While World Heritage Day was celebrated globally on April 18, Agra’s residents seemed indifferent to the Taj city’s rich historical legacy.
Even with three World Heritage monuments and two more, Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra and Etmauddaula, in the pipeline, the locals of Agra displayed no sense of pride in their rich architectural legacy that draws millions of visitors to the city every year.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) chief in Agra, NK Pathak, lamented, “It’s a pity that the locals show no sense of pride in their spectacular heritage. Which other city in the world can boast of so many wonderful architectural marvels?” This year’s World Heritage Day theme was Commemoration of history. But conservationists in Agra feel that the ASI does nothing to promote awareness or educate people on the importance of heritage. The World Heritage Day could have been used to sensitise locals about the diversity of cultural heritage Agra offers and the huge effort required to protect and conserve history.
The ASI in Agra, has not only been unable to involve the local populace in the restoration and upkeep of the heritage monuments but even its own efforts to clear most historical monuments in the city of encroachments have been tardy. Allegations have regularly been hurled against its top officials of corrupt practices and promoting the re-sales of tickets. Even its expertise in conservational has been questioned.
Local historians have pointed out dozens of structures that need immediate attention and repair. “Our total approach has been Taj-centric, paying very little attention to other historical monuments like Babar’s Ram Bagh or Chini ka Roza. Several important monuments, including the Jama Masjid and the tomb of Rasul Shah (in Fatehpur Sikri) have been neglected,” Mughal historian R Nath pointed out.
The most alarming lapse has been ASI’s failure to rid the monuments of illegal structures and encroachments. Pathak, however, says demolition notices have been sent to more than 70 people and action would be initiated once the general elections are over.
But conservationists argue that the World Heritage Day should have been used by the ASI to present a plan for restoring the grandeur of the priceless monuments that Agra is heir to. “The height of its apathy was exposed when it failed to take any action to stall (former UP chief minister) Mayawati’s controversial Taj Corridor between the Fort and the Taj,” a conservationist said on condition of anonymity.
The question now being debated in the Taj city is whether the ASI should have the exclusive right to restoration and preservation of monuments or should the 150-year-old monolithic organisation share the responsibility with other professional bodies. One reason why the locals are indifferent to the city’s rich historical heritage is that many believe development in the area has been stalled by these monuments.