Encroachments on centrally protected monuments - the government should take stern action

Disappearing Delhi monuments. imesofindia.indiatimes.com

Uzair Hasan Rizvi, Lucknow. UP  in.pinterest.com

In the past centuries when the emperors, Maharajahs and  colonial rulers  built impressive monuments in isolated places they stood there  majestically  with no buildings around  them to mar their beauty and aesthetics. One could enjoy their architectural beauty and splendor. With ever changing  ebb and flow of time and  scenarios of landscape in the urban and semi urban space  down the centuries, the monuments now  face all kinds of threats - encroachments, air-pollution, physical damages caused by trespassers, vandals, etc. In the towns and cities  to tackle population growth and living space  more housing projects and commercial complexes come up to narrow the gap.   In the absence of strict enforcement of  laws and proper town planning procedures  many modern structures appear near the monuments spoiling their look  and diminishing   their heritage values.  Today such monuments in various places  remain  uncared for  and  they are slowly wilting under age  coupled with vagaries of climatic changes and poor upkeep.  All these facts cause  irreparable damage to them  without which history  can not be reconstructed.

Do you know the name of  the Indian city that has the largest number of encroachments on the historical monuments?  The unfortunate city is   Lucknow,  the capital city of the Uttar Pradesh.  What is the reason for the illegal encroachments on the protected monuments? Both the state and central  government officials in charge of  monuments  take  no interest in them.  As for the public, with some exception,  awareness among them  is at the lowest level. With so many encroachments around,  Lucknow’s Cultural Heritage Uzair Hasan Rizvi  has almost lost its cultural and historical ethos. ''Lucknow is matching with the footsteps as every second protected monument in the city is under encroachment. As per Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).'' 

Historic Uzair Hassan Rizvi, Lucknow, UP. scroll.in

Uzair Hasan Rizvi,  built in the 1860s by the Nawabs of Awadh,  is a  historical venue which hosted  great people like   Sarojini Naidu, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lokmanya Tilak   Today  it is crumbling slowly due to the onslaught of time, changing weather, vandals and government apathy. The structure that has many cracks has become a garbage dump. The other sites Bada Imamabad and Chota Imamabad  are encroached upon  by many shops and eating joints. Inside the building, many families are living.  Asafi Masjid  and  Rauza-e- Kauzmain have  similar residential  problems.

Such historical monuments that stand boxed between new buildings have no protection at all in the form of  barricades, so they become easy targets for the anti-social people in the society. At many places vandals,  hobos and drunks can trespass and damage  the sites and its heritage values. 

That  across our land 321 historical monuments of national importance  have been encroached upon  is a big and   shocking news and it highlights  the inability of the government  to apprehend the  culprits  and  recover the sites.  Of course, removing the encroachers  from the sites is a difficult and tedious problem, particularly if they have political clout or some kind of influence with the ruling part (in power). The media reports mention that in  the last 3 or 4 years, the government authorities  could  successfully remove the encroachments only in seven cases.  

Quite disgusting finding  is 24 monuments are not traceable. Vestiges are completely obliterated by the culprits. What a shame?   Among the sites that  the Union Minister of Culture Prahlad Singh Patel  listed during a discussion in Lok Sabha   the highest number were in Uttar Pradesh (75), followed by Tamil Nadu (74), Karnataka (48), Maharashtra (46), Rajasthan (22), Delhi (11), Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab (seven each), Assam, Bihar and Odisha (six each), Himachal Pradesh (three), Madhya Pradesh (two) and West Bengal (1). 

 Quite appalling is the popular heritage sites  were not left out.  Famous sites such as  Sun Temple in Konark, Odisha and Brahma Temple in Pushkar, Rajasthan,  Purana Qila in Delhi and  Ellora Caves in Maharashtra are also encroached upon. The moot question is what have the government officials on  the center and state level been doing all these days?  Couldn't they strictly enforce the government laws with respect to heritage monuments

The  new construction near the heritage site is happening across India in spite of the government  laws being in force.  Any   construction  within  the periphery of  200 meters  of the monument listed by the government  is a violation and such  structures are considered encroachment. According to the ASI - Archaeological Survey of India removing the encroachment is a time-consuming legal process. India has more than 3691 ancient monument that are being managed by the ASI under different Circles.  

Union Minister of Culture  Patel  said on the floor of the  Parliament  (March 2020) ''the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities has documented about 1,83,345 built heritage sites from various secondary sources in uniform format for its database, including the centrally protected and unprotected monuments.  The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), has identified and documented till date about 70,000 heritage properties in approximately 500 towns.''

Notified monuments under Delhi Archaeology Dept 2015 ndpaedia.com


The main crux  of the  problem is the location of ancient monuments in  many places. They are all   located in the prime and busy parts of the city. Lucknow, Hyderabad, Calcutta and Delhi  are good examples and the heritage sites are located in the crowded commercial areas.  Consequently such sites are marred by the new buildings around them.  

As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned there are countless ancient and historical Hindu temples. Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple,  Nellaiappar temple in Tirunelveli, Sri Ranganathar temple in Srirangam and Sri Kumbeswarar temple in Kumbakonam  are good examples. Particularly, the nearby shops all around the entrance of Nellaiappar temple mar the beauty of the entrance  gopuram (tower). After a fire mishap in Madurai Meenakshi temple a few years ago, the government in power  removed the  shops on all  the temple premises. Such temples with shops inside looked like a bazaar and it would impact the sanctity of the place of worship.

 In case of removal of encroachments, apart from delayed court procedures,  under the  special  provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of  1958, a direction to the District Collector  has to be made by the Central Government.  Complaints are registered under the Act. To take action on the encroachers after issuing eviction notices, the officers have to be backed by security guards and police protection. If the defaulters have political clout, the task becomes  much  difficult. It is a vicious circle and red-tapism - excessive paper works and tardy govt. procedures  rule the roost and will slowdown the work.   

The impact of the illegal constructions or encroachments on the  protected  monument sites is  a serious menace to the cultural and heritage ethos of our society  and if such sites are disappearing  for ever, there will be big holes in the history of  that particular place or region. It is imperative and a necessity now  for  the government  to amend the centuries old laws  to   enable the authorities to drive out the culprits who are bent to destroy our  rich culture  and exceptional artistic and architectural works.