Jammu: Balidan Stambh facing Neglect

BALIDAN STHAMBH –described as India’s tallest war memorial– symbolising a rifle bayonet today stands neglected in pitch darkness staring at an uncertain future here in Jammu.

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More than three years ago the then Chief of Indian army Gen Deepak Kaoopr  had handed over the memorial to the state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at an impressive ceremony but since then the memorial has been dumped by the state government  pending dispute over the issue of bearing the maintenance charges of the sprawling memorial.

It is ironical even the eternal flame lit in the memory of  over 5000 martyred soldiers who  had sacrificed their lives  on the frontiers of the nation and during the 20 year long period of militancy  in the state mostly remain switched off .

The Balidan stambh is only occasionally decorated during Independence and Republic day celebrations otherwise it presents a picture perfect image of neglect and shame.

balidan sthambh 1(1)The tug of war between the Indian army and  the state government  over the issue of  bearing the maintenance charges of the war memorial is chiefly responsible for the  neglect of the war memorial till date.

Since it takes at least three LPG cylinders to light the Amar Jawan Jyoti, more often than not the controlling knobs attached to the pipeline remain in the ‘off’ mode.

In the absence of regular maintenance, the black granite wall, on which the history of each of the wars fought in Jammu and Kashmir since Independence is engraved, is also losing its sheen. The boundary walls of the memorial are in dire need of repair.

Even three years after it was formally inaugurated and handed over to the State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah by the then Chief of Army Staff Gen Deepak Kapoor on November 24, 2009, the Army authorities continue to maintain it and hope that the State Government will take it over sooner rather than later. On its part the state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah last year made it clear that the war memorial was built by the Indian army and the same should be looked after by  them. “There is some thinking within the government given that this was a War Memorial constructed by the Indian army and it should be looked after by the army. There is the constraint of resources  that we have. But we are doing  whatever is necessary both to  maintain it as well as to promote it”.

Despite making tall claims the state government has not done enough to either maintain it or promote it  on the tourism map  of the state.
tiles damaged
Before the  inauguration ceremony a formal understanding was reached between the Army and the Government to promote it as a tourist destination. But the final discussions over who will bear the recurring expenditure of maintaining the memorial and for how long remained inconclusive. Since then the War Memorial is facing neglect at the highest level.

Official sources maintained “initially the State Government had pledged a sum of Rs 1 lakh towards maintenance charges, but over two years  it even stopped paying maintenance charges and did not promote the ‘monument of sacrifice’ on the tourist map of the State.”
The caretakers and security personnel stationed at the memorial often complain, “it is becoming very difficult to maintain the memorial on a daily basis in the absence of adequate support staff. Most of the time the Amar Jawan Jyoti remains off in the absence of any formal arrangement of gas supply.”
“Due to ongoing negotiations with the State Government, the Army headquarters or the Ministry of Defence is yet to allocate a fixed budget for maintaining the Balidan Sthambh,” official sources revealed.
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