Construction Company Gammon India and chairman Ambarisa Das (Alfred B. Ford) have addressed concerns raised by a former employee about the structural stability of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur, India.
A former TOVP site supervisor had come across several internal operational emails between Gammon and the engineers of the TOVP, ISKCON’s currently under-construction headquarters. In the emails, Gammon asked routine questions about the stability of the temple’s dome and whether the superstructure was engineered to bear its weight, which were answered by the TOVP engineers.
“One of these emails was taken by our former employee to some of the authorities in Mumbai,” says Ambarisa. “This person said there was a big problem, and got everybody whipped up into a frenzy. It was blown out of proportion.”
Concerns about the TOVP’s stability spread throughout ISKCON, and became a hot issue.
“The concerns weren’t based on any fact, or anything that was wrong with the architectural integrity of the building,” Ambarisa explains. “The emails were real. But they were just emails in the process of executing a very large and complicated building. So of course questions are going to be raised. They were honestly questioning, is this building engineered to bear the weight of this dome? As anybody would who’s designing anything. And it was looked into at the time, and it was decided that there was not a problem.”
Still, taking devotees’ concerns seriously, Ambarisa and the GBC held a meeting on the topic at the Srila Prabhupada Conference Hall in Juhu, Mumbai on October 19th.
Also in attendance were the former employee of the TOVP and other concerned members of ISKCON, the TOVP’s Managing Director Sadbhuja Das and its head architect Vilasini Dasi, Structural Consultant B.B. Chaudhuri, and several representatives of Gammon India.
At the meeting, it was reiterated that the concerns regarding the dome and superstructure’s stability stemmed from work-in-progress letters from Gammon.
Gammon representatives agreed that these letters should be considered redundant, as appropriate actions had already been taken to satisfy their routine queries, and there was no truth to the accusations made.
Computer generated image of the ToVP as it would look from the other side of the Ganges.
TOVP engineers and Gammon then agreed to decide on a construction methodology for pouring the dome that would both suit the timeline and budget of the Gammon contract, and increase stability during the construction period.
To alleviate devotees’ concerns, the meeting notes pointed out that both Structural Consultant B.B. Chaudhuri and construction company Gammon are highly reputable in India, and that their work complies with ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards.
Finally, engineers and Gammon represenatives agreed that Hansa Rupa Das would be assigned to bring in an outside auditor to conduct a third party audit of the building.
“We had a very open, frank discussion about everything,” says Ambarisa. “Afterwards I talked to the devotee [who had raised the concerns] and said, ‘Are you satisfied now?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I’m very satisfied.’”
TOVP architects, Gammon representatives, and B.B. Chaudhuri followed up with a second meeting on October 25th in Delhi.
This time, they discussed how casting of the first ring of the dome would add maximum strength at the base and prove the safety of the dome during construction. They also decided to use tie bolts and adopt the jump form of shuttering, while Gammon stated that it would present the TOVP with a detailed proposal for concrete pouring.
Finally, on December 3rd, Gammon India released a letter “to issue clarification arising due to the rumors and speculation regarding the stability of the dome.”
Although the letter is rather technical in nature, it does clearly state that Gammon’s questions about the stability of the TOVP dome were answered, and that the company was sufficiently satisfied with the answers to continue with the construction:
“Please let it be known to all concerned that we, Gammon India Ltd, are associated with the construction of the dome as a contractor and the letters/correspondence spilled out in various media were correspondence regarding the detailed discussions our engineers had with the structural designers M/S Planning & Design Bureau. These discussions were specific to the construction methodology and stability of the structure during the various stages of construction. We have now got the needful clarification regarding the same and the construction activities of the dome are in progress.”
Commenting on the rumors that had been spread, Ambarisa acknowledged that such accusations were “a challenge,” but said, “we don’t get discouraged, we just keep moving forward one foot at a time.”
Moreover, he said that the vast majority of devotees around the world showed strong support for the project and how quickly it was being realized.
Sure enough, construction on the temple continues to progress steadily. Bengali-style roofs are currently being constructed to cover the eight stairwell towers surrounding the temple, two on each of its four sides. The superstructure of the planetarium itself is being completed, and research for its exhibits is moving along quickly with Planetarium Director Jayapataka Swami and Exhibits Coordinator Hari Sauri Das.
Meanwhile, Managing Director Sadbhuja Das has just purchased beautiful blue marble from Bolivia for the 140-foot-long- and 35-foot-high “Deity House.” Constructed inside the greater temple building, this will house three different altars: one for the Gaudiya Vaishnava line of teachers and disciples, ranging from the Six Goswamis of the 15th century all the way to Srila Prabhupada; one for the Pancha-tattva of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his associates; and one for Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava and their eight principal gopi servants.
Although the temple’s grand opening had been tentatively set for ISKCON’s 50th anniversary in 2016, Ambarisa says that to raise enough funds and get the construction just right, 2020 is a more realistic date.
He does, however, hope that there may be a special ceremony in 2016 to install the Garuda Stambha or inaugurate the Deity House.
“Things are moving forward, and we remain extremely positive,” he says. “Because we’re convinced that this is what Srila Prabhupada wanted.”[ mayapura ] [ vedic-planetarium ]