The Gujarat High Court issued a notice to Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT) which manages the Sabarmati Ashram in response to public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi against the central and Gujarat government’s Rs. 1,200 crore redevelopment plan of the ashram.
The PIL was filed by Tushar Gandhi, who said the plan was “diametrically opposed to the personal wishes and bequeathal of Mahatma Gandhi and would reduce the shrine and memorial of our freedom movement which attracts national and international visitors and turn the same into a commercial tourist attraction.” This redevelopment plan to turn the ashram into a world-class museum has been criticised by several Gandhian organisations.
A Division Bench, led by Chief Justice Aravind Kumar, issued the notices to the state government, SAPMT, National Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, Khadi Gramodyog Prayog Samiti, Harijan Ashram Trust, Sabarmati Ashram Gaushala Trust and Harijan Sevak Sangh. The court ordered that the respondent be issued notices and deferred the matter for a hearing on July 5.
The state government told the court that “consent and in-principle approval” had already been granted by all concerned trusts, including SAPMT. The government has said that these trusts were in “agreement with the fact that the proposed project will actually contribute towards the development of the Gandhi Ashram to the advantage of those visiting and would in fact promote the ideologies and philosophy of Gandhiji.”
The Bench had earlier dismissed the PIL, but a Supreme Court order remanded the matter back to the High Court.
In April, the state government had filed a detailed affidavit, defending the plan, stating that the proposed plan aimed to “promote the philosophy of Gandhiji for present and future generations. Merely because necessary facilities such as a cafeteria and parking are envisaged in the proposed project, does not in itself mean that the Gandhi Ashram will lose its essence”.
“The facilities therein are not sufficient and engaging enough for visitors. Moreover, the rest of the Ashram land is fragmented and utilized for varied purposes. The proposed project seeks to undo the said fragmentation and bring to life the essence of Gandhi Ashram as it originally stood. In view thereof, the 5-acre campus is to be expanded to 55 acres so as to include all 48 original Ashram buildings. The Chandrabhaga rivulet, which is presently a nalla is to be developed as a pleasant Urban waterway,” the affidavit further said.