Saving Mughal-era ponds in Agra

September 9th, 2012 - 7:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Agra, Sep 9 (IANS) With Agra losing its Mughal-era ponds to builders and a court issuing an order to save them, a citizen’s group, using Google Maps and land records, has been looking for the water bodies in city of the Taj Mahal.

The exercise was undertaken after an Allahabad High Court directive to Agra district authorities to ensure that the existing ponds did not fall prey to land grabbers. The court passed the order while hearing a public suit on lost community ponds in Agra, most of them grabbed by builders to construct apartments. The court, which will next hear the case Monday, also expanded the ambit of the suit.

A division bench consisting of Acting Chief Justice Amitava Lala and Justice P.K.S. Baghel said a public suit “cannot be restricted to just one district. A copy of this order be circulated by the state to all the district authorities so that no land grabbing etc. by converting ponds will be allowed and if such action is initiated, that will be stopped till further order is passed by this court.”

The court also sought a status report from the Agra district magistrate about the filled-up ponds within two weeks besides those which continue to exist.

While the magistrate is still to act on the orders, the citizens’ group, consisting of environmentalists and professionals, completed the exercise of spotting the ponds and submitted the findings to the divisional commissioner Friday to be forwarded to the court.

In January 2011, the court bench had issued contempt notices to top officials of the Agra administration, civic agencies and police over a petition alleging that several ponds in the city had been usurped by builders who had raised commercial complexes or houses on them.

In his petition, environmentalist D.K. Joshi had submitted a list of over 100 community ponds that were removed to make way for buildings over the years. The court issued the notice Jan 7.

“The government agencies did not positively respond to the directions. Therefore, I approached the court which sent notices to officials to explain why action should not be initiated against them,” Joshi told IANS.

Joshi said the city once had more than 400 ponds. “Now, only a handful are left. Most have been gobbled up by builders.”

In his petition, Joshi referred to a statement of the district magistrate who admitted that 92 ponds had been encroached upon but action had not been taken so far to free the ponds of illegal structures.

“In the Bodla area, the district urban development agency has constructed a building in the middle of a pond,” Joshi said.

Joshi had first filed his petition in 2005. The high court took note of it and directed the authorities to initiate action after a detailed survey. But nothing happened.

“The case has been hanging fire,” Joshi said.

As such, the citizen’ group has now prepared its own status report on the missing ponds.

“In their affidavit, district authorities had told the court that more than 40 ponds were restored and filled with water. We are contesting that claim with our report which has been prepared after spot surveys,” Sharad Gupta, who was part of the team, told IANS.

“It is a criminal act to level water bodies and grab the land. Not just private builders, even government agencies have been doing that.,” alleged Shravan Kumar Singh, an activist.

K.S. Rana, an academic, said: “This is a unique initiative of civil society. Even before administrative officials could wake up, we had submitted our report.”

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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