Zero Stone in Pune city is perhaps the smallest monument of historic significance. The installation can be spotted on the footpath positioned close to the boundary wall of the General Post Office (GPO).
The site of the tiny grey slab can easily go unnoticed if you are passing through in a vehicle. After my visit to Cycle Museum in Pune, I was walking towards the Pune railway station and that’s when I discovered the Zero Mile Point.
Zero stone marks the exact geographical location of the city. It was installed by the British in 1872-73 to measure distances from one place to another. After the completion of the ‘The Great Trigonometric Survey of India’, the British rulers had set-up 80 such Zero point stones at GPO’s.
The peripheral of the Zero point has several new installations that narrates the historical importance of the stone.
Excerpts of the book “The Great Arc” by John Keay printed on a vertical plaque explains the history behind the Zero milestone.
It reads “The survey begun in 1800, was the longest measurement of the earth’s surface ever has being attempted. This 1600 miles of inch-perfect survey took nearly 50-60 years, cost more lives than most contemporary wars, and involved equations more complex than any in the pre-computer age. India’s longitude and latitude, altitude of places, topography, rivers and cities were mapped in the process.
It’s been said that along with geographical survey nearly 200 astronomical observations were taken to calculate the altitude of places. The whole survey required 9230 complex mathematical equations. Lieutenant-Colonel William Lambton conceived the idea and George Everest, completed it. Lambton’s initial survey was to measure the length of a degree of an arc of the meridian so as to establish the shape of the earth. He called the experiment as ‘The Great Indian Arc’ and the survey was named as ‘The Great Trigonometric Survey of India’.
The survey also resulted in 1st accurate measurements of Himalayas , an achievement which was acknowledged by the naming of the world’s highest mountain in honor of George Everest”.
For many years the site of the stone remained neglected and there was no marking to highlight this enormous piece of history. The stone itself was almost half buried under the footpath due to careless handling of the work around it by civic contractors over the years.
Looking at the sorry state of affairs, some historians took this matter with the heritage committee of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). After much deliberations a consensus was arrived and the site of the Zero Mile Point was restored and inaugurated in September 2019.
The rectangular structure has names of places engraved on it. The golden paint on the engravings is not part of the original installation and seems to be a disgraceful decision by the project conservationist. The tourist spot lights up in the night and has concrete seating for public. What is most relieving is that the monument is rescued from a fragile condition and is saved from getting erased from India’s history.
This site has made me curious to visit the other Zero Mile Stones and a google search revealed that Nagpur city has maintained it.
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai