Forgotten Balidan Stambh

Rajan Gandhi

Jammu has been the battleground ofmany wars and has given some of the finest soldiers to the armed forces of the nation. Fact is that Jammu has been main battle field in all the wars India has fought till now and each time it has suffered immensely and those inflicted wounds are still itched in memories of every Jammuite. To show eternal gratitude to the martyrs of various wars fought in Jammu since independence, the Indian Army conceived a unique war memorial at Bahu Wali Rakh near the historic Bahu Fort and named it ‘Balidan Stambh’ (the monument of sacrifice) in Jammu. Conceived in the year 2005, located on the way to Bahu Fort, construction started in 2008 for a proposed war memorial in the heart of the town and it was inaugurated in the year 2009 by then CM Omar Abdullah and General Deepak Kapoor.It’s a tribute to martyrs of wars fought against China and Pakistan and rightly this war memorial is India’s first full-fledged and largest war memorial anywhere in India. Balidan Stambh is a perfect historical and emotional rendezvous for the people of Jammu region.
Balidan Stambh epitomises a vibrant linkage of rest of the country with Jammu. It is here that the souls of our fallen heroes’ rest in peace. It encompasses the wars fought by India since its independence for protecting its frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir, be it Indo-Pak wars of 1948, 1965, 1971 or the China India War of 1962. or Kargil War of 1999. It has Memorial Pillars constructed in memory of the martyr soldiers. The main pillar is shaped like a ‘Bayoneted Rifle’ and symbolises soldiers who fought thewar bravely. The height of the pillar is approximately 60 metres from the base. At the base is an eternal flame,’Amar Jot’ which symbolises the martyred soldiers who have been made immortal by the virtue of their sacrifice for the nation, a timeless commemoration of the supreme sacrifice made by our brave martyrs. The memorial tower is surrounded by three layers of water, each at a different level signifying the gradual alleviation of grief of the near and dear ones of the martyrs. As a befitting backdrop to the majestic tower, is an immaculate black granite wall on which the history of each of the wars fought in Jammu and Kashmir since independence is engraved.A necklace of memorial pillars adorns the front of the memorial tower, engraved on these are the names of our brave martyrs. Sprawling lush green contoured lawns accentuated tranquil ambience. The murals of Param Veer Chakra and Ashoka Chakra awardees have been made and installed on the inscription wall. Balidan Stambh is thus, the most suitable tribute to the tremendous contribution and selfless sacrifice of our fallen war heroes for a grateful nation. Backed by tapestry of multi-colour light and scores of fountains in verdant green landscape, the light and sound show mesmerised public viewing when inaugurated.The illumination of 60-meter-high tower symbolising a bayoneted rifle, in the centre of the sanctum sanctorum alongwith the live commentary, creates an atmosphere of pride, elan and belongingness. It is a true honour to our martyrs and a proud reminder of our glorious past. Param Vir Chakra recipient Subedar Major and Honorary Captain Bana Singh, who was awarded the nation’s highest gallantry award for his exploits in the frozen battlefield of Siachen and Col Virender Sahi, who was the Company Commander during the battle of Laleali, had attended these live shows organised at BalidanStambh.Time to time CM and Governor had symbolically visited and advised that educational institutions in the city and adjoining areas should organise trips to the ‘Balidan Stambh’ to motivate future generations and instil patriotic fervour in them.
This Balidan Stambh should have been a symbol of motivation for every Indian, a tribute to our immortal legendary martyrs but like many other monumental projects of Jammu, Mubarak Mandi or Dennis Gate or Jammu Temples or Bagh-e-Bahu , this Balidan Stambh raised at a cost of sixteen crores by the Army is now in total ruins. Once conceived to be a tourism spinner for Jammu now waits for few visitors daily who are greeted now by barbed wires and locked gates, a whole company of Jammu and Kashmir police is permanently stationed here, practically a deterrent for visitors. Instead of raising the infrastructure to support influx of tourists and daily visitors like at India Gate, reverse is being done to just turn away tourists. Unlike round the clock open, right now 7 pm is the closing time, who decided this time and why is a mystery? Once inside the area and in the parking, utter negligence and least bothered attitude of Army and local administration is glaringly exposed as visitors are greeted with dumped broken tiles and wild grass in the whole parking area. Further strolling of the surrounding park leaves no one in doubt that every scheme is in place to just ruin the area. Non-functional rusted fountains tell the story of no maintenance and further enquiry reveals that rusted pipes have broken down at many places as such fountains cannot be made operational. So much so that even electrical panels are broken and lying exposed waiting for some tragedy to happen if left unattended.Three layers of water, each at a different level signifying grief, are totally missing. The row of Iron Pillars leading towards Amar Jot Platform are rusted in 11 years itself, can break down anytime in future and clearly speaks about the quality of work done. Why no enquiry has been ordered till now about quality of work done and how bills got passed without thorough verification? Peeled off granite tiles, sinking walking area and ultra-growth of wild grass leaves one wondering whether it’s a monument dedicated to our martyrs or part of some jungle. Standing near Amar Jot and facing the Wall on its backside gives one the sense of pride as well as feeling of sadness for soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the honour of country and never lived to see all this. Missing golden paint on the inscripted names of martyrs on Amar Jot platform itself just leaves one in disbelief at the treatment meted out to our martyrs right now. A further look above the Amar Jot leaves one aghast as one of the two overhead covering tiles is missing with the result seeping rain water and frequent bird litter landing on Amar Jot itself. A further look on outer side of bayoneted riflemain pillar depicts another sorry state of affairs, both outside and inside tiles are missing or just dangling to part way and land on some visitor for some major accident. With missing tiles, the main structure is no more protected, birds have made their way and even trees have grown in it in the past. With no flowers or fauna at all in the whole area one wonders whether this Balidan Stambh is built in the honour of martyrs or to mock their supreme sacrifices.
It is really a sad state of affairs that a sixteen crore mega project is just in ruins right now. Initially planned to be handed over to civil administration of CM Mufti but the subsequent State Government refused to take over and as such right now it is caught in between Army and Civil administration, practically this Jammu project is no one’s baby right now. While Civil administration of UT on one hand is busy in promotion of Kashmir with lakhs of imported Tulips and what not but on the other hand this Balidan Stambh garden is not deemed fit for even Lilium flowers. What can be more tragic when with a tourism budget of 277 crores last year and 786 crores this year UT administration is not able to spend few lakhs to maintain this epitome of supreme sacrifices of our jawans. For what is our Floriculture Jammu Department if they cannot come forward and maintain this majestic garden? If Army can maintain Kargil War Memorial what is the reason for no interest at all in maintaining Jammu Balidan Stambh? All tall claims of Government to honour and glorify our solders just fell like a damp squib once inside this area. Just couple of army jawans are there to guard and a company of Jammu and Kashmir permanently deployed there for whom no one knows. With six to ten vehicles on an average visiting one wonders the purpose of spending sixteen crores of tax payers’ money if Government never wanted to maintain it or develop it. Unlike India Gate where people throng to spend their evenings and late night strolls to have the sense of India and oneness, with street hawkers to provide snacks, cold water, ice creams and what not but a visit to our own Balidan Stambh gives a feeling of ghost town, a somewhat haunted place, with no one else in view, one feels totally disillusioned, why to visit that at first place.
In the end one leaves the place with a sense of disbelief and guilt, how when our PM and HM talks so high about our army and jawans, who are the culprits in power corridors doing this irreparable damage to the image of army and our country. All one can say is if GoI and local administration has no plans to maintain it then it’s better to close it down permanently, after their martyrdom let’s remove the last ways devised even to remember them.