Heritage activists in Hyderabad have begun an online petition to stop the construction of 54 villas around the cityâ€™s most iconic spot, the 500-year-old Golconda Fort. Activist Mohammad Abdul Nayeem started the petition a week ago which, as of now, has 1,113 signatories demanding a halt to the project.
Activists allege that if the housing project ever becomes a reality, tourism around Golconda and the Qutub Shahi Tombs will be severely affected, dampening all the efforts of the government and heritage trusts in obtaining a World Heritage Tag for the Qutub Shahi Tombs.
A grant for a No Objection Certificate (NOC) was passed by the National Monuments Authority (NMA) on April 29 to Aditya Builders, the real estate company helming the housing project. The location of the project is 101 metres beyond the wall near the Patancheru Darwaza of the fort.
Activists allege that the construction, which is in the direct line of sight between the Golconda Fort and the Tombs, will affect the aesthetic appeal of the heritage complex and also the efforts of the Agha Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in earning a World Heritage Tag from the UNESCO.
Passing the buck?
Strictly going by the current rulebook, no violation has happened. According to Section 20E of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act, the competent authority (Archaeological Survey of India or ASI in this case), in consultation with Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage, shall prepare heritage bye-laws for each protected monument and protected area. The ASI has usually objected to construction within 100m of the fort although the new Act brought in by the Department of Heritage in 2017 does not have even this limit. The new project lies just outside the 100m mark.
In a series of letters exchanged between the Department of Heritage, Telangana, and the National Monuments Authority (NMA) over the lack of rules governing the preservation of the national monument, the NMA blames the ASI for not framing the heritage bye-laws for the fort. The ASI frame rules in matters relating to heritage controls such as elevations, facades, drainage systems, roads and service infrastructure around monuments.
However, Milan Chauley, Director of the ASI, Hyderabad, defends the organisation's role.
â€śContrary to the allegations, there is very little the ASI can do here,â€ť he says.
â€śASI has the authority to demolish illegal structures but the permission to build structures can only be given by the NMA, which is a separate entity under the Ministry of Culture. They are better equipped and have a team of experts to decide the fate of the monument. The ASI has always objected to construction within 100m of the fort. This could be the reason that the builders have left an area of 100m from the fort. Also, the new Act that was brought into the force by State Heritage Department in 2017 doesnâ€™t put this barrier. Even if someone makes a construction inside, there is no rule to stop this. On that basis, there is no buffer zone between the monument and the construction once the NMA gives approval. This is something that the Telangana government has to look into,â€ť Chauley adds.
Mohammad Safiuallah, Managing Trustee of the Deccan Heritage Trust, alleges that there was undue haste from the side of the NMA in granting clearance to the builders, despite a significant 16th century site existing on the site.
â€śFirst of all, we donâ€™t have proper maps to demarcate the land around the fort. The permission was granted by the NMA to Aditya Builders, who already have a big clout in real estate around the area. The villas are to be built 101m away from the Golconda on land that should really be in the ownership of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The government can also step in and get an ordinance to acquire this land. If the builders start the work, the entire conservation work done by the AKTC, government and the heritage buffs around the monuments will go for a toss. There have been encroachments around the Golconda Fort from time immemorial and itâ€™s unfortunate that the government has not been able to anything to stop the illegal constructions,â€ť Safiullah alleges.
The Golconda Fort has always been in the news for the alleged encroachments and land grabbing both inside and outside the premises of the fort. But what's even more unfortunate if the project becomes a reality is that the efforts of the Aga Khan Trust, which worked in tandem with the state government to develop the Qutub Shahi Tombs into a world class heritage site, may go in vain. The project will also destroy the green cover which is now spread between the fort and the tombs.
TNM tried to reach the Director of the Department of Heritage but couldnâ€™t get a response on the issue.