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Bapu Kuti in Danger
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Bapu Kuti in Danger

Steel plant at Wardha may spell doom for Bapu Kuti

NAGPUR: ‘‘You must be the change you want to be.’’ This quote by Mahatma Gandhi is put up on a huge signboard at the entrance of Rs 1,400-crore Uttam Galva Metalics Limited (UGML) at Barbadi village in Wardha.

The new twist to the change that’s happening here is ironic because it’s likely to cause harm to Bapu Kuti and the cluster of ashrams nearby.

In a clash of industrial development in backward Vidarbha and the protection of a national monument, rules appear to have been broken and circumvented by the steel plant being set up by UGML, whose project is an extension of Lloyds Steel in the adjacent village of Bhugaon.

Restrictions have been placed by the ministry of environment & forests (MoEF) on establishment of industries within a 10km radius of Bapu Kuti, which is a heritage site. The MoEF letter issued on February 23, 1994 states that in ‘Bapu Kuti’ area, establishment or expansion of obnoxious, hazardous and polluting units are not permitted.

Bapu Kuti, a tile roof with mud and bamboo walls, was constructed as Mahatma Gandhi’s quarters for less than Rs 100.

Gandhiji came to Sewagram at the age of 67 on April 30, 1936 and stayed there for nearly seven years. It was from this hut that Gandhiji planned the Quit India movement and also gave direction to India’s independence movement.

Despite the environment rules, UGML’s plant is nearing completion on the outskirts of Wardha town. As the crow flies, Bapu Kuti is less than 4 kms from the plant and it’s clearly visible from the ashram. However, the company, by taking road distance into consideration, claims that it is 13 kms away.

The manner in which rules have been broken by UGML came to fore through one man’s fight against the aspiring behemoth. Ajay Jagtiani, an entrepreneur and member of the Human Rights Protection Forum in Wardha, claims that his three plots have been forcibly occupied by UGML. The latter, in turn, alleges that Jagtiani is blackmailing the company.

UGML has signed an MoU with Llyods to supply pig iron. It proposes to manufacture 6 lakh rolled steel products, 4.72 lakh MPTM of hot metal from proposed blast furnace, 7.68 lakh MTPM of sinters and 2 lakh MTPM of metallurigical coke. A 15 mw power plant is also coming up at the same site. When TOI visited the site last week, smoke was emitting from the chimneys indicating that production has started even thought UGML does not have the consent to operate.

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