It was once the symbol of pride, of protection and of grandeur. But now, the Fort that is known as the heart of Thiruvananthapuram lies open to the whims and fancies of everyone and anyone, of interest to only tourists and yes, under attack from all sides by encroachers.
That the fort, including the East Fort, the West Fort area or wherever the remnants of that bygone era exist, surrounds the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple with its now highly publicised treasures, has been of little concern to authorities who possess powers to protect it. That too, when the fort and its precincts are already notified as a heritage site.
A slow drive around the area is more than enough to show what has happened over the years. Umpteen shops with their backs to the fort walls, huts, makeshift tents, workshops, constructions that hide the walls and then, the worst – public comfort stations and garbage dumps – are what meet the eye. While the public comfort station that is being renovated near the Arasumoodu temple is a live example of such instances, there are several instances of garbage being burnt close to the walls without batting an eyelid. Right from Pazhavangadi to Attakulangara, along Sreevaraham or wherever the fort walls are, the situation remains the same.
The State Archaeology Department, which is the legal protector of such historic monuments, however, finds itself in a quandary when it comes to such blatant, unabated encroachments and threats to the fort because it has few executive powers to take action.
According to sources, what the department can do is to alert the Revenue, police, Town Planning or Corporation authorities, who can then initiate action. However, it is anyone's guess whether any such alerts have elicited any response.
The Archaeology Department, which is short of staff too with barely any new post being created after 1980, has intervened in some instances, some with success and more with no result at all. Officials point out that there has been no demarcation of restricted areas or regulated areas in and around the fort though rules provide for this. Such an exercise would require much more than mere rules since the encroachments, and the possible consequences of such a move, are no minor issues.
And if one thought it was only shopkeepers and illegal inhabitants who did the damage, an official is quick to point out how various government agencies too use JCBs near the fort walls, that too in areas where only manual labour under the supervision of an Archaeology official is allowed. Laying of cables, digging of drains, widening of roads – the list works is long.
The fort has walls extending over four kilometres. While the gates and the fort were declared monuments as early as 1966, the walls were declared so after 1985, by which time the mud portions had been demolished.