Chaos at Kalaignar Pen Monument public hearing in Chennai, activists call it a sham

A public hearing held in Chennai on the ambitious ‘Pen Monument’ for late DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi in the Bay of Bengal, off the Marina beach in the city, witnessed heated arguments between certain political parties and activists opposing the project and DMK functionaries who wanted the memorial to come up at the proposed site.

The Rs 80-crore project, titled ‘Muthamizh Arignar Dr. Kalaignar Pen Monument’, was proposed by Chief Minister M K Stalin government to honour Karunanidhi’s contributions to literature. Despite the opposition to the project on environmental grounds, it is reportedly moving forward as neither the AIADMK nor the BJP have opposed it yet.

The first proposal with details on the ‘Pen Monument’ came out in July 2022. What makes it an ambitious project is its design: a giant pen built above the water in the Bay of Bengal. The pen’s pedestal would be taller than 42 metres, and surrounded by landscaped gardens. It will be built in the water on the Marina beach and connected to the existing Karunanidhi memorial on the seashore by a bridge that is 650-metre-long. The project plan accessed by The Indian Express shows 290 metres of the bridge would be over land — Marina seashore — and the remaining 360 metres would be over the water. At the public hearing, a senior PWD official said fishing boats would be able to sail under the bridge.

When Naam Tamizhar Katchi coordinator Seeman (in pic) came up to speak, DMK cadres protested, asking him to get off the stage. Seeman, who spoke amid the chaos, strongly condemned the proposed project

Even though most people at the public hearing, mostly DMK members, supported the project, Naam Tamilar Katchi chief coordinator Seeman and local BJP cadres and their fishermen wings opposed it. Seeman climbed the stage during the hearing and said he would “break the statue if it was built”. He said the monument could be built anywhere, “even in the front yard of Anna Arivalayam (the DMK’s headquarters), but not in the sea”. He said if the project is executed according to the plan, at least 13 fishing villages will be affected.

The proposed ‘Pen Monument’ is not the first-of-its-kind project in India. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial project of the Maharashtra government in the Arabian Sea, and the Thiruvalluvar statue in Kanyakumari, are a few examples. The Thiruvalluvar statue is built on a rock bed that looks like an island but the ‘Pen Monument’ needs a larger artificial base to raise the seabed to the level of the water. This is why many groups are opposing the project, saying that it will harm the environment in the sensitive coastal waters.

A senior government official who coordinated the public hearing said the Central government’s approval for the project is expected as there are no objections to it so far. A senior DMK leader said, “Even the BJP is not opposing it; only some fringe groups do.”

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