Authorities at the Statue of Unity were underprepared to deal with the influx as long queues spark heated arguments
Kevadiya: Tourists thronged the Statue of Unity over the weekend, leaving staff at the site overwhelmed and underprepared to deal with the heavy influx of visitors.
According to officials, 27,000 tourists visited the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, deemed the ‘Iron Man of India’, Saturday, with the footfall dipping slightly to 24,000 Sunday.
Such was the crowd that the ticket counter had a queue extending to over a kilometre Saturday as multiple arguments broke out with the management.
“We were expecting an average footfall of 15,000 people,” said Rajendra Kanungo, the superintending engineer of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), which manages the statue. “But within two weeks, we have had to increase the number of operational buses — between the ticket counter and the statue — from 15 to 40, and yet we are unable to meet the demand of the tourists.”
The 182-metre statue, the tallest in the world, has been built on an islet near the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Kevadiya. The statue and its premises are spread across 19,000 square metres. It was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 31 October, the birth anniversary of Patel.
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Festive rush adds to woes
The extended weekend, due to the festive season, saw families from the states of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh flock to the new tourist destination in large numbers.
The huge numbers led to long waiting lines — at the ticket counter and at the pick-up and drop-off sites — leaving tourists complaining.
The ticket counter is around 4 km from the statue, with a bus ride bridging the distance. On Saturday morning, the counter was shut as early as 10 am.
“We waited in the queue for two hours and now they have shut the ticket counter saying there are no tickets available,” said Megha, a visitor from Mumbai.
With ticket counters closed, visitors were barred from the viewing deck, at the height of 153 metres, and the Valley of Flowers. As a result, a large number of tourists had to make do with a visit to the ground housing the statue. It led to heated arguments with the site authorities throughout the day.
“I am here with my friends; we were expecting a scenic view from the statue but we could not get tickets to the upper deck,” said Mitesh, a college student from Surat. Mitesh and his friends left the site 20 minutes after arrival; the heat and lack of water had made them dizzy.
Officials, however, said the deck can only accommodate 200 visitors at a time. “We can only take 5,000 tourists to the viewing arena a day and that many tickets are already sold,” said Bhola Bhai, the counter incharge. “We cannot risk people’s lives by taking more than the limit.”
Lack of amenities
The condition of the site has deteriorated within two weeks of its inauguration due to a lack of amenities. At the entry of the ground, which houses the statue, visitors were greeted by drying shrubs and plastic bottles.
There were also piles of garbage strewn around as the premises had only two dustbins. Tourists had no choice but to sit next to these while having their lunch.
“I am on a Gujarat tour with my family. We waited in the line for three hours,” a government employee from Odisha said. “I think the site still needs a lot of facilities before letting visitors in.”
To add to the woes, food-stall owners ran out of water by mid-afternoon. It led to chaotic scenes, which saw people rushing around in search of food and water.
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