Ahmedabad: For 59-year-old Hemant Chauhan, this could be the last birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi he is celebrating while living on the premises of Sabarmati Ashram here.

Some 250 families which lived for decades in the vicinity of the Ashram founded by the Mahatma are preparing to shift as the government has set in motion an ambitious project to redevelop the 55-acre precincts.

The association of some of these families with the Ashram dates back to the period when Gandhi himself lived here.

After returning from South Africa, Gandhi had established his first Ashram in Kochrab area of Ahmedabad on May 25, 1915. It shifted to its present location on June 17, 1917.

In August this year, over 130 eminent personalities including historians Ramachandra Guha, Rajmohan Gandhi, retired High Court Justice AP Shah, and Carnatic singer TM Krishna had issued a statement opposing the redevelopment project.

The statement said that this most authentic monument of Mahatma Gandhi and India’s freedom struggle would be lost to vanity and commercialisation .

But residents like Chauhan are happy with the government’s compensation package.

Mahendra Vyas, 73, said it was the right decision to vacate his house on the Ashram premises where he had lived all his life. He and many others have already taken possession of their new apartments.

The government’s offer of Rs 60 lakh to purchase an apartment of their choice or a 4-BHK unit in a government scheme along with Rs 5 lakh in cash was generous, they feel.

For those like Chauhan who were unwilling to shift far away from the Ashram due to emotional attachment to the area, the government has offered to construct a building nearby.

“My mother made Harijan Vaas her home in 1955, and I was born here in 1962 and have lived here ever since. My two sons got married and I am blessed with three granddaughters, and we all live together in the house in the colony,” said Chauhan.

“We expect the foundation stone for our new building to be laid soon. The building may or may not be completed in the next one year, but we believe the government will not disappoint us,” he said.

Vyas celebrated Gandhi’s birth anniversary in his new apartment in Gota area, around 8 km away from the Ashram.

“We lived in the Harijan Vaas as tenants, as the buildings belonged to the trust. But the government’s compensation package helped us become house owners,” said Vyas, whose father shifted to the ashram colony in 1928.

The redevelopment project will improve the facilities at the ashram for visitors who come from world-over, he said.

Kartikeya Sarabhai, trustee of the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust, said the government is holding regular meetings with the six trusts who look after various activities of the ashram.

“Currently, visitors can see only Hriday Kunj, Vinoba Kutir and Sabarmati Ashram, which are spread over an area of three acres. The government plans to develop the area like the ashram which existed during Mahatma Gandhi’s times when it was spread over 35-40 acres with 63 heritage properties,” Sarabhai said. As many as 48 of these properties have survived, he added.

Sabarmati Harijan Ashram Trust, Gujarat Khadi Gramodyog Mandal, Sabarmati Ashram Gaushala Trust, Gujarat Harijan Sevak Sangh and Khadi Gramodyog Prayog Samiti are the five other trusts that take care of the ashram’s activities.

“The main purpose of the redevelopment is to create the ashram in a single unit by diverting the road that passes through and add some more attractions for visitors,” he said.

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