"Adopt A Heritage"

'Heritage' on Sale

Lubna Sarwath

The 'Adopt a Heritage' scheme of the government of India, under which Dalmia Bharat Private Limited—a Cement major—has been allowed to 'adopt' the Red Fort, has created a stormy debate in heritage and conservation circles. A few have supported it arguing that it will only help in the upkeep of old structures and that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will still control the monument itself.

Under the scheme, Golconda Fort and Charminar, Hyderabad, protected monuments of the ASI, are under active consideration in Phase II. In this context, it will be useful to consider the example of Naya Qila, a 17th-century structure which is a part of the larger Golconda Fort complex and which was leased out to a private sporting association some years ago.

The deal was between the Telangana (then Andhra Pradesh) Tourism Development Corporation and Hyderabad Golf Association (HGA) that began in 2002 through a deed of license—executed on the basis of 'in-principle approval' given by ASI Delhi dated November 29, 2001. Many had argued that it was in violation of the Ancient Monuments Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, (AMASR Act) 1958.

Since then, the Golconda Fort-Naya Qila has been used as a golf course. In order to blatantly facilitate golfing activity, the structure of the monument, site and remains of ancient heritage walls of Golconda Fort-Naya Qila were broken, blasted, dumped and remodelled in utter disregard of the destruction. Some officials tried to stop this, but their efforts failed when ASI Delhi approved the changes after it was given a go-ahead by the then tourism secretary Chandana Khan and chief minister Chandrababu Naidu.

Initially, the plan was to set up a birds sanctuary; this changed when the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh government proposed a golf course in 50 acres of Naya Qila-Golconda. The then secretary (culture), R.V.V. Ayyar, the then director general, ASI, New Delhi and then superintending archaeologist, Hyderabad Circle, in 1998 had opposed the idea of a golf course inside fort walls stating that "AMASR Act does not permit such activities and it is beyond his purview to grant permission" and that "Land proposed for golf course is not ideal because of its location inside the fort wall and requested to look for alternate locations outside the fortification" as well as that "Due to the quantum of land required by APTDC (Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) and the need for intense manipulation of natural regimens the new golf course and the expansion of the existing golf course inside the Heritage Monument is being generally discouraged all over the world."

These are all available in the official letters submitted to the court in March 2017 in a petition that this writer had filed.

However, on November 29, 2001, the director general of ASI gave an in-principle approval for setting up of a golf course within the fort walls of Golconda Fort-Naya Qila in an area roughly measuring 50 acres for landscaping purpose subject to observation of certain conditions by the state government and subject to approval of golf layout plan inside and outside the fort walls. Based upon the in-principle approval, the deed of license was signed in February 2002 between Hyderabad Golf Association and Tourist Development Corporation.

In violation of all regulations, the Golf Association has been restricting the free entry of the public through all entrances to Naya Qila and preventing their free movement inside the monument.

The chabutras (huge elevated stone platforms) that are a part of the monument are being used for the golf course as tees by raising the level of the surrounding area. Tees have also been laid on fort walls at multi-levels and inside the water body.

The public can access barely 10% of the wall.

There was some international pressure in 2009, when Robert Simpkins of San Jose State University wrote to the ASI and the chairman of APTDC stating that the heritage tag of Golconda Fort is in danger and the lease should be cancelled so that the "site integrity of Golconda-Naya Qila can be protected as it retains great site integrity".

The ASI Hyderabad in its 'Report on genesis and illegalities of HGA' as well as in its affidavit filed before the high court held government agencies including the municipal corporation, water board and the HGA responsible for the destruction inflicted on Golconda-Naya Qila.

The sanctity of protected monuments—that they ought to be kept intact completely devoid of any artificial or modern additions that would eventually dilute its archaeological significance—was not taken care of. The maintenance and protection of the ancient monuments and archaeological sites cannot be entrusted to private parties. There is also no mechanism to ensure that the monuments and sites covered would be kept intact. The director, Archaeological Survey of India ought not to have agreed in principle to the proposal to set up a golf course within the walls/precincts of the Golconda Fort-Naya Qila.

Thus, a part of Golconda-Naya Qila is locked up in a court battle because citizens have protested against it being handed over to a club. There is every reason to be sceptical about the Modi government's 'Adopt a Heritage' scheme.

[Lubna Sarwath is a heritage rights activist based in Hyderabad and had filed the petition against the Hyderabad Golf course that is being heard in the High Court at Hyderabad.]

Vol. 51, No.2, Jul 15 - 21, 2018