Construction boom chips away at Agra’s heritage character

April 13th, 2008 - 12:00 pm ICT by admin  

(Feature)
By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, April 13 (IANS) The Taj Mahal, a 17th century architectural marvel in marble, was meticulously planned. But the same cannot be said for Agra, which is witnessing a construction spree that could dent its heritage character. The medieval Mughal city, which historians in the 17th century described as being more beautiful and bigger than London and Paris, is getting transformed into a concrete jungle. The construction work is neither in tune with its historical importance nor compatible with the demands of a modern city.

“The city’s development lacks focus. It does not reflect the heritage character. The new buildings lack facilities for parking, greenery or open space,” environmentalist Ravi Singh, who is also a progressive farmer from the Barauli Ahir block, told IANS.

Where once trees grew in abundance with 16 beautiful gardens in various parts of the city, now gaudy structures are coming up. The dozen- odd community ponds have disappeared while there is no trace of the dense green patches that were home to a wide range of fauna.

“The difference between commercial and residential use has been obliterated by the unimaginative town planners who are indifferent, ostrich-like, to the chaotic urban scenario,” said Sudhir Gupta, a lawyer and a resident of Vijay Nagar Colony, the oldest organised settlement in Agra.

The river front along the Yamuna is a vast wasteland. The city is expanding in all directions.

The Ansals, Parsvnath, Omax, Jaipurias, Unitech, TDI, the Jaypee group and half a dozen others are all racing against time to complete a project or two before the Commonwealth Games in 2010 in Delhi, which are expected to bring a host of additional tourists to this city.

On Fatehabad Road, the tourist complex of Agra, half a dozen hotel projects are at various levels of completion.

The Taj Express Highway project opened up another avenue all the way till Greater Noida for feverish construction and land acquisition. The 160-km super highway will reduce travelling time between Delhi and Agra by a good one hour.

In the past couple of years, heavy investment in the construction sector has added to the pressure on civic amenities.

Residents in most high-rise buildings now complain of inadequate facilities. Builders often violate well laid out norms on parking space, sewer connections and power supply.

“Most high-rise buildings have neither sewer connections nor treatment plants. All the waste is being dumped underground, poisoning our precious resources,” said Singh.

The apex court has a petition pending on why the city of the Taj Mahal cannot be granted heritage status.

S. Varadarajan, who headed a Supreme Court appointed high-powered committee to examine and suggest measures to tackle the pollution problem in the Taj Trapezium, recommended a ban on high-rise structures within 10 km of the Taj.

Earlier, city improvement trusts used to be under the control of democratically elected local bodies. But the Agra Municipal Corporation has no say in policy matters.

The Agra Development Authority’s (ADA) lacklustre performance on the development front has now raised questions about the relevance of this body.

“A group of bureaucrats now decide which way the city should develop,” said Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

“The mayor and 90-odd elected municipal corporators have no power to control or influence decisions taken by the ADA, which is headed by people who have no roots or understanding of the city and no stakes in its future.”
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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