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Indian budget allocates more money for colossal, $33 million statue than for women's safety

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NEW DELHI - In a country grappling with poverty, sluggish growth and a daunting deficit, India's new budget has set aside 2 billion rupees ($33 million) for a colossal iron-and-bronze statue almost twice the size of the Statue of Liberty.

The plans in Thursday's budget for a 182-meter (nearly 600 feet)-tall replica of Indian independence leader Vallabhbhai Patel caused an outcry, with many people saying the country has far more urgent priorities.

"How can they waste money on statue like that?" asked Rohtash, a vegetable vendor in the Indian capital who goes by one name. "The government could have used that money to reduce the price of rice. That would have been some help for poor people like us."

It was the first budget of a new government elected on promises to revive stalled economic growth.

Others lamented how the budget earmarks more money for the Patel statue than for women's safety nationwide, which got 1.5 billion rupees ($25 million), or the education of young girls at 1 billion rupees ($16.5 million).

The move was criticized strongly on social media, with one sarcastic Twitter user saying: "Truly #budget2014 has something for everyone, even Sardar Patel." The move was rated "most disliked" on the website of NDTV news channel, and the Times of India newspaper started a Twitter poll asking if the statue is a "wasteful expenditure."

The statue, which Indian officials say will be the tallest in the world, will stand on an island in the Narmada River in western Gujarat state, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister for more than a decade. The project was originally meant to be financed by the local government and donations of iron and cash from across the country.

Critics of Modi say the decision to lavish federal funds on the project is a political ploy to upset his foes in the rival Congress party.

Patel was one of the most important members of the Congress party, which dominated Indian politics for almost 60 years after the country won its independence from British rule.

Modi, who belongs to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, humiliated Congress when he came to power in May in the most decisive election victory India has seen in three decades. And now, his critics say, he's trying to appropriate one of the Congress' most revered independence-era icons.

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Chonchui Ngashangva in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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