The Rajasthan High Court has ordered closure of all commercial activities in the historic Amber Fort near here while holding that the Amber Development and Management Authority–appointed by former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje–was not entitled to undertake renovation and restoration work at the protected monument.
A Division Bench of the Court also cancelled all memoranda of understanding signed by the Authority with the private entrepreneurs allowing them to run commercial activities including a luxury restaurant and a coffee shop on lease on the fort premises.
The Bench, comprising Chief Justice Jagdish Bhalla and Justice M.N. Bhandari, pronounced the judgment on Tuesday on a public interest litigation initiated suo motu by the Court when a part of the protected fort gave way due to overcrowding during the shooting of Hindi film “Veer” in February this year.
The Amber Development Authority was mired in controversies ever since its inception during the previous BJP regime with Ms. Raje as its founder and former Tourism Minister Usha Punia, IPL chief Lalit Modi’s wife Meenal Modi and several senior officers including the Chief Secretary as its members.
Upholding the contentions of amicus curiae and High Court lawyer Abhinav Sharma, the Court said the Authority, appointed under the Societies Registration Act, was neither entitled under the Rajasthan Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Antiquities Rules, 1968, to take up the renovation work nor authorised to sign MoUs with other parties.
“A bare perusal of the statutory provisions shows that an advisory board can be created for the matters pertaining to a protected monument of tourism importance, but not a society,” ruled the Court. It also said that any activity inside the Amber fort and palace could be allowed only by the Director of Archaeology Department.
The Bench declared all the MoUs signed by the Amber Development Authority to be in violation of the provisions of law, while observing that it was beyond the Authority’s competence to enter into an agreement with anyone for permitting commercial activities in the fort.
The Court expressed surprise over a reply filed by Advocate General G.S. Bapna – after the Congress was elected to power in the State – stating that the Authority was rightly constituted and was a Government body and observed in the judgment: “It is not made clear as to how the Government can issue an order contrary to the statutory provisions of law.”
However, the judgment allowed the Director and Superintendent of Archaeology Department to grant licences for tourism-related works in the fort and directed that any renovation work would be conducted in the light of a report filed by an expert committee appointed by the Court in the matter.
The State Government has been asked to file its compliance report in two months’ time.