Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gujarat HC wants Shahibaug palace relisted as ASI monument

The 400-year-old Shah Jahan-built palace in Shahibaug be relisted as an Archaeological Survey of India-protected monument, the Gujarat high court on Friday directed the state government and the Centre to inform it about the process of re-notifying the monument. The palace has been converted into a Sardar Patel memorial and subjected to renovation with scant regard for heritage preservation. 

The monument was one of the first grand structures built in 1616 by the Mughal emperor, who was then the Mughal governor of Gujarat. He later went on to build the world-renowned Taj Mahal. The palace figured in the list of ASI-protected monuments in post-Independence India. But it was delisted and converted into the Raj Bhavan in 1961 to house the governor in the newly carved state of Gujarat. The governor's residence was later shifted to Gandhinagar in 1978, but the palace's status did not change. 

Later, the responsibility of maintaining the building was handed over to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Memorial Society, which haphazardly began construction in and around this Mughal structure, destroying its heritage value. 

"It is unfortunate that such a historical monument has been de-listed from the list of protected monuments and now the authorities have granted permission to put up new construction," court said. 

Following an intense campaign by The Times of India to preserve this priceless piece of heritage in this 600-year-old city, which is laying claim to become India's first Unesco-recognised World Heritage City, conservationist Umang Hutheesing filed a public interest litigation in August 2012, taking exception to illegal alterations and additions without obtaining due permission from the authorities. 

The HC had immediately stayed construction work at the palace, following which the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation woke up and issued notice to the society to demolish the new construction which was modern in nature and incongruous with the overall architecture and character. The society challenged the interim injunction and got the stay on construction vacated. 

During these two years, the local authorities granted sanction to the society to carry out the planned construction activity. The alteration work is at its end now and the petitioner presented photographs in this regard before the HC to show the damage that had been done. 

Representing the case before the HC on Friday, the petitioner's counsel S H Iyer submitted to the court that it was up to the HC to decide the fate of the historic monument. A bench of Justices Akil Kureshi and J B Pardiwala described this as a very serious issue and commented that the monument should have been notified so as to avoid any alterations. The judges asked the state as well as Centre to place before it the procedure to re-list the monument again. Further hearing is slated for November 11. 

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