Nagpur: The Maharashtra assembly witnessed uproar on Tuesday over the government's decision to alter specifications of the proposed statue of Maratha king Shivaji, with the Opposition and the ruling BJP ally Shiv Sena slamming the move.
Members of the Congress and NCP said the height of the statue, to be built off the Arabian Sea, was being reduced, a contention rejected by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who asserted that it will be the tallest in the world.
According to the state government's reply to an RTI query, certain height specifications of the proposed Chhatrapati Shivaji Memorial have been changed to reduce the cost of the project.
In the new design, the height of the warrior king's statue would be reduced by 7.5 metres, although the sword he wields will be taller than in the original design.
However, these changes will not alter the total height of the statue, which would be 121.2 metres. The height of the entire structure, including the pedestal, would be 212 metres, the government said in its RTI reply.
"The height of Chhatrapati Shivaji's statue has now been reduced to 75.7 metres from the earlier 83.2 metres," it said.
But in order to maintain the statue's overall height of 121.2 metres, the length of the sword has been raised from 38 metres to 45.5 metres, the government said.
"The height of the pedestal has been reduced to 87.4 metres from the earlier 96.2 metres. This change in the pedestal's height will save Rs 338.94 crore," it added.
The issue was raised in the assembly by Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan, who said the government has "time and again" reduced the height of the statue even as it claimed it would be the tallest structure in the world.
"This (statue of Shivaji) is an issue which is very close to people of the state. The government is, time and again, reducing the height of the statue. This is the last trick they have used to reduce expenses by reducing the height," he said.
Atul Bhatkhalkar (BJP) objected to Chavan raising "any random" issue keeping aside the agenda of the business of the House.
The opposition members strongly objected to the usage of the words by Bhatkhalkar and demanded his suspension.
Amid the din, which forced four adjournments, the Shiv Sena also lashed out at Bhatkhalkar, saying any issue relating to the Maratha warrior was of supreme importance to the state.
Bhatkhalkar's apology was demanded, to which he relented while seeking to clarify that he had used the words in connection with Chavan's remark and not for king Shivaji.
Attacking Bhatkhalkar for allegedly trivialising the "issue related to sentiments" of the people of the state, Chavan said his party opposed the mentality which "had opposed coronation of King Shivaji".
"We will not tolerate any changes in the height of the statue, he said.
The Lower House also saw fiery exchanges between Yogesh Sagar (BJP) and Sanjay Shirsat (Shiv Sena) over the demand for Bhatkhalkar's apology.
Amid all this, Abdul Sattar (Congress) tried to run away with the Speaker's mace, but was stopped by marshals.
Hitting back at the opposition, Fadnavis accused the Congress-NCP combine of not doing anything "for Maharaj" (the king) during its 15-year rule in the state (1999-2014).
"I got all the clearances, this government got all the clearances," the chief minister said about the project for which the foundation stone was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2016.
The contract for the project was awarded to Larsen & Toubro for Rs 2,500 crore in March this year. The state government had pegged the overall project cost (phase I and II) at Rs 3,600 crore.
Fadnavis asserted that the height of the statue was not reduced and that the government was ready to spend whatever amount it would take to build the structure.
He, however, clarified the first design of the statue sent to the Union Environment Ministry was "schematic" one to get clearance and not the "proposal".
Later, the consultants worked out a design in a way that the statue withstands the pressures of the gutsy sea wind and waves, he said.
"The height of the statue has not been reduced in any way. We will build a statue of our Shivaji Maharaj that will be tallest in the world," he told the House.
"They (Congress and NCP members) are not able to stomach this because they could not do anything for the past 15 years. They only kept talking about it and are misleading people," Fadnavis charged.
Not satisfied with the reply, the opposition members kept shouting slogans against the government. They squatted in the Well and also sought Bhatkhalkar's suspension.
The Shiv Sena also opposed any reduction in the height of the statue.
Its MLA from Aurangabad, Sanjay Shirsat, asked Bhatkhalkar to apologise for having said that the issue was "trivial". His party colleague Sunil Prabhu seconded him.
Bhatkhalkar replied, "I only used the word `bhalatach' (any random issue). It was relating to Chavan. I did not even name Shivaji Maharaj. But keeping in mind the sentiments of members of the House, I apologise to the House and entire Maharashtra."
Unimpressed by the apology, Leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil of the Congress continued to press for Bhatkhalkar's suspension.
Later, a meeting of group leaders was convened to find a way out of the impasse and Bhatkhalkar was reprimanded against making any such statement in future.