Rameswaram: The Abdul Kalam National Memorial built at the 'kabr' (final resting place) of former President of India at Pei Karumbu here on Monday breached the 50 lakh visitor mark.
Inaugurated on July 27, 2017 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the memorial has now become a favourite tourist hotspot for thousands visiting this history temple town.
Speaking to Onmanorma, Dr Nazeema Maraikayar, niece of Dr Kalam and chairperson of Abdul Kalam International Foundation said that the family is hoping that the government takes up the second phase of memorial work at the earliest.
“Today we visited the memorial and interacted with the staff and visitors who came there. We thank all the people who supported the national campaign because of which the memorial first phase was inaugurated,” Dr Nazeema said.
Interestingly, Aasil liyana, great grandniece of Dr Kalam was visitor number fifty lakh and one (5000001) at the memorial.
The family gave away gifts and sweets to all those who visited the memorial today morning.
On an average 8,000 people visit the memorial on week days and it goes up to 15,000 during weekends.
While the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been entrusted for the upkeep and running of the memorial, the locals say it lacks of many facilities.
“There are no toilets in the complex and one that has been built is not open to public yet owing to some tiff with the construction company. We are forced to pay and use toilet facilities being provided by a private firm opposite to the memorial,” says Palaniswamy, a resident of Rameswaram.
There’s no entry fee to visit the memorial run by DRDO, but visitors have to pay and use toilets run by an outside agency.
“If DRDO wants they can open the toilets built inside the memorial complex. But due to some non-payment issues to the contractor, the toilet remains closed,” adds Palaniswamy.
Parking is another worry with visitors forced to use both sides of the National Highway. DRDO is yet to develop the five acres of land it had acquired opposite the memorial for the use of parking.
“Owing to public pressure the memorial has been opened with great fanfare. But the facility needs urgent attention else it will be difficult to maintain the same standards for a long time. Even the timings need to be extended by two hours, from 9 am to 8 pm instead of closing the memorial at 6 pm,” says Karuppaiah, a local businessman.
Interestingly, a group of locals along with activists are planning to launch a campaign into the alleged irregularities at the memorial.
An email sent to DRDO chairman’s office by this Correspondent with a set of questions on the said allegations, is yet to receive any detailed response.
“We take pride in this memorial, but there are serious concerns that have come up. We have waited for so long and are left with no option but to launch another campaign. We have written to PMO as well and a delegation is now planning to visit Delhi soon,” says a resident of Pallivasal Street.
DRDO’s Civil Works and Estates wing has been entrusted with the Phase-1 memorial work.
Though the Phase-2 work was in the active plans of DRDO, it was stuck owing to land acquisition issues.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)