While information received by The Indian Express under the Right to Information Act says that the Archaeological Survey of India, Mumbai Circle, has spent nearly 3 crore 58 lakhs on restoration and development of Shivneri Fort since 2004, a visit to the fort suggests that not enough has been done to maintain the glory of this 17th century historical structure located in Junnar, 95 kms from Pune.
Though the department spent around Rs 27,35,000 in the year 2004-2005 on “improvement of structure and fort walls from the junction of Hathi Darwaja towards Shivai Temple and Caves”, so far, the walls and the fort structure remain broken on many stretches.
“It is a huge fort and we carry out work in patches. Besides, it’s not an easy task to carry the construction material to the spot. A part of the stretch in the area was repaired in the sanctioned budget,” said an ASI official from Mumbai circle.
The construction, restoration and development work, he said, is still on at many parts of the fort. “We plan to finish it in a year’s time,” he said.
Shivneri Fort, the birthplace of the founder of Maratha Empire, Chhatrapati Shivaji, is abuzz with visitors not just on weekends but also weekdays. Situated at a height of around 1,500 ft above sea level, the fort was included in the protected monuments list in the year 1909. The high footfall – between 200-250 daily — also make the fort vulnerable to vandalism. For example, all the walls of the structure on the left side of the birthplace of Shivaji are filled with graffiti by visitors. “It is a great challenge in front of us. Wherever there is an ASI person available at the fort, he keeps an eye on such activities but it is not possible to appoint a person at each and every spot of the fort. Unfortunately, graffitiing is something that happens at all the historical monuments; the general public should realise the importance of our ancient structures and refrain from such practices. Once the graffiti is done, it is extremely difficult to remove it; we need manpower as well as chemicals for removal,” added the ASI official.
The apathy shown by visitors is also visible at other parts of the structure. The fort houses several large water tanks, such as Kamani Tank, Ganga Jamuna Tank and Badami Tank. Except Badami Tank, which had no water during our visit, the other two were covered not only with multiple layers of moss but also various plastic waste material such as water bottles, carry bags and wrappers of snacks. “The cleanliness and maintenance of these tanks is on our priority list; as soon as the budget is sanctioned, we will begin our work,” said the ASI official. Also, a number of empty liquor bottles were found inside the caves near Hathi Darwaja during our visit.
Amberkhana too is currently in a dilapidated state. “We plan to begin the construction and restoration work of the stable in 2015-2016; we are also expecting funds from the state government,” said the official.
The toilet block constructed by ASI in 2006-2007 with a budget of Rs 10,21,693, is situated right atop the hill – which means that any visitor who wants to use the toilet will have to climb the entire stretch. While there is another toilet block situated near Shivai Temple, its unclean condition makes it unusable by visitors. The workers present at the spot said that the toilet is not cleaned due to shortage of water. “We are aware that the toilet near Shivai Temple is unclean. But it was built by the forest department before the fort came under ASI. We have asked the department to break the structure,” stated the ASI official.
According to city-based historian Pandurang Balkawade, saving historical structures such as Shivneri Fort is also the responsibility of the public, not just that of the authorities. He also suggested that ASI should introduce strict rules to penalise offenders who either scribble graffiti or throw waste material at the sites. “At Raigad Fort, a few of the representatives from Shri Shivaji Raigad Smarak Mandal are present at the entrance. Anyone who is carrying a water bottle is asked to deposit Rs 25 before entering the fort. The person can collect the sum on his way back,” he said.
The mandal had introduced this practice about two years ago, and has been receiving a positive response to it. “Out of every 100 visitors, about 95 people tend to collect their deposit. The labourers working at the fort have been given instructions wherein if they find any water bottle left on the fort, they can give it to our representatives. On each bottle, we reward them with Rs 5,” says Balkawade.