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No heritage status for Taj city yet

Agra, Apr 27, 2013, IANS : 3:10 IST
Renewed demands have been made for granting heritage status to Agra, which is home to three World Heritage monuments — the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri — and several other historical structures.

This will protect and conserve historical buildings, old havelis, structures, water bodies, forests and even the oriental markets in the old city, experts say.

The Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society has demanded heritage city status for the city to help conservational efforts and streamline civic amenities for tourists, the Agra Vikas Foundation has sent memorandums to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to demand shifting of the army personnel occupying a greater part of the historical fort.

Demands have regularly been made by conservationists and local tourism organisations, but the Union government “has not shown any interest” in pursuing the issue to its logical end, alleged Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

No basic infrastructure

In 2007, the Union tourism ministry told the Supreme Court that Agra could not be granted heritage city status because it lacked basic infrastructure, and sought time to develop amenities.

But till date, the city does not have regular air connectivity, streamlined roads, adequate security arrangements for visitors and any other such related facilities.

Several international bodies, including the UNESCO, have supported projects to restore the old glory of the Taj city.

A World Bank team recently visited several sites and interacted with officials to explore how the city’s heritage could be promoted and preserved.

“A city so rich in culture and architecture, where every street has a historical building needs to be recognised as a heritage city and the Union ministry should draw up plans to remove encroachments around tourist sites,” said conservationist Shravan Kumar Singh.

The chief reason why tourism has not become “everybody’s business” in Agra and not directly benefited the locals in a substantial manner, is the lack of heritage consciousness.
Still, Agra is India’s number one tourist centre but continues to lag dismally in modernising its urban base and developing a comfortable ambience for promoting culture and tourism, handicrafts exporter Abhinav Jain said.

The city hasn’t changed much if one takes into account a ghazal written in 1723 by Lakshmi Chandra, who describes in great detail the roads and the localities of Agra — from Agra Fort to Charsu Darwaza and beyond to Lashkarpur — which was then the tenting ground for the Mughal army.

Eminent Mughal historian R Nath said the Archaeological Survey of India is not doing enough to sincerely conserve monuments according to the manual laid down by John Marshall, who was the ASI chief during 1902-1928 and was responsible for the discovery of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro.

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