Agraites Show No Pride In Rich Heritage Of City


Hindi Edition

Agraites Show No Pride In Rich Heritage Of City

Agra: While the whole world celebrates heritage day today, people in Agra seem unconcerned and indifferent to the city's rich historical legacy.

Even with three world heritage monuments and two more, Akbar's tomb Sikandra and Etmauddaula,  in the pipeline, people in Agra display no sense of pride in their history and rich architectural legacy that draws millions of visitors to the city every year.

Archaeological Survey of India's chief in Agra NK Pathak laments "its a pity that residents of this city show no sense of pride in their spectacular heritage. Which other city in the world can boast of so many wonderful architectural marvels."

Pathak said this year's world heritage day theme is "commemoration of history." Monuments and sites, including those more complex and diversified forms of heritage places such as living landscapes, are tangible carriers of the memory of a part of the human experience. Thus, through their authenticity and integrity, they contribute, in their way, to the commemoration and transmission of values which include history, says the official annoucement..

An official of the ASI said commemoration of heritage could include  engraved inscriptions, mausoleums of exceptional architecture or works of monumental sculpture, more modest elements reflecting vernacular traditions or dedicated landscapes such as cemeteries or memorial gardens.

Its a ritual observed each year. The ASI does nothing to promote awareness or educate people on the importance of heritage, feel conservationists in Agra. The occasion could have been used to sensitise locals about the diversity of cultural heritage Agra offers and the huge efforts required to protect and conserve history.

It was on 18 April 1982 on the occasion of a symposium organised by ICOMOS in Tunisia, that the holding of the "International Day for Monuments and Sites" to be celebrated simultaneously throughout the world was suggested. The idea was also approved by the UNESCO General Conference which  passed a resolution at its 22nd session in November 1983 recommending that Member States examine the possibility of declaring 18 April each year "International Monuments and Sites Day".

This has been traditionally called the World Heritage Day. Other suggestions made included restoration of works, publicity in the media to create awareness about preservation of cultural heritage, holding conferences and seminars, exhibitions, publication of books, involving educational institutions to honour people and organisations which have helped promote heritage, explains a retired official of the Archaeological Survey of India.

The ASI in Agra, has not only not been able to involve the local populace in the restoration and upkeep of the heritage monuments, but even its own efforts to clear most historical monuments in the city of encroachments have been tardy. Allegations have regularly been hurled against top officials of the ASI, indulging in corrupt practices, promoting re-sale of tickets. Even its expertise in conservational work has been questioned.

Local historians have pointed out dozens of structures that need immediate attention and repairs. "Our total approach has been Taj-centric, paying very little attention to other historical monuments like Babar's Ram Bagh or Chini ka Roza. Several important monuments including the Jami Masjid of Agra and the tomb of Rasul Shah in Fatehpur Sikri have been wilfully neglected," points out Prof R Nath, a well known Mughal historian.

Perhaps the most alarming lapse has been ASI's abject failure to rid the monuments of illegal structures and encroachments.The 1958 Ancient Monuments Preservation Act gives it sweeping powers but the mandarins in the ASI have never had the will to act. Most smaller protected monuments in Agra and there are scores of them, have been virtually overwhelmed by new structures which threaten their existence. Delhi Gate, Etmauddaula, Sikandra, Ram Bagh, and dozens of others have been dwarfed by encroachments.

ASI official Pathak says we have sent notices for demolition to more than 70 people and are waiting for elections to get over to initiate action.

But conservationists argue that the World Heritage Day should have been  used by the ASI to present its new profile and a specific plan for restoration of the grandeur of the priceless monuments that Agra is heir to. But the height of its callous apathy was exposed when it failed to take any action to stall former UP chief minister Mayawati's controversial Taj Corridor between the Fort and the Taj.

The question now being debated in the Taj city is whether the ASI alone should have the exclusive right to restoration and preservation of monuments or should the 150 year old monolithic organisation share the responsibility with other professional bodies.

One reason why the locals are indifferent to the city's rich historical heritage is that many people mistakenly believe development in the area has been stalled by these monuments. "While disposing of the MC Mehta PIL in the Taj pollution case, the Supreme Court imposed restrictions of industrial expansion, shifted industries and forced closure of polluting industries.

Heritage is thus looked at as a villain. It is for this reason there is no support for the demand to declare Agra as a heritage city," explains Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

Last modified onSunday, 20 April 2014 12:14
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