Encroachments at heritage buildings continue unabated in Delhi, even in posh colonies where people are well aware of the law of the land

The historical remains that one comes across in Delhi can broadly be divided into two categories -- those that figure on some kind of conservation list and those that do not. Some of those that are not protected, are in use traditionally as places of worship or veneration, like the temples of Jogmaya and Kalkaji, the Kalan Masjid, the Jama Masjid of Basti Hazrat Nizam-ud-Din, the Dargah of Shah Turkman Byabani and the Jama Masjid of Shahjahanabad among others. Except for the Jama Masjid, all the others in the list above have been renovated out of recognition.

One could argue that those using monuments of historical, architectural or archaeological importance should not be allowed to interfere with the appearance of these structures. But to actually put this into practice would need a protracted period of educating and sensitizing those who are in possession of these buildings. Unfortunately, it is thought that any attempt to educate those involved would be met with resistance and so things are allowed to continue as they are.

Aside from these two sets of structures, we also have structures that are not on any list. There are several lists in Delhi -- official, quasi official and non official; there is an ASI list, another list prepared by the State archaeology department and a list that the MCD has been preparing for as long as one can remember. Now with MCD trifurcated, this list too will be trifurcated, when will it ever be completed is anyone’s guess. Each one of these bodies is expected to look after the monuments that appear on its list and God takes care of those left over. There is a comprehensive list of the built heritage of Delhi brought out by INTACH, but that unfortunately has no legal status because it has not been prepared by an official body and so the list is treated more as a point of reference and not as an actionable list.

The result is that there is enough to go around for all potential encroachers. A stone pillar, covered with Quranic verses in incised plaster in a beautiful calligraphic style prevalent during the sultanate period, that had been standing guard near Andhria Mor for centuries was threatened with imminent oblivion as the DMRC began to drive its pillars close by. Here was an opportunity not to be missed, overnight a mosque sprung up around the pillar.

A sultanate period tomb was cannibalized and converted into a temple during early 1981. This did not take place in some remote corner of the city but on a very busy road -on Africa Avenue located in an open field between Mohammadpur Village and St. Thomas Church and now the dome is a full-fledged temple with its own gate and a high enclosing wall.

Opposite Qutub Minar, behind the newly sprung up Crescent Mall, in Lado Sarai, there is a largish structure, probably belonging to the Mughal period, it now houses a car garage.

A building known as Lal Mahal located within Basti Nizam-ud-Din is believed to be the former residence of Ibn-e-Batuta, who stayed here during 1330s when he was appointed Qazi of Delhi by Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq. That building, though damaged, stood its ground till a couple of years ago, it was supposed to be on either the state list or the MCD heritage list, no one knew which, meanwhile someone sold the building to people who began to demolish the structure to build a mosque instead. The new owner was eventually stopped when conservationists created a big campaign but by that time more than half the structure had been pulled down, meanwhile someone had made a lot of money by selling property that did not belong to him, but that is something that no longer troubles anyone’s conscience.

On a prominence inside a park opposite W block in Greater Kailash Part I there is a mediaeval dome.

The dome is sealed with crude steel doors with swastika marks soldered on each door and a large swastika and ‘OM’ stuck atop the dome, this combines with other additional detailing to make the structure look like a temple. A few kilometers away another mediaeval dome enclosed from all sides with a couple of air-conditioners fixed in its bricked up arches now houses the offices of the Defence Colony Welfare Association.

One could perhaps explain away the transgressions of those who live in Mohammadpur, Lado Sarai and Andheria more as acts committed by people who perhaps are unaware of the laws of the land or perhaps have no understanding of the value of heritage and its preservation. One could argue that this was an attempt to create a source of income and ensure survival. But how does one explain the conduct of the residents of GK I and Defence colony. They can surely afford not to encroach on heritage structures; they can surely afford to build their own temples or offices. These are people who set the parameters of civilized behavior for others, should they not take the lead in protecting the heritage of this city. It is their heritage as well.

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