By Majid Alam
When politics doesn’t invoke historical monuments, their fate lies in decay. The monuments in Mehrauli city are evidence to this. Over the past decade several historical monuments and heritage sites have been destroyed, desecrated, and encroached upon throughout India, particularly in the national capital. The two main causes leading to the present state of destruction are illegal encroachment and lack of maintenance by the state regulatory bodies and authorities. The underlying principle of the two maladies is deliberate state neglect. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is responsible for the maintenance of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance. The ASI has 174 protected monuments and sites in Delhi of which 16 monuments are located in Mehrauli.
The monuments in Mehrauli fall under two areas. Firstly, the monuments are located in the Qutub Complex and the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, which have monuments like the Qutub Minar, Mosque of Jamali Kamali, Alai Darwaza, and many others. Many monuments fall in the Mehrauli Historical city, one of the oldest settlements in Delhi, that lies around Qutub Complex. Monuments in Mehrauli Historical City dating back to the Slave dynasty and the Mughals are under threat of destruction. These include Zafar Mahal, Hauz-i-Shamsi, Jahaz Mahal, Tomb of Adam Khan, Gandak ki Baoli, Chaumachi Khan’s tomb, and several other monuments that cannot be identified.
Standing amid the residential enclave near the Kalka Das Marg lays Zafar Mahal, the summer palace of the Last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar built in the eighteenth century. Once a lavish monument with an open courtyard, Zafar Mahal now is a ruined structure with broken walls and collapsed roof, owing to state neglect that has led to its encroachment by drug pedlars and other petty criminals. Unfortunately, the monument today serves as a safe haven to drug addicts and gamblers, completely inaccessible to tourists and visitors.
Despite being under the protection of the ASI, Zafar Mahal has been witnessing illegal construction around it, violating the norms of protection of historical monuments. The Central Government has declared up to 100 meters from the protected limits to be prohibited area and further beyond it up to 200 meters to be a regulated area for purposes of both mining operation and construction. Other than these protected monuments, there are several other unnamed historical structures that have been taken over as personal spaces by the people living in the area. An unidentified dome near Masjid Kala Mahel in Mehrauli has been converted into a house by the people in the area.
The encroachment around Zafar Mahal violates norms of preservation. The authorities have turned a deaf ear to this illegal construction in the premises of the monument. Rupali Neeta Rakheja, a student at Delhi University, ran a campaign in 2016 to create awareness for the protection of Zafar Mahal. “I posted about it in all possible platforms, Mann ki Baat, PMO, ASI and Cultural Ministry. As expected, no reply came,” says Rupali. Today, what remains of Zafar Mahal is just a fraction of its original size; even that too is occupied by the peddlers and drug addicts.
Similarly, the tomb of Chaumachi Khan faces threat of encroachment. Buildings have engulfed the monument on all the four sides. The entrance to the Tomb is a lane which is not more than a meter wide. When I reached the entrance to the tomb, it was locked and no guard was to be found. One Riya, who lives nearby, said that the monument is supposed to be open until five but the guard leaves early. The other guard who comes to his duty in the night has been absent for several days. She further said that monuments like these have become sites for boys to consume drugs and gamble.
Lack of maintenance
Qutub Sahab ki Baoli and Gandak ki Baoli are the two Baolis located close to the Dargah of Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki in Delhi. While the Rajaonn ki Baoli is located in the enclosed premise of the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, the Gandhak ki Baoli is located within the residential area. The Gandhak ki Baoli is a protected monument by the ASI but it lies amidst garbage. Qutub Sahab ki Baoli is under similar condition despite being within the premise of the Dargah. Today, Qutub Sahab ki Baoli has long walls built on all four sides. So, it remains inaccessible and hidden from public view.
Speaking to one Prabhat, a guard on duty at Zafar Mahal, I came to learn that maintenance jobs are regularly done in Zafar Mahal, including regular cleaning and inspection against encroachment. However, Prabhat’s statement was contrary to what I witnessed with my own eyes. The crumbling walls unveil its decay. Having been ‘protected’ officially, the monument tells the tale of withering heights. This made me write to Er. Romel Singh Jamwal, the Director of Conservation, ASI, but, unfortunately, my plea went unheard and unacknowledged.
The overarching reason for the monumental decline is state neglect. Why does the state neglect some monuments that are equally important, if preserved and restored? Does the answer for the decay lie in their lack of political appeal? For instance, can monuments like the Jahaz Mahal and Hauz-i-Shamsi be invoked in politics? The two face a similar threat like Zafar Mahal. The Jahaz Mahal was named so because its reflection in the Hauz-i-Shamsi made the monument appear like a ship (Jahaz). Today the Jahaz Mahal is under threat of destruction. The walls are falling and it requires urgent maintenance. An annual cultural event Phoolwalon ki Sayr is organised annually at Jahaz Mahal. It is attended by the Chief Minister and other Ministers of Delhi. The Hauz-i-Shamsi, a water reservoir built by Iltutmish in 1230, has been fenced to prevent it from becoming a garbage dump. Despite the efforts, the reservoir is choked with water hyacinth, a common aquatic pollutant. It is cleaned only once a year before the Phoolwalon ki Sayr in November.
In this stroll around historical monuments, I observe that restoration of these monuments is rare. The government focuses on the restoration and maintenance of prominent monuments in Delhi, which find place in their political parlance. In 2010 the Delhi government started the maintenance and restoration of 28 monuments in Delhi. But, monuments from Mehrauli couldn’t find their place in the list. Delhi is littered with the shattered remains of such ruined monuments. An urgent call to restoration is the need of the hour; else the glory will wither away with time.
Majid Alam is a freelance journalist and blogger, currently pursuing Masters in Convergent Journalism from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia.
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