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Between slum, public toilet; monument neglected
Published on 12 Jul. 2009 11:28 PM IST
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It is an imposing 15th century monument from the Lodhi dynasty that is being taken over by a slum, its illegal residents brazenly unconcerned about both law and heritage. Uncared for by authorities who are supposed to protect it, about 10-12 shacks have come up around the “protected” sandstone structure in which Bijri Khan’s Tomb is located in south Delhi. The Mughal-era monument stands just 10 metres from a busy road in Sector 3 of R.K. Puram, with a slum on one side and a public toilet right next to it. The DLTA tennis courts that will host the Commonwealth Games next year and draw thousands of visitors is a few hundred metres from it. The neglected structure that is supposedly protected by law projects none of its former glory. A south Indian temple is located close to its encroached compound wall, within which there is even a playground - with broken swings for children from the nearby slum of 1,000 residents. The outer walls are damaged and empty glass and plastic bottles are strewn around. One can’t even fathom that the monument, on a high mound, belongs to the glorious Lodhi dynasty that ruled much of India before the Mughals. Having set up his cot just outside the majestic tomb, 70-year-old Shiv Shankar is content enjoying his free afternoon. He is enjoying the traffic on the roads and the slum children running around the eroded compound wall that serves as a common courtyard and playground. Asked about the tomb, Shankar told an IANS correspondent: “I don’t know anything about this monument. I have been staying here 12-13 years and we have seen no official showing concern about the monument or asking us to move out.” None of the other residents knew anything about the monument - except its name. Pradeep Kumar, another resident, said: “We have been here since 1993. We don’t know about the tomb. No one has ever come to remove us from here. We have our own electricity meters and we get our water supply. No problem.” With no signboard in sight and odd graffiti running across the thick walls of the structure, a passerby can just guess that the monument may be a tomb. Through the iron bars that keep the inside of the tomb locked up, dark shadows reveal that it houses five graves - two of which appear badly damaged. “The police used to frequently round up couples who used to go into the tomb. After that the tomb was locked up,” Kumar recalled. Despite its pathetic state, Bijri Khan’s tomb is a conserved monument under the State Department of Archaeology (SDA) and is covered under by the Delhi Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 2004. A cleaner appointed by the SDA comes once a week to pick up the garbage in the complex, residents said. The presence of a slum so close to Bijri Khan’s tomb shows that the authorities have failed to abide by the Delhi High Court’s directions and building bylaws which stipulate that there will be no building within 50-100 metres of any structure of archaeological significance. SDA consultant Kishan Lal told IANS: “We have no infrastructure to remove the encroachments nearby. Our first target it to protect the monument. The maintenance of the surrounding area is the responsibility of the civic body and land development authority. It is their job to remove the slums.” A.K. Aggarwal, Deputy Land and Development Officer of Delhi Development Authority (DDA), said he had “no idea there is a tomb like this and we are not aware of our land there”. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a non-profit heritage conservation organisation, has graded Bijri Khan’s tomb of archaeological value ‘A’ - “extremely important for historical, archaeological value”. With help from INTACH, DDA listed 1,208 heritage buildings more than 100 years old. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) manages 174 protected monuments in Delhi. The SDA looks after 250 of them in understanding with INTACH. A.G.K. Menon, convener of INTACH’s Delhi chapter, told IANS: “Despite the MoU, bureaucracy is getting in the way. We can’t get anywhere. We have surveyed 90 monuments. Based on the data we have notified around 20 monuments as legally protected. After this the government can start spending money on conservation. Getting to smaller sites is always tougher.” Tombs like Bijri Khan’s aren’t fortunate enough to figure on heritage routes planned by INTACH. Conservation architect Vikas Dilawari says incentives by the government and civil society action are the only way out. “There should be incentives from the government like an area being invited to adopt a monument, which would give custodianship to the people in the area for upkeep,” he said.

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