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Agra’s Monumental Heritage Is A Victim Of Political Apathy

Despite this, leaders in the tourism industry reiterated their calls for improving infrastructure to enhance visitors' experiences in the city. As foot traffic increases and the Mughal monuments in Agra gain more popularity, enthusiasts of heritage sites are urging government bodies to collaborate in upgrading tourist facilities. They are also advocating for the designation of the Yamuna River as a national heritage site.

Edited By : News24 Desk | Updated: Apr 20, 2024 12:43 IST
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Agra Taj Mahal

By Brij Khandelwal

Agra: Yet another world heritage day gone without creating any ripple in the city of monuments. The locals remained largely indifferent towards their heritage which draws millions of visitors annually from all over the globe.

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The tourism industry captains however repeated their demands for streamlining infrastructural facilities to make visitors’ experience in the city memorable. With increasing footfalls and the growing popularity of the Mughal monuments in Agra, Heritage lovers have demanded concerted efforts by government agencies to upgrade amenities for tourists and declare the Yamuna River as a national heritage.

“We expect better conservational efforts by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which other than holding an exhibition and allowing free entry to the monuments on World Heritage Day, does precious little to instill pride in the local citizenry towards our heritage,” says Dr Mukul Pandya, president of the Agra Heritage Group.

Religious Places In Agra

Pandya said “Yamuna should be declared a heritage because it is the lifeline of Braj Mandal and some of our best heritage structures are sited along its banks in Agra, Mathura, Vrindavan, Bateshwar, and even Delhi. The two most important Shiva temples of Agra, Kailash and Vivalkeshwar Mahadev are also on the Yamuna. In Agra, heritage havelis have been demolished for market complexes, but in Ahmedabad beautiful wooden houses, havelis, balconies, and heritage temples have been well preserved.”

It is sad to see the callous attitude of the official agencies that ignore the reckless spate of encroachments that dwarf the historical monuments in the city. Routine notices are sent but rarely followed up. Encroachments are an eyesore in the Delhi Gate area and the mohallas of Tajganj as well as Sikandra and Etmauddaula. The story is similar in Fatehpur Sikri, Mughal emperor Akbar’s deserted capital, now a world heritage site.

UNESCO committee to visit the city

Agra has three world heritage monuments, two more are in the pipeline. The UNESCO committee is scheduled to visit the city in July. But the city hardly has the appearance of a heritage city. The locals are indifferent towards their heritage largely due to the perception that the Taj Mahal has stalled industrial growth in the 10,400 sq km Taj Trapezium Zone.

“If the city along with the Yamuna River is declared as a heritage area, many of the problems would automatically get resolved,” says Devashish Bhattacharya, an environmentalist. It is a catch-22 situation, whether to promote tourism and attract more footfalls or conserve the monuments by restricting human overload on the monuments which have a limited carrying capacity due to their fragile nature and the natural aging process, Bhattacharya adds. The dilemma is whether to declare Agra as a Heritage City or a Smart City. The haphazard growth of urban clusters encroaching on the free space around monuments and the alarming rise in pollution levels have compelled rethinking whether becoming a Smart City was the smarter answer to Agra’s problems.

SC’s statement on city of love

Heritage lovers and groups of green activists demand Agra be declared as a Heritage City at the earliest in the interest of tourism which brings in substantial moolah for the hotels and travel industry, “When the flow of visitors will increase, the government agencies will have to do a much better conservational work than they are presently doing,” says tourist guide Ved Gautam. The UNESCO and the Supreme Court of India are already seized of this issue, he adds. A comprehensive heritage plan was submitted before the apex court a few years ago but no action has been initiated so far. However, the Supreme Court has been clear and firm on the conservation of heritage monuments, including the 17th-century monument of love, the Taj Mahal, after the PIL of eco-lawyer M.C. Mehta.

In 2018 the apex court ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to present a vision document on the TTZ. Delhi’s School of Planning and Architecture was engaged draw up — a draft vision document to restore and conserve Agra’s heritage. But after filing the document in the court, there has been hardly any movement.

Local Historians POV On Agra

Local historians have pointed out dozens of structures that need immediate attention and repairs. “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 Jami Masjid of Agra and the tomb of Rasul Shah in Fatehpur Sikri have been wilfully neglected,” say the local conservationists.

The question now being debated in the Taj City is whether the ASI alone should have the exclusive right to restoration and preservation of monuments or should the 150-year-old monolithic organisation, founded by visionary Alexender Cunningham agree to share the responsibility of maintenance and upkeep with other professional bodies

It does sound preposterous. A city with a dozen big and small monuments of repute, which draw millions of tourists around the year, can not be declared a heritage city. Not just for the architectural marvels, Agra is unique for its culture, history, cuisine, and lifestyle. Activists accuse the Mandarins in the Agra Development Authority and a caucus of so-called builders who want to snap the umbilical cords that connect Agra to a glorious past, many feel.

The city is cosmopolitan

Medieval history records Agra as a cosmopolitan city bigger than several cities in Europe. The city soaks in history. Each narrow lane and mohalla has a splendid tale to share.

Travel writers like Lucy Peck suggested starting Heritage Walks through the interiors of the city to acquaint foreign visitors with its heritage, the life, and the vocations of the locals. Several international bodies, including Unesco, have supported projects to restore the Taj city’s old glory.

It may be recalled that the UNESCO had declared April 18 as the International Day for Monuments and Sites in 1983, popularly called World Heritage Day.

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First published on: Apr 19, 2024 09:00 PM IST

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