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A `Panipat' won for the Lodhi's

By Mandira Nayar

NEW DELHI OCT. 15. For years now, Lodhi Garden here has been a battleground for conservationists. A silent battle to get the remaining three unprotected structures in the garden included in the Archaeological Survey of India's list has finally been won by them. A decisive victory, but it might be too early to celebrate just yet.

While the protected status might save the monuments from further ruin, years of haphazard planning of the landscaping of the garden, has hidden some of the essential historical features of these buildings. But though the fight to save the monuments might be over, the struggle to retain the flavour of this piece of history in green, has only just begun.

Continuing with their adding spree, the ASI have included the remaining unprotected monuments of Lodhi Garden under the Delhi Circle protection umbrella, according to a report submitted to the Estimates Committee of the Lok Sabha by the ASI, in March 2002.

These inclusions will take the number of protected monuments in the garden to eight. While Sikander Lodi's tomb enclosure, Shish Gumbad, Bara Gumbad and mosque, Mohammad Sayyid's tomb and the Athpula (stone-bridge) are already part of the ASI's list of centrally protected monuments/sites of Delhi Circle, the list will now also include a late Mughal period mosque, a turret and an enclosed garden and its gateway.

This might be a step in the right direction, merely adding monuments on paper will not help. Conservation needs to be looked at in a broader perspective and not simply as about preserving buildings for posterity, as conservation architects emphasise. It is about keeping the building alive within its environment so as not to tamper with the fabric of the site.

Unfortunately, in Lodhi Garden these rules have been flouted. The insensitive development of the garden has lead to many historical features of monuments to be hidden, like steps to the Bara Gumbad being covered with grass, a gross violation to the architectural value of the building.

``The entire area of Lodhi Gardens should be a protected conservation area, with the possible inclusion of India International Centre and the Stein buildings as part of the precinct. Any alteration to the pathways, painting, fencing should be done in keeping in view the historical significance of the site,'' said Ratish Nanda, conservation architect.

A sentiment shared by Suhas Borkar, Founder Member, Green Circle, an NGO actively involved with maintenance of Lodhi Gardens. "The whole 90 acres should be declared as a heritage precinct. The ASI listing should also include the glass-house made by Stein. In addition to this New Delhi Municipal Council workers should be sensitised towards preservation of heritage,'' he stated.

Part of every guide-book's `must-see list' -- it blends the ancient past with the more recent colonial present. With Joseph Stein's monument in glass standing next to ancients domes, tombs and arches in shades of blue and brown of Delhi qaurtize -- it is a place which finds mention in the best books of architecture, and needs to be preserved in its entirety.

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