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Saturday, 21 July 2012

Lodi Tombs in South Extension stand divided

by Richi VermaRichi Verma, TNN | Jun 29, 2012, 07.31PM

NEW DELHI: Protecting national heritage in a developing city like Delhi is no easy task, and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is learning this the hard way. A unique problem has cropped up that has left the heritage body clueless about how to tackle it, wherein ASI recently lost a high court case to acquire a land that currently divides three Lodi-era monuments. History has it that these three gumbads were in the same setting, but now access to them has been separated with the court ruling in favor of a private party who now owns the land bifurcating them.

Lodi period dated Bare Khan ka gumbad, Chhote Khan ka gumbad and Bhure Khan ka gumbad are the monuments in question, which are large imposing buildings with similar architectural features like ornamental doorways, arched niches and onion-shaped domes. Graded A by INTACH in heritage grading, the former two tombs are larger than Bhure Khan ka gumbad but historians say all three were built around the same time and the identity of persons buried in all three monuments remains unclear to date. Today, while one can access Bare Khan ka gumbad and Chhote ka gumbad together as they are in the same complex, the third monument has been cut-off from the complex as the land between the three sites has been wired off and signages warning of action against trespassers. When TOI visited the site, it was found that access to Bhure Khan is also restricted with wiring. Sources in ASI said that they were yet to make an access to this monument after losing the court case.

According to sources, the controversial land originally belonged to the government as per revenue records in the 1920s and was given to DLF in the 1950s and was the only green space left in South Extension part I. Some years ago, ASI demolished a number of constructions on the land under the assumption it was still government-owned land and came under the high court fire where it was ordered to compensate Nahata Group of Builders and Financiers Private Limited (NGBFPL) for wrongful demolition. Earlier this year, ASI lost another court case for acquiring the land completely with the court ruling in favor of Nahata group. ASI could not prove in court that the land was theirs. Only DLF can claim jurisdiction on the land and despite communications from ASI, DLF does not seem interested,'' said officials. Pathways built by ASI at a cost of several lakhs connecting Bhure Khan with the bigger tombs have also fallen in the disputed land, and now stand in a fenced area.

After winning the case, Nahata group has barricaded off the land and now plans to re-build the constructions demolished by ASI. ASI demolished our offices without permissions and now we want to re-build it. They acted without notice or verifying their facts. We have applied to the National Monuments Authority to construct our offices again or we will move court again,'' said Nahata group director Lalit Kumar Nahata, who claimed to have purchased the land in 1984. Nahata said he also intends to grow vegetables on the land.

ASI is now focused on ensuring that the land in question is not developed. Under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010, constructions are not allowed within 100-m, but Nahata said they should get an exception as ASI's demolition activity was termed illegal by court. Conservationists say that the only option left for ASI was to try to reacquire the land if the monuments were to be integrated again.

"ASI should compensate the present owner and try to buy the land or seek intervention from DLF for the sake of national heritage. The land is crucial as it connects the three important monuments and needs to be maintained as green area,'' said officials from INTACH. Conservationists add that alongwith trying to re-acquire the lost land, ASI also needed to step up effort to maintain the three monuments. The bigger tombs are being used to store extra fencing and the facade damaged at several points. Bhure Khan tomb is in a worse shape and stands in a seriously deteriorated condition.

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