Activists in Hyderabad are up in arms over the ongoing construction work for a golf course at Naya Qila, adjacent to the city's iconic Golconda fort.
Pictures of the construction work shared with the media by activists show large earth movers and other heavy machinery at work on the spot, indiscriminately dumping mud near the walls of the fort.
Armed with photos, activists have written to the Union Tourism Minister over the 'devastation' by the Hyderabad Golf Association and alleged that it was done with the 'concurrence' of officials from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Staff at the golf course argue with ASI Hyderabad officials
Naya Qila, which translates to New Fort, was an extended portion of the famous Golconda Fort built by the Qutb Shahi dynasty and is home to several structures, including one of India's oldest Baobab trees and the Naya Qila talab (lake).
"This has been going on since 2001, but the latest development is really worrying. They have so many security personnel and workers at the spot, and they are not caring for our pleas, even though the ASI clerk tried to stop them," alleges activist Lubna Sarwath.
"Under the guise of 'adopt a heritage', the history of Hyderabad is being destroyed," she adds.
It was in 2011 that the in-principle approval was given by the ASI's headquarters in New Delhi for the golf course at Naya Qila.
"In spite of resistance, 50 acres inside Naya Qila was handed over to the Hyderabad Golf Association for cultivation of grass. Eventually, the then Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) handed over 180 acres to the association, including 115 acres inside the Naya Qila compound," Lubna alleges.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was also signed between the two parties to "develop the area and promote tourism".
Several activists began moving court and they also contended that it was a violation of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958, which states that only ASI officials can guard the premises.
"Official correspondence later shows that ASI officials admitted that this place was not suitable for golf and was located inside a protected monument. They also acknowledged that the entire 76 acres of the Shah Hatem talab had been encroached upon. All these documents have been submitted to the court," Lubna says.
In March last year, Lubna had filed a PIL on the issue, following which the Hyderabad High Court had issued notices to the concerned officials.
"They dumped mud and even created golf holes on the lake. They also built multiple golf tees and ramps on the fort's walls. The walls were built wide enough for chariots back in the day, but it is being used for golf today," Lubna says.
"The lake also had terracotta pipes underneath to transfer water to the Persian-style garden nearby. Even this was blasted and replaced with a cement culvert and pipes. They also blasted a moat wall and created an entrance, so that golf players can walk directly into Naya Qila. All this was approved by the ASI," she adds.
Activists also say that the fort was on the tentative list to make it to the list of World Heritage Sites, but the chances now are slim.
"Nothing was done despite all the pressure. Our prayer to the court even now is that the golf course must be evicted and opened to the public. We must preserve our precious heritage, which has the potential of attracting global footfall and eventually generating revenue and employment," Lubna says.
Today, the entrance of the Naya Qila is guarded by many security personnel. Although visitor entry is still permitted, one is asked to write their name and mobile number in a register and even cameras can be confiscated in some cases. One can visit the Baobab tree, but several restrictions are in place.
Heavy machinery entering the Naya Qila gate
"It has become a place only for the elite now and even a little resistance from the visitor attracts surveillance," Lubna alleges.
The court case is also yet to come up for hearing again.
TNM has contacted the Hyderabad Golf Association for a response.