The much talked about restoration plan for the Qutb Shahi tombs seems to hang in balance. Hopes of the domed structures getting a new lease of life look remote, with the A.P. Wakf Tribunal staying the repair work. After years of dilly-dallying, the government signed an MoU on January 9 with the Agha Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), the world’s leading conservation body, for restoring the pristine glory of the royal necropolis.
But within days of the inking of the agreement in the presence of Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, the whole plan has come unstuck. The AKTC, which is investing Rs. 100 crore to restore the tomb complex, is shocked at the stay on the repair work. “We have never faced such a situation anywhere in the world,” said Ritesh Nanda of the AKTC.
When the structures are crumbling, staying the repair work is illogical, conservationists feel. The AKTC wants the State Government to take initiative to sort out the legal tangle at the earliest so that work could begin.
“We can’t wait for ever. We have other projects on hand,” an AKTC official said.
The petitioners feel that the project is against Wakf laws, and that it should have been the Wakf Board and not the Department of Archaeology which should have entered into the MoU, according to Jasvin Jairath, heritage activist.
The groundwork done by the AKTC during the last one year is tremendous. It has made 2,000 drawings, besides documenting and surveying every structure.
It has further listed out the present status/condition assessment of the 70 structures spread across 106 acres. Besides, it has put a team, comprising senior architects, conservation architects and engineers, in place and opened an administrative office in the city.Those who have seen the restoration of Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi will vouch for the professionalism of the AKTC.
It plans to bring the same passion and creative skills to restore the lost glory of the Qutb Shahi tombs. But given the legal hurdles, will it be able to work the magic here?
The Qutb Shahi tombs are the second heritage site taken up by the AKTC for restoration in India. Its Historic Cities Programme aims at conserving the best of Islamic architecture and traditions across the world. Royalty has an enduring appeal the world over. Aeons after they are dead and gone, members of the ‘Shahi Khandan’ continue to be a source of interest. That explains why people turn to this necropolis again and again. It is not so much the royals interred here but their final abodes that draw attention.
The ‘Seven Tombs’, as is known in Hyderabadi parlance, have suffered two centuries of criminal neglect. Yet they have the potential to be turned into a World Heritage Site. That is what the AKTC feels. Sure, for all their grandeur, complexity and unique architectural styles these 16th century structures still draw sighs of ecstasy.
A multi-disciplinary team of the AKTC that carried out a detailed study of the historic structures found them suffering from both material decay and structural defects.
The AKTC has worked out minute details to undo the damage wrought by the ravages of time on the domed structures. It intends to improve visitor experience and enhance the cultural significance of the tomb complex.
Wherever required the AKTC plans to carry out further documentation, including a high-definition survey using 3D laser scanning technology. All works are proposed to be carried out by master craftsmen using traditional tools, materials and building techniques.
“Every effort will be made to allow conservation efforts to lead to an enhanced understanding and cultural significance,” said the conservation plan submitted to the Department of Archaeology and Museums.Meanwhile, the department has sought legal opinion from the Advocate-General and is planning to file a civil writ petition against the Wakf Tribunal order.
“The Qutb Shahi Tombs are in the possession of the Department of Archaeology and Museums since 1953. The entire area belongs to the department, and no one has any claim on it - not even the Wakf Board,” said its director, G.V. Ramakrishna Rao. Heritage activists are keen to support the project at all costs. “The problem could be sorted out through discussions and dialogue,” said Ms. Jairath.