12th Dec, 2006
Sai Baba devotees believe that the saint from Shirdi can do miracles, and one such miracle for all devotees routinely stranded in the pilgrimage town without accommodation could be happening if the state government gives its go-ahead to a philanthropist’s plan.
Baba bhakt, Chennai-based entrepreneur and former NASSCOM chief K V Ramani, 56, has offered to donate up to Rs 60 crore from his private purse to build a complex in Shirdi for accommodating 16,000 devotees. He wants the Shri Sai Sansthan, Shirdi, to give him land for the project.
The Sansthan currently has a complex that can house 4,000 people (who are charged only a nominal amount for their stay), but it is proving utterly inadequate in view of the rush to Shirdi, especially during festival season and the year-end. Shirdi has an estimated seven lakh visitors every day at this time of the year.
Ramani was in Mumbai yesterday along with Sansthan chief Jayant Sasane to meet land-owners whose plots are situated on Rahata Road, one km away from the temple complex, where the government had acquired 5.5 acres a few years ago in order to build a bigger complex for devotees. According to Ramani’s proposal, the complex he plans to build would need 20 acres of land in all, so the Sansthan would have to acquire 15 more acres from private owners alongside the already-existing plot if the project has to take off (see box).
Ramani says his complex, spread over an area of 8 lakh sq ft, will have 4,000 rooms of various sizes with 16,000 beds, landscaped gardens, puja halls, dormitories for students and padayatris and a prasadalay that can accommodate 1,000 people. It will also have parking slots and a 24-hour bus and tempo service to ferry devotees to and from the shrine.
Sansthan officials have estimated that all this could cost nearly Rs 60 crore if the construction and facilities have to be of the highest quality.
However, Ramani, who himself runs a trust called the Shirdi Sai Trust in his hometown Chennai, wants to have no say in the running of the complex. It will be handed over to the Sansthan once construction is complete.
“I am a devotee of Sai Baba. I see the crowds in Shirdi increasing, but lodging and boarding facilities haven’t kept pace. I will build the Bhakta Niwas and hand it over to the Sansthan,” he told this paper.
In case he gets more land, he also has plans to build an orphanage and an old-age home in Shirdi, he added.
Though government officials were not available for comment, Sansthan officials feel the government will be favourably disposed towards the plan. “The chief minister is taking an interest in this project, so we should see it becoming a reality soon,” said Jayant Sasane, MLA and chairman of the Sansthan.
Ramani’s proposal is currently with the additional director, town planning, Ahmednagar. If he okays the idea, the Sansthan can buy the needed 15 acres in Rahata from private land-owners. This will cost the trust Rs 20 crore. The Sansthan has already obtained donations worth Rs 120 crore this year.
Ramani’s finances are in order. He recently sold his two hugely successful IT companies, FutureSoft, which he himself founded in 1985 in Chennai, and Hughes Software, which is in Delhi.