The Gujarat High Court on Thursday rejected a plea filed by Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi against the Sabarmati Ashram redevelopment project after the state government assured that it will “not touch” three key attractions in the one-acre area housing the main ashram.
The division bench of Chief Justice Arvind Kumar and Justice AJ Shastri disposed of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the very first hearing, after Advocate General Kamal Trivedi assured that the redevelopment will take place only in the 55-acre area surrounding the main ashram.
“The government has given an assurance that the existing Ashram, which is in an area of one acre, will not be disturbed, and it will be maintained as it is. Thus, all the fears and apprehensions of the petitioner stand allayed in the government’s order,” Chief Justice Kumar said rejecting the PIL.
“This petition is not required to be entertained. In light of the submissions made by the government, we are disposing of it,” he said.
In his submission, Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, on behalf of the government, informed the bench that three major attractions inside the main premises – the Gandhi Ashram, the museum inside it, and Magan Niwas – will not be touched.
“It is claimed that we are building an amusement park in the Gandhi Ashram. We are not doing anything like that. People had a similar reservation when the Statue of Unity or the Sabarmati Riverfront came up,” the Advocate General said in his opening remarks.
“People come to see three things – the Gandhi Ashram, the museum inside it, and Magan Niwas, a place where Gandhiji’s disciple used to live. These three places cover an area of one acre. We are not going to touch it. We are going to develop 55 acres of land surrounding this particular place,” Mr Trivedi submitted.
He further informed the bench that the government intends to restore 46 old and dilapidated houses near the Ashram, which was established on the banks of the Sabarmati River by Mahatma Gandhi over 100 years ago.
“We are going to restore them. We will build a pavement with a lot of greenery. I can put the entire blueprint in two weeks. We are not creating an amusement park. Whatever we will do, will be in accordance with Gandhian philosophy and ethos,” the Advocate General said.
Senior advocate Bhushan Oza, appearing for Tushar Gandhi, raised his contention stating the Ashram premises is a historical monument, which needs to be preserved and protected, and redevelopment will “change the character of the entire ashram, which is there with historical importance”.
Not convinced, the Chief Justice said, “They (government) are saying they will not touch the Ashram. What else do you want?”
When Bhushan Oza, citing newspaper reports, raised the issue of a recent development wherein “bulldozers have come and bulldozed the houses which were there for thirty years near the Ashram”, the Chief Justice asked him to file a civil suit because “other issues cannot be part of the PIL”.
Tushar Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi’s third son Mani Lal, had filed the plea in October, challenging the state government’s ₹ 1,200-crore Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development Project, saying “it goes against the wishes and philosophy of the Father of the Nation”.
The PIL had sought that the state should not be allowed to interfere as the constitution of Gandhi Smarak Nidhi says Bapu’s Ashram and memorials should be kept away from government and political influences.
The project envisages developing the Ashram the way it existed during Mahatma Gandhi’s time when it was spread over 35 to 40 acres with 63 heritage properties, 48 of which are still standing.
The sprawling premises also called the Gandhi Ashram, served as Gandhiji’s residence for several years, from where he carried out major political and social activities during the freedom movement.