Gujarat HC hears PIL against state redevelopment of Sabarmati Ashram

The Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT), which runs the famous ashram founded by Mahatma Gandhi, told the Gujarat High Court on Thursday that it had consented to the state government’s redevelopment plan after obtaining ” absolute assurance” that there would be no “governmentalization”. of the ashram.

SAPMT’s lawyer, quoting the name of SAPMT President Padma Bhushan and Magsaysay Award winner, and “internationally renowned Gandhi” Ela Bhatt, said: “No decision is taken lightly. The government was also well aware of the apprehension of other people and Gandhi In a series of meetings this was clarified there was no talk of governmentalization and departmentalization of Gandhi Ashram Consent in principle was given on an absolute assurance, of which we do not doubt and neither does the applicant.

A High Court divisional bench, headed by Chief Justice Aravind Kumar, is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Tushar Gandhi against the state’s proposed redevelopment of the ashram. Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson petitioned the court saying the redevelopment project was likely to undermine Gandhi’s values ​​by turning the ashram into a mere “tourist attraction”.

He also asked the court that any redevelopment work, if necessary, should only be carried out by the trusts running the ashram, including Sabarmati Ashram Harijan Trust (SHAT) and Gandhi Smarak Nidhi (GSN), an umbrella of Gandhian organizations. , while the government can finance it.

Along with the state government, all other relevant trusts opposed GSN’s involvement in the project, including SAPMT and SHAT, which are two key trusts. Representing SAPMT in court, lead attorney Mihir Joshi said GSN could not oversee and control its work. Joshi said: “The consent (to the project) is not ambiguous nor have we given our opinion on the aims of securing Gandhiji’s principles…with assurances and solemn affidavit from the government, and the project concept note (is) also to be prepared in consultation with everyone.

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Bhatt, environmentalist Kartikeya Sarabhai, Gandhian scholar Sudarshan Iyengar, industrialist Nitin Shukla and former head of the National School of Design Ashoke Chatterjee are the administrators of SAPMT. The trust owns over five acres of land on which the current Gandhi Ashram sits. SAPMT is the custodian of Gandhi’s physical and intellectual heritage, which has operated autonomously since its inception in 1951.

To implement the Rs 1,200 crore redevelopment project, the state government has set up a new trust: the Mahatma Gandhi Sabarmati Ashram Memorial Trust (MGSAMT). Its website states: “The current ashram is a deeply inspiring place, but it was long thought to leave much to be desired. The Trust’s mission is to restore Gandhiji’s Sabarmati Ashram to the world in its most authentic form.

The website further states that while the central government funds the project, the state government manages it “in consultation and consensus with all stakeholders, ashramwasis and trusts, namely Sabarmati Ashram Preservation & Memorial Trust, Sabarmati Harijan Ashram Trust, Sabarmati Ashram Gaushala, Khadi Gramodyog Prayog Samiti and Gujarat Khadi Gramodyog Mandal.

In his PIL, Tushar raised concerns that this trust has broad power and could undermine the autonomy of existing trusts. His lawyer argued that there was a “plurality of government officials as members (MGSAMT), while the existing trusts and its associates are in (the) minority”.

Gandhi’s lawyer also said that the new trust was not only responsible for implementing the project, but would also manage the revamped ashram. He said this state-controlled trust could appoint and remove anyone and would be “fully within their rights and can control the day-to-day operation”.

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The state government, for its part, defended the decision to create an all-new trust and said it was formed to “enhance coordination and consultation between trusts and government.”

The government, in a memo, told the court: “…The proposed scheme contemplates the vital role of all stakeholders in ensuring that the autonomy of trusts is maintained and development work is carried out in accordance with the values ​​that have guided trusts.”

The hearing will continue on Friday.

The redevelopment plan envisions expanding the existing Sabarmati Ashram, where tourists flock, to 55 acres of land by joining existing trusts that work independently, such as SAPMT, SHAT, Khadi Gramodyog Samiti, Sabarmati Ashram Gaushala and Harijan Sevak Sangh.

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