Lack of manpower, broken walls, railings and, in the absence of a toilet, many areas inside used for urinating and defecating.
It is a place where school students are taken for educational outings, where artistes’ performances are enhanced by the structure’s larger-than-life appeal. It is a place which has served as a muse for many painters and writers. More than anything, it is a place synonymous with the city of Pune.
Built in 1746, the Shaniwarwada Palace fort is one of the most iconic structures of the city and witnesses 500 to 600 visitors daily, and many more on weekends. While a glance at the fort may give a visitor the impression that everything is well in place, a closer look tells a completely different story.
According to the replies received under the Right to Information (RTI) Act from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Mumbai Circle, in the year 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, the department spent a total of Rs 54,96,031 on the upkeep of the fort. However, a visit to the fort suggests that there is much that’s crying out for attention at the venue. While Rs 18,45,955 was spent on conservation and restoration of fortification walls in 2008-2009, broken walls can be found at various parts of the fort. On many of the walls, the bricks are either broken or missing.
The fort has five gates, namely Khidki Darwaja (Window Gate), Dilli Darwaja (Delhi Gate), Mastani Darwaja (Mastani’s Gate) or Aliibahadur Darwaja, Ganesh Darwaja (Ganesh Gate) and Jambhul Darwaja or Narayan Darwaja (Narayan’s Gate). Shockingly, at two of the five gates — Ganesh Darwaja and Narayan Darwaja, that face south-east and south respectively — the courtyards on either sides are used for urinating and defecating. “We were not aware about this but if such activities are happening in the fort premises, we will look into them. The reason why it could be happening is that we do not have enough manpower to monitor such activities at the fort,” said one of the senior ASI officials from the Mumbai Circle.
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Giving a glimpse into the appalling state of the manpower requirement at the fort, the official added that for the entire Mumbai Circle, the number of posts sanctioned for monument attendants is 117. However, currently, there are just 56 attendants working; 61 people are yet to be recruited. “At Shaniwarwada Fort, officially there should be 10-12 people working but due to shortage, we are managing with just 5 to 6 people,” added the official. He cites another reason for such an activity — there is no toilet in the Shaniwarwada premises. “There is a toilet outside the fort built by the Pune Municipal Corporation but not many visitors are aware about it. When we had proposed a plan to build a toilet, there were objections from local political parties. Last year, we built a movable toilet for the fort, but we are yet to fix it because there is again debate among political parties about whether or not we should keep it at the fort,” said the official. Though the movable toilet is currently at the fort, it is not yet functional for the public.
According to city-based historian Ninad Bedekar, to save the sanctity of the fort, there is a need to reach a consensus on the toilet soon. “The ASI is earning revenue from the fort, so they should take on the onus of finding a solution. It’s very inconvenient for the visitor to go out of the fort to use the toilet,” says the historian.
In 2007-2008, ASI had spent Rs 16,50,776 on providing and fixing a wooden railing around the central fountain, Hazari Karanji (fountain with thousand jets). Although the wooden railings are well in place — barring their paint, which needs immediate attention — the water of the fountain not only smells of moss but is alsofilled with waste like plastic bottles and snacks packets, thrown away by the visitors. “Since the light and sound shows are conducted at night, it is not possible to keep an eye on the visitors and their activities,” explained the official.
“The light and sound show of the fort used to be the best in the country once upon a time and witnessed a huge turnout. Now, it’s the worst. There is absolutely no synchronisation, sometimes the light is not working and sometimes the sound stops in-between the show,” says Bedekar, adding, “Either ASI or MTDC should come forward to restore the original charm and effect of the show.”
In 2007-2008, ASI had incurred Rs 19,99,300 on water-tightening the ramparts of the fort. “It is done to stop the seepage from the walls,” said an official. Whether the amount spent is justified is something that must be judged by a visit to the fort during the rains.