Visitors to Red Fort - the newest entrant on the list of World Heritage Sites in Delhi - are witness to police barricades, corrugated metal sheets, garbage, which mar the beauty of the magnificent monument

There are over 1200 listed monuments in Delhi. The figure was more than 1300 when Maulvi Zafar Hasan compiled the first comprehensive list for the Archaeological Survey of India in 1920. More than a 100 structures have disappeared in less than 100 years, and if newspaper articles on CAG’s report on the working of ASI are to be believed, the latter is unable to explain how 180 odd monuments that it has been given responsibility to protect have disappeared into thin air.

Delhi has been a capital for centuries and has seen the rise and fall of seven major cities and yet we only have three world heritage sites – the Qutub, the tomb of Humayun and Red Fort. If you wonder why don’t we have more, go and visit the three sites and you will perhaps get an idea.

Take Red Fort as an illustration of how not to manage a historic site. Red Fort is the newest entrant on the list of world heritage sites in Delhi; it is perhaps the most visited historic monument in India after the Taj Mahal and attracts practically thousands of visitors every day, on Sundays and other public holidays the number multiplies many folds.

Take a walk around and you will see how inadequately staffed and planned are the facilities provided. The large ticket counter has only two or at best three ticket windows, one of these is for foreign visitors. The queues that form run into hundreds in the afternoon and there is no shade, so people sweat it out in the sweltering heat that is Delhi for eight months a year. Aside from the tickets for entry into the fort, there are separate tickets for the museums located within the fort premises. Those manning the window rarely tell you that these tickets are needed if you want to visit the museums. Hundreds are turned back by the gate keepers of the museums when they turn up there without these tickets. The only saving grace is for the foreign visitors; their tickets are valid for the museums as well.

Why can’t we set up ticket vending machines or create a facility for on-line purchase of tickets escapes me. If these systems can’t be put in place, why can’t we have more ticket windows and why can’t we have extra staff working on days when there are more visitors.

There are no facilities for drinking water near the ticket counter and in the row of five taps inside the Meena Bazaar, two of them are non-working, so scores of people go around hawking all kinds of bottled water. There is no canteen either inside or outside and the thousands who spend at least a couple of hours including the wait for buying the entry tickets, either bring eatables from home or buy them from the scores of stalls crowding the barricaded passage that leads to the ticket counter and the main entry of the fort. Leftovers, empty plastic bags, water bottles and used tickets thrown by those on the way out from the fort litters the entire place and by the afternoon it begins to resemble a large trash-can. The sight at sunrise, the official opening time, after a public holiday is to be seen to be believed because the cleaning staff only reports for duty after 9 am.

For the thousands that visit the site, there is only one block of pay toilets. It is clearly inadequate and the fact that you have to pay to use it ensures that a large number is kept out.

So from the hideous and intimidating police barricades, the poles and corrugated metal sheets brought in for the Independence Day programme held more than a fortnight ago, to the non-functioning water closets installed near the police barricades at the time of the Common Wealth Games to the crowds milling about at ticket windows and the absence of facilities like water, a tea shop, a restaurant and adequate toilet and trash disposal facilities, the entire operation is designed to discourage visitors.

Is it any wonder then that no one is seriously working towards acquiring World Heritage Site status for the scores of other monuments that should be on that list from Delhi.


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