Five years ago, Shramik Gojamgunde founded the Pune-based Sahyadri Pratishthan, an organisation to fight for and spread awareness about the conservation of forts in Maharashtra. Passionate about these forts and their history, the 35 year-old has taken almost one lakh photographs of the 400 plus forts in the Sahyadris over the years.
“Even as a child I was very fond of history. I have been visiting these forts since childhood. Many of them are in very bad shape. Over the years, we have tried every method possible to get the government to pay more attention to them but nothing seems to have worked,” rues Latur-born Gojamgunde. Fed up by the government’s lack of initiative, in October, Gojamgunde and his organisation filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court against the state and central government as well as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
One exhibition, many andolans
In the past, Sahyadri Pratishthan has organised several andolans and dharnas across the state to awaken the government and get it to allocate more funds to the conservation of the forts. In May 2010, he exhibited the photos he had taken of the forts in a bid to spread awareness. The exhibition made it to the Limca Book of Records, but did nothing to rouse the government.
Blame trekkers, not government
Gojamgunde may blame the government, but trekking enthusiast Prateek Deo believes that it is irresponsible trekkers who are to be blamed for the dilapidated condition of the forts. Deo, who has visited 150 forts over the past 20 years, is working on a documentary on the forts of Maharashtra. His company Life Away From Life has been organising treks to the forts since 1998. “My treks are always accompanied by a history lesson on the forts we visit,” he adds. Some of these forts, explains Deo, were built 2,000 years ago by Portuguese traders and were later used for defence by local Maratha heroes. Several of the forts were later taken over by the British.
“Even if you get the government to spend lakhs, it will be completely pointless unless you teach trekkers and tourists to respect our architectural past. For so many thousands of years they have stood the test of time. If some of the gates are dilapidated it is because the British blasted the fort gates before they left. This can be seen at Trimbakeshwar or Visapur, for instance,” says Deo.
Contrary to Gojamgunde, Deo believes that the ASI has done quite a good job maintaining forts under their purview. “Raigad Fort is very well maintained,” he says. “There’s no need to build a road, or a beautiful wall or boundaries. All we need is to stop littering the fort areas. The only way these ingenious structures will collapse is because of soil erosion, which is bound to take place if we continue to litter.”
What happens next?
Gojamgunde is looking forward to the upcoming weeks. “We have submitted photographs as proof to show the poor condition of some forts as well as photos of the badly-restored forts. The government has till November 29 to submit documents in their defence to Judge Mohit Shah at the Mumbai High Court,” he says, hoping for a positive response from the court