come up on the city outskirts, and that they would happily assist the ex-servicemen in facilitating that.

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