Agra's heritage under encroachment

While experts deliberate on policy frameworks to sustain and promote the visual integrity of world heritage structures at the ongoing Unesco meet in this Taj city, questions are being raised about the conservation of Agra’s historical monuments.

The Archaeological Survey of India has failed abjectly in controlling the spread of encroachments which threaten even heritage structures. Almost all Mughal monuments here have now been dwarfed by encroachments. The survival of some of the valuable architectural pieces is now at stake.

The Taj Mahal, surrounded by mohallas of the Taj Ganj locality, has been able to breathe easy because of the Supreme Court judgments seeking its conservation. Also, the international concern for its safety has helped its conservation.

Lesser monuments, however, have not experienced such luck. Delhi Gate, close to the Raja Mandi station, finds itself threatened by new construction. The district authorities have failed to act against the encroachers.

The Fatehpur Sikri complex continues to be threatened by the illegal activities of the mining mafia, which has been carrying on operations without fear, even though the apex court has given a categorical directive to authorities to stop mining in the area.

The ASI is proving helpless and unequal to the challenge posed by a spate of illegal construction around protected monuments in Agra, said residents. Though it has been regularly shooting off letters to the Agra Development Authority (ADA) pointing out how the Monuments Protection Act, 1958, was being flagrantly violated, it has elicited no response.

The ASI has circulated a list of about 50 monuments in Agra which come under the purview of the Monuments Protection Act. The ADA is responsible for ensuring there were no new constructions around these buildings. ADA authorities, however, privately confess that demolition of all illegal structures was beyond their capacity.

Over the years, because of governmental indifference and corrupt practices, no action has been taken against people who built houses and places of worship around these heritage structures.

The Roman Catholic cemetery near the Civil Court is now surrounded by a movie hall, a petrol pump and a shopping complex. Other historical buildings or remnants like Jodhabai’s Chatri, Jaswant Singh ki Chatri, Chini ka Roza, Humayun’s mosque, Maraiam’s tomb, Babar’s Ram Bagh, and Barahkhambha are under threat, as encroachments creep up on every inch of space.

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