An Agra bridge in troubled watersSeptember 1st, 2008 - 12:06 pm ICT by IANS
Agra, Sep 1 (IANS) A bridge over the Yamuna river is coming up in the Taj Mahal city, dangerously close to a Mughal-era monument. But no one appears to know on whose authority it is being built.The protected monument, Etmauddaula, was built by Noor Jahan, the favourite wife of Mughal emperor Jahangir, as a mausoleum for her father Mirza Giyas Beg. It is waiting to be included in the World Heritage list.
In popularity, it comes after the Taj Mahal and the likes of Agra Fort and the Sikandra tombs.
Nobody in the Agra district administration was willing to say who gave permission for building the bridge or how the site was chosen.
But an official of the Bridge Corp of Uttar Pradesh said the project was sanctioned by Chief Minister Mayawati on April 15 this year. The bridge is to be completed by June 15, 2010, before the Commonwealth Games.
The bridge, according to sources, will be 359.60 metres long.
At the site, temporary offices are being built on land that belongs to the state government’s horticulture department.
“Right now the Yamuna is in spate. As soon as the water recedes, work will begin,” said Ram Singh, the guard at the spot.
The Etmauddaula monument is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), whose superintending archaeologist D.N. Dimri told IANS: “No construction can begin within 300 metres of a protected historical monument. The ASI has to first investigate and study the project before any permission or NOC (no objection certificate) can be granted.”
Old historical buildings need a lot of open space around them so that their life is not shortened, Dimri explained.
According to Supreme Court directives, permission has to be obtained from the ASI for any new construction within 500 metres of protected monuments.
Krishna Mahajan, the Supreme Court’s amicus curae, said the apex court had restricted construction in the neighbourhood of historical monuments to develop safety belts.
“Any new construction because of money-making temptation can be a threat to the historical buildings. So general guidelines were issued in respect of construction around monuments,” Mahajan told IANS.
Surendra Sharma, the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president, said the guidelines are specific and categorical.
“The Taj Corridor project had to be suspended. The house of BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) legislator Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the Taj Ganj area was sealed. The ASI issued notices to the military some months ago to get clearance from it before starting any construction opposite the Agra Fort.
“If there are no restrictions on new construction around historical buildings, the problem of encroachment and land grabbing will become more serious and will definitely threaten the existence of some of these valuable pieces of architecture,” Sharma said.
Rajeev Upadhyaya of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, who has asked for details of the bridge construction project, warned of dangers to historical monuments in the area.
Upadhyaya said new construction around historical monuments have to be restricted as they can threaten their existence.
“In course of time the monuments can get overwhelmed by encroachments. When the original monuments were planned, the natural area and ambience all around were considered an integral part of the building complex. You cannot detach the natural setting from the main monument. The Taj, for instance, was sited at its present site because of the Yamuna river,” he said.
Surendra Sharma said the proposed bridge would also be “dangerously close” to other historical monuments like Babar’s Ram Bagh, Chini ka Roza and Mehtab Bagh, apart from the Etmauddaula.
“A proper public hearing should have been held and objections invited before the bridge was sited here. Obviously they have bypassed the rules.”
The new bridge is coming up adjacent to an existing 100-year-old Strachey Bridge which is in poor shape.
“A plan to repair and strengthen the Strachey Bridge has been cleared by the railway authorities and work is to begin soon,” said Deepak Khare, a representative in the Agra Municipal Corporation.