Heritage site destroyed, municipal authority blames ASI

November 7th, 2008 - 7:55 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 7 (IANS) A national heritage site, over centuries old Lal Mahal near Nizamuddin, that was demolished by a private builder a week ago, stands in ruins as authorities play the blame game. After investigation into the pulling down of the 1245 A.D. structure Oct 30, the city’s largest municipal authority has declared that the matter pertains to the Archeological Survey of India.

“The investigation has found that it is an Archeological Survey of India (ASI) issue - ASI behaved irresponsibly. The union development ministry and ASI under the central government have conveniently pushed the blame onto us,” Vijender Gupta, chairman of the municipal standing committee, said here Friday.

In an earlier meeting, Gupta had asked municipal commissioner K.S. Mehra to examine the role of private builders, laxity on the part of the municipal authority of Delhi, police officers and responsibility of the ASI in the matter.

This was soon after the demolition was reported Oct 30 and ASI officials said that the matter pertained to the local authority under the Delhi Municipal Authority (DMC) Act.

The investigation, however, cited a technicality - “The INTACH manual on protected monuments under the ASI says the Lal Mahal or Kushaki Lal Mahal is under the protected category - so it does not figure under the jurisdiction of the MCD. Ideally, MCD was responsible for preservation of 775 monuments in Delhi that are not in protected category - Lal Mahal is not on the list,” justified commisioner Mehra at the meeting Friday.

Mehra explained that in 2005, a society for conservation of heritage sites was replaced by the state’s Heritage Conservation Committee.

The society that was formed in 2001 under the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi on protecting the 775 monuments, no longer carries out work for maintenance and protection.

“Lal Mahal is not on the list of 775 monuments either,” Mehra said.

He went on to say that under the DMC Act, building byelaws did not require permit for construction of boundary walls - “So there was no question of the builder seeking permit for building or extending the boundary wall of his property.”

Gupta was not convinced and said that “under the building byelaws under the Delhi Municipal Act - no building can be constructed within 100 metres of a heritage site whether under the protected category or not! Even if the ASI is not taking responsibility, we should.”

The sentiment was chorused by several counsellors of the capital’s largest municipal authority as well.

“It is sad that under building byelaws we demolish and tear down property on one hand and are unable to account for or stop a builder from pulling down a heritage site. Pulling down of any such monument is a serious matter and all heritage monuments must be protected against the greed of builders,” Gupta said.

He also directed the commissioner to activate the heritage society which could serve as a watchdog for protection of the listed heritage monuments and said that the MCD would be convening a meeting of the senior officials of the ASI, Delhi Police and other agencies concerned to ensure that such demolitions does not take place in future.

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