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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Lal Qila is a protected monument now

New Delhi: At last, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) gave some cheer to the conservationists and heritage-conscious people. The ASI has now included Red Fort (Lal Qila), Salimgarh fort and the Shahjahanabad City Wall in its list of protected monuments. The Red Fort has now been handed over to the ASI by the defence ministry after the complete evacuation of the army.

This is the first major addition to the list since ASI was established in the 1920s. The responsibilities of protection, conservation, preservation and development of these monuments will lie with the ASI.

However, inclusion of only three heritage buildings in the list is too little to satisfy conservationists demanding ASI’s attention to historical buildings for a long time.

Edgar FN Ribeiro, former director, School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) said, "Though it’s a good thing, it does seem to be a case of doing things very late. They need to do more."

Patwant Singh, a conservation expert said, " Notifying three monuments in so many years is like the theatre of the absurd. Specially with the kind of extraordinary budget that the ministry has for the job." 

This latest decision of the ASI has generated hope regarding the conservation of monuments, particularly for the Red Fort, one of the most graceful buildings of Mughal era. 

Manu Bhatnagar, former advisor National Heritage Division, INTACH stated, "Nowhere in the world is a historical monument of such importance treated in such a shabby manner. The entire look of the fort is being destroyed."

The decision to include only three heritage buildings in the list of protected monuments has not gone well with the experts because the INTACH in its book Delhi—its Built Heritage has listed 1208 monuments as heritage buildings, while the ASI’s list of protected monuments with the new additions has about 170.

The conservationists point out that at least 600 other monuments like the Hastsal Minar, Khanqah in Sarvpriya Vihar and the Khilji period Baradari in Shahpur Jat have been waiting for notification. They argue that the ASI should include at least 10 per cent of such heritage buildings every year in its list of protected monuments.

The ASI says that the notification is a complex process which involves budget making, documentation of the monument, needing photographs, drawings and the assessment of staff required for the work. The procedure is so lengthy that only three additions have been made so far.

According to ASI officials, the three monuments became an obvious choice for inclusion because the ASI had been protecting them for a long time. 

However, despite having an annual budget of Rs 60 crore for the conservation of monuments in Delhi, the ASI’s performance is lackluster. 

AGK Menon, a conservation architect, says "it is certainly inadequate and says a lot about the problems that exist. England, despite being a small country, has as many as 30,000 protected monuments while we only have 5,000. This reveals problems of attitude, priorities and even the basic understanding of what heritage is."

Reflecting another view, Ratish Nanda, a conservation architect, says "it is a good move and hopefully can be extended manifold. Monuments like the Nasir ka Bagh in Mehrauli, the Baoli in Vasant Vihar, and Ferozshah Tughlaq’s hunting lodge in Mahipalpur, are a few examples of extraordinary structures awaiting state protection." 

Only time will tell whether the ASI is serious to protect monuments or its latest decision is only to silence its critics.

- Jeelani Khan

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