Aside from the piles of rubbish scattered all round, there are also ungainly mounds of rubble left behind from the last bout of restoration at almost every heritage site in Delhi.
Delhi has been the Capital of many and, without counting New Delhi, has seen the rise of seven large cities and a few smaller ones like Kilokhri - the capital of Quaiqbaad. It is no wonder that it is full of all kinds of structures of historical, archaeological and architectural value. Some of them are almost intact, while others are barely recognisable as structures and there are many that fall between these two extremes. In all about 1200 structures have been listed, and of these only 174 have been considered worthy of preservation by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
In the run up to the Commonwealth Games the Archaeological Department of the Delhi government increased their list of protected monuments to 92, till a few months before that landmark event they had only 33 monuments on their list and it was not too long ago that the Delhi Heritage List had only six monuments that were considered worthy of preservation. How seriously do our governments take the business of preservation can be had from the fact that three out of the six were the North, South and Central gateways of Badarpur and the other three were Kos Minars, (distance markers erected by Sher Shah Suri along the road that he had built linking Peshawar to Bengal) and that it had taken the Delhi Government full 15 years to realise that this meager list of six was inadequate and something needed to be done.
Now with 174 monuments protected by ASI and 92 protected by the Delhi Government we have a grand total of 266 monuments or 22 per cent out of 1200 on the protected list while 934 or 78 per cent that are not protected.
We have seen reports that the municipal bodies are also preparing their own heritage lists and once those lists are ready, the situation would be far better. The Municipal List, however, has been in preparation for years and seeing the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s (MCD) remarkable record in providing basic civic amenities, it is not too difficult to visualise how successful our city fathers will be in the field of conservation and heritage protection.
But why blame the ASI and the state archaeology for not doing enough and the MCD for not doing even what the ASI and the state archaeology are doing. The question is who is really bothered about heritage? Go to the Red Fort, the Qutub Minar or the Humayun’s tomb in the morning -- the time when the three monuments open their gates for the first lot of visitors-- and you can see that the trash left behind from the day before has not even been cleared. The sight at sunset is truly educative, tens of thousands of torn tickets, empty water bottles and foil wrappers adorn the entire view. The only things that are clean are the dustbins, no one ever uses them.
If this is the state of the most popular of our monuments, one can easily imagine the mess at the lesser known ones. The Mehrauli Archaeological Park and its neighbourhood is full of many lesser known monuments, this is the site of the first urban settlement -- the first Dehli and boasts of structures representing a thousand years of continuous construction. INTACH initiated systematic documentation of all the structures in the area and also began conducting heritage walks. Gradually the place started getting visitors on a regular basis and the number of those visiting the area is now constantly on the increase.
Restoration activity is visible but the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), responsible for maintaining the walking tracks and the green areas, and those responsible for carrying out restoration activity seem not to care and the evidence of neglect is all too pervasive to be missed. Aside from the piles of rubbish scattered all around, there are also ungainly mounds of rubble left behind from the last bout of restoration at almost each site.
One can understand the need to build pits to soak limestone and crushed bricks whenever restoration work is to be carried out but why not fill them up and cover them once restoration work is complete, and why leave piles of stones and heaps of other construction material behind?
Multiplicity of authority, that the Government of Delhi keeps raising constantly, not only makes life difficult for the ordinary citizen it also plays havoc with our heritage. Would it not be simpler and more efficient if the MCD moved out of heritage conservation totally and Delhi Archaeology was asked to look after all the monuments not on the ASI list and also maintain the immediate surroundings of these monuments. Why should the DDA or the NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Corporation) or the MCD have anything to do with maintaining Lodi Gardens, Qudsia Bagh, Mehrauli Archeological Park, Sultan-e-Ghari and Najaf Khan’s tomb, amongst others? Let them tend to public gardens but let them not interfere with heritage and its surroundings Let MCD and NDMC concentrate on primary education, basic health and keeping our roads clean and let DDA build affordable houses for the residents of Delhi, a task for which it was created and has not fulfilled.