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London architect gets good karma in Buddha tug of war

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The London-based architect drawing up plans for a 152m-tall bronze statue of the Maitreya Buddha to be built in India is taking its scheme to a neighbouring state because of the 'incompetence' of the local government regime, suspicions of corruption and a long-simmering row over the site.

Officials in neighbouring regions to India's Bihar state are keen to have what will be a massive tourist draw for their area. The architect, Covent Garden-based AROS, now aims to capitalise on the larger site it has pinpointed by building a hospital, monastery, nunnery, university, visitor centre, education centre and restaurants around the US$200 million (£142 million) structure, doubling its cost. And it is considering making the centrepiece sculpture taller still.

AROS principal Chris Cotton, just back from a month in India, told the AJ that because of the 'inept' behaviour and 'incompetence' of the local government in Bihar state his team has decided to take the project to one of two sites he has inspected. Both are about 20km from the holy spot first selected.

'The reality is that the Bihar government has not been able, or not been prepared, to agree terms for a minuscule part of the site, but if you haven't got the whole site, you haven't got the whole site, ' said Cotton. 'This has been going on now for five years, so we have decided to pull the plug on the Bihar government and go elsewhere.'

The huge structure was to have been built on a 16ha site near the Buddhist pilgrimage town of Bodh Gaya in eastern India, and work was to have started in September. But now Cotton and his team are eyeing either Uttar Pradesh, the neighbouring state, or Jharkhand, a new state created when Bihar was split in two.

The governments in these two areas are proving far more enthusiastic, supportive and proactive in getting the religious icon built, said Cotton, recognising its world importance and value to the area. The governments have also given more in the way of assurances about investment in power, roads, railways and other infrastructure needed to cope with the expected 2.5 million tourists a year when the scheme is complete.

AROS is also now encouraged by having a far bigger site to play with - 607 ha, compared with the original 16. 'That will make a huge difference, ' said Cotton, who also added that the statue may become even taller because height restrictions imposed because of the proximity of an airstrip to the original site will not now apply.

Bihar's union minister of the state for commerce and industries, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, said that the scheme would have ensured an investment of £150 million in Bihar but that the Bihar government had created hurdles where Jharkhand acted swiftly to grant the land. Bihar did not allocate 4ha of land in Bodghaya and kept demanding money from the project coordinators, he told the Hindustani Times. Jharkhand even promised electricity at discounted rates.

The architect is now remasterplanning the project and is making slight modifications, but the other members of the team have been stood down.

They include Mott MacDonald.

The client, the Maitreya Project International, hopes to raise funds for the project through international donations. The building has been designed 'to last for 1,000 years'.

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