India's Modi lays foundation of huge statue amid criticism

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NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday laid the foundation stone for a massive memorial of a medieval warrior king that's expected to cost billions of rupees and has come under criticism from environmental activists and others.

The memorial, which includes a proposed 192-meter (630-foot) -tall statue of Shivaji, a 16th century ruler from western India, will be built off the coast of Mumbai on land reclaimed from the Arabian Sea.

The project is expected to be completed by 2019.

The government of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, is expected to spend about 36 billion rupees ($530 million) on the statue.

By midday Saturday, some 25,900 people had signed a petition asking that the government spend the money on infrastructure and development instead.

"Apart from a waste of money, this statue is going to be terrible for the environment, for the traffic situation in South Bombay and a security nightmare," the petition says.

Once complete, the statue will be more than twice the height of the Statue of Liberty.

On Saturday, Modi also performed a Hindu religious ritual called "Bhoomipujan," or worshipping the land. The ritual is performed by devout Hindus before the start of any construction project.

This isn't the first time that a dizzying amount of taxpayer money has been set aside to build a massive statue or memorial to a popular leader in India.

In 2014, shortly after Modi became prime minister, the national budget set aside about 2 billion rupees ($34 million) to build a massive structure to honor independence leader Vallabbhai Patel. That project is underway in Modi's home state of Gujarat and once complete is expected to cost about 10 times the amount set aside in the budget. The rest is expected to be filled by private and corporate donations.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party isn't alone in its love of statues.

Mayawati, a leader from the populous northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh who goes by one name, had dozens of statues erected honoring her and political mentors during her time as that state's leader.

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