Monumental neglect in Delhi

Monumental neglect in Delhi

Old problems: 150-year-old ASI faces encroachment, funding and manpower hurdles

During evenings Nili Masjid in Hauz Khas and the Sarai Shahji in Shivalik in Malviya Nagar are thronged by people offering prayers. The Archaeological Survey of India sees this as a violation of the rules meant to protect these monuments. The locals see things differently.

“Who can remove us from here and why will anyone stop us from praying here?” asks a maulvi offering namaz at Nili Masjid. ASI officials say they cannot stop this illegal use of monuments. They do not have the manpower to take on the people who have gathered there.

The ASI is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year and a host of events are lined up to promote Delhi's heritage. But the focus is also on protecting monuments from encroachment. The ASI lists 12 monuments – out of the 174 centrally protected ones in Delhi – where they cannot stop prayers in the evening or on Fridays. And then there are problematic monuments in Tughlakabad. The ASI has identified over 1,000-illegal structures around them, and they are still counting.

“Most of the lesser-known monuments in Delhi are encroached either for religious purposes or families have started staying inside these monuments. This is a sensitive issue and we have not been able to come up with a viable solution,” says Muhammed K K, a senior archaeologist with the ASI. In Delhi, there are 174 monuments under the ASI which have been identified as centrally protected monuments on the basis of architectural merit and historical importance (a building in this category has to be at least 100 years old). In addition, there are 1,208 monuments that come under the Delhi Department of Archaeology. In 2009, the department and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage signed an agreement on protection and conservation of 92 ‘unprotected monuments’. Under the first phase, 15 monuments were conserved and illuminated for Commonwealth Games, 2010. Delhi archaeologists reckon that around 950 monuments in Delhi are unprotected. They come neither under the purview of the ASI nor the archaeology department.

“Around 200 unprotected monuments located on the government land are dying,” says Ajay Kumar, an INTACH archaeologist.

ASI members say the Ministry of Culture has been extremely supportive in encouraging heritage conservation, but the Archaeology Department is not. The experts flag some concerns.

Monuments or mosques?

The ASI does not permit religious activity in structures that were not used as mosques on a regular basis at the time of their identification as protected monuments. The organisation finds it tough to deal with cases where locals insist on offering prayers at monuments – and politicians jump in to protect their ‘rights’. Officials says they are not stopping people from offering namaz at protected monuments, but they must follow the rules - like it is done at Jama Masjid.

Such controversial monuments in Delhi include Nili Masjid, Ancient Mosque in Palam, Qudasia Mosque in Qudasia Garden, Sunehri Mosque near Red Fort, Purana Qila in Indraprastha, Tughlaqabadshah in Badarpur Zail, Begumpuri Masjid in Begumpur, Sarai Shahji, the Mutiny Cemetery in old Rajpur Contonment, D' Eremao cemetery and Tomb of Razia Begum in Mohalla Bulbuli Khana.

Unauthorised constructions

Offering namaz at protected monuments is perhaps a lesser problem than people deciding to set up homes in them. “It is extremely difficult to vacate monuments with people residing in them because they begin fighting and beating people who try to get them out,” says A K Pandey, deputy superintending archaeologist.

There are an estimated 50,000 people living in or close to monuments in Tughlakabad. The ASI has been trying to conserve such monuments over the years but has not been successful because of illegal constructions in and around them. “As per ASI’s guidelines, any sort of construction within the radius of 300 metres in case of renowned monuments and 100-200 metres in case of lesser-known monuments is illegal. We are trying to deal with the issue but it will be difficult to convince people to vacate these structures till a rehabilitation programme is initiated by the government,” says Muhammed.

Lack of funds

Inadequate funds has been a major issue for several years with the ASI getting just Rs 500 crore a year for conservation of monuments across India. “Almost 25 per cent of the fund is utilised for conservation of Delhi monuments alone. We have been trying to convince the Culture Ministry to revise the amount,'' says B R Mani, a senior archaeologist with ASI.

Uncooperative civic authorities

ASI officials and archaeological experts say their hands are full and it is essential that civic authorities like the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the New Delhi Municipal Council, too, care for the monuments that come under their purview.

INTACH's Ajay Kumar says: “The state Archaeological Department has existed for almost 50 years now but they became active only two years ago. We have urged the government to include in Delhi Master Plan, 2012, a gazette notification that identifies a list of Delhi monuments that are nationally protected, and others.”

Identifying monuments

There is no body or committee in India which creates a benchmark for tagging a building as a heritage structure. INTACH’s list of heritage structures, excluding ASI-identified monuments, has now been adopted by the government and used as a standard list. “This is a major issue because we only identified places that exist since 1947. We need to form a committee which monitors and identifies unprotected structures,” says Kumar.

In 2012, the ASI plans to conserve at least seven more Delhi monuments including Nili Masjid, Maqsudi Masjid, Lal Qila, Hatilabad, Tughlakabad and Qudsia Mosque. “During 2008-10 we conserved and illuminated 46 monuments because of Commonwealth Games. We might join hands with other Delhi archaeologists for better conservation of monuments,” said Muhammed.

Experts stress the need for creating awareness of Delhi's heritage at the grassroots level through heritage walks, more active participation by civic authorities and funding through public-private partnerships.

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