On a hazy evening along the Sarayu river in Ayodhya, there is frantic activity all around the ghats above which a road bridge spans the river.
A 15-feet statue of Ram is being erected nearby with workers busy coating a plyboard cutout with plaster of Paris.
The entire stretch of the ghats where pilgrims take a holy dip, monkeys prowl in search of food and opportunistic boatmen scour the river for currency coins with magnets tied to nylon ropes, will soon be the site of the second edition of ‘Deepostsav’ – an annual event to celebrate the return of Lord Ram conceptualised by Yogi Adityanath’s government after coming to power in 2017.
If last year the highlights were divine impersonations of Ram and Sita descending on a chopper, this year the main attraction will be South Korea’s first lady Kim Jung-Sook, who will visit on November 6 for the grand event.
But as bridges are lighted, ghats are decked with flowers and carpets rolled out for the South Korean first lady, there is no missing the star attraction - the miniaturised version of a 151-metre Ram statue, promised by Adityanath in Ayodhya almost a year ago.
The last of the two-part presentations to be made by interested bidders culminated on October 30 – almost a month after the state government called for an expression of interest from interested parties.
The expression of interest, finalised by the Adityanath administration on September 25 that called for interested architects to submit a detailed plan report, billed the total cost of the project at Rs 7.75 billion.
According to the expression of interest notice, this cost involves “development of the Saryu riverfront and construction of Shri Ram statue at Ayodhya.” The technical bid (called Plan A) along with a second bid (called Plan B) was to be submitted and opened on October 20.
The technical bid called for an extensive master plan for the entire project – from layouts, floor plans, landscaping among others.
The second bid or Plan B involved submitting designs for a museum, art gallery and parking for the project. However on October 17, three days before the bids were to be opened, the Uttar Pradesh government extended the deadlines by another three days to October 23.
The companies which were to be earlier shortlisted on October 20 for their technical bids were selected on October 23.
The final presentations for the construction of the museum and art gallery were made on October 30. In effect within a month of taking out a notice calling for interested companies to develop the Sarayu riverfront and build the Ram statue, the Yogi government seems to have shortlisted firms for the Rs 7.75 billion project. It is yet unclear which companies have been shortlisted.
If anything, this project, if successful, could transform Ayodhya’s economy and image as a tourist place. The total budget of the municipality of Ayodhya in 2017-18 was about Rs 200 million – almost Rs 10 million more than what it was in 2011-12.
Ved Prakash Gupta, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Ayodhya said, “Previous administrations were never interested in developing Ayodhya as a tourist and religious place.