Fighting for our forts

Published: Nov 11, 2012, 12:18 IST | Moeena Halim |

Armed with hundreds of photos of the 400 forts in Maharashtra, activist Shramik Gojamgunde has taken the government to the High Court, blaming them for the dismal state of the forts

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.

Raigad Fort, believes Prateek Deo, is very well maintained. Pic/Ganesh Pawar

“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).

Trees and creepers have overrun onto the fort walls as seen here at Revdanda, complains Gojamgunde. Pics Courtesy/ Shramik Gojamgunde

Among the many demands they have made, Gojamgunde wants the government to prepare a plan along the lines of Delhi’s Red Fort, which will ensure the conservation of all the forts in Maharashtra. “A few years ago a similar complaint was filed against the bad state of the Red Fort. The Supreme Court ruling stated that the government must come up with a comprehensive way to conserve the fort. We want a similar plan in place for the forts in Maharashtra,” says Gojamgunde, who works as a manager at a steel supplier in Pune.

Shramik Gojamgunde takes issue with the maintenance of Underi Fort. The cannons visible in the picture lie in a terrible condition

“The central government has 35 forts under their purview, while the state has 45. Who is responsible for the rest of the forts?” he demands. “What we really need is a special committee appointed to conserve the forts,” he continues.

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.

Volunteers from the Sahyadri Pratishthan lay cement to make steps 

“Frustrated, we at Sahyadri Pratishthan attempted to take up conservation ourselves,” says Gojamgunde. “We started clearing the forts of plastic, cigarettes and so on. We cleaned the water tanks at Tikona Fort. We also put up sign boards at Rajmachi and Visapur narrating the history of the forts.”  Soon the organisation realised that doing a little at every fort wasn’t enough. They decided to take up one fort at a time.

“We took on Tung Fort, which doesn’t come under the ASI. We put up 10 sign boards there, which provide information about the fort and its history. We also restored the Ganesha temple at the fort,” he says.But Gojamgunde does not claim to know the ideal way to conserve the historical aspects of the forts. “The only reason we are taking on the responsibility is because the government shuns it. If we don’t do anything about these 2,000 year-old forts, they won’t exist 200 years down the line,” he insists.

People reside illegally at Mahim Fort in Mumbai

Worried about the NGO taking things into their own hands, Deepak Dalal, author of children’s book Sahyadri Adventures and an avid trekker, believes that if conservation needs to be done, it should be overseen by a panel of historians. “The idea of one single group of people taking it into their own hands is extremely worrying. These forts should be left as they are. Most forts are weathering perfectly. The only aspect that needs to be fixed is, perhaps, the dangerous entrances,” says Dalal.

Sahyadri Pratishthan has installed 10 signboards at Tung Fort that narrate its history

But Gojamgunde’s complaint against the ASI is that they have not restored the forts in the correct manner. “They have used concrete and cement to restore some of the fort walls, including Kandhar Fort in Naded district and Sewri Fort in Mumbai,” he says.

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 

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