Thousands of crores have been spent on cosmetic touches in Rajasthan’s Kota. A chic new riverfront is the latest addition to that frenzied beautification, though it has landed in a controversy over allegedly flouting environmental norms. Amid criticism, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot decided to distance himself from the inauguration. But can he justify the wanton spending on other projects?
BILL OF DEVELOPMENT: The beautified Chambal riverfront in Kota
A helical clover bridge sounds like a sleek thing right out of some First World xanadu. This one, built at a cost of Rs 42 crore, is in Rajasthan’s Kota, but it soars and twists balletically too, for about a kilometre, except that it lands a few metres from where it started. Even more mystifyingly, it soars over nothing: there’s no crossing or rail track or any form of obstruction underneath. Just a few minutes away, along the Chambal, a new riverfront was inaugurated with great pomp on September 12—a costly façade laid end-to-end over three kilometres of natural rock and soil like a pink stone shroud, leaving not even parts of the riverbed, let alone a scrap of greenery. In its place have come up 26 spanking new ghats strung along imitation Rajputana architectural chic. Turrets and chhatris in the local Hadauti style. An army of giant statues, one of which, a 25-feet Yogimudra, vanishes when you see it straight on. Another curiosity is both visible and audible: the world’s largest bell whose boom, they say, can be heard eight kilometres away and, coming in at 82 tonnes on the scale, is no bantamweight either. Goddess Chambal, a deity who’s considered cursed and hence is rarely worshipped, also gets a 242-feet-high statue of Vietnamese marble here. The riverfront is studded liberally with replicas that stand like displaced metaphors, such as a highrise Red Fort or the Chinese Pagoda. Add a proposed boat cruise, a water park, a train on tyres, golf carts, skating area, the world’s second-largest musical fountain, cafes, restaurants, a commercial complexâæ in short, it’s the full fairground cornucopia. Kota (North) MLA and Rajasthan urban development minister Shanti Dhariwal, whose brainchild this frenzied beautification is, wanted to outdo the Kashi Corridor and the Sabarmati riverfront and take Kota right into the elite club of Paris and London. Dumb-struck critics call it the “world’s only copycat heritage waterfront”.