The issue of the demolition of the Nazarbaug palace in Mandvi racked up much controversy on Saturday as the Gaekwads continued to pull down the structure, refusing to accept the High Court stay order to maintain status quo at the site of the “deemed Grade I Heritage” building.
While representatives of Indian National Trust for Art and Cutural Heritage (INTACH), Gujarat State and Indian Institute of Architects Baroda and Gujarat (IIA) as well as officers of the VMC’s town planning department rushed to the site to stop the demolition, they were met with unyielding contractors deployed by “Gaekwad Real Estate Company” – a firm floated by Sangramsinh’s son Pratapsinh Gaekwad for real estate projects on his share of properties in Vadodara. Although VMC officials claimed they had conducted a “panchnama” of the property to ensure that demolition did not carry on, the apathy of the civic authority towards the heritage structure remained visible with no security deployed to comply with the court order.
Officials from the Town Development Department of the VMC said they had “pasted” the court notice on the walls of the palace because the contractor appointed by Gaekwads on duty “refused to accept the notice”. Officials and photographers of the civic body got into an argument with the staff of the Gaekwads as they conducted a panchnama of the palace in its present state.
Town Development Officer Alpesh Majumdar said, “The moment we received information of the demolition continuing, we sent our officers to the site with the orders but the party has refused to accept the notice. The contractor on the site says he cannot accept the order. So, we have stuck the order on the wall of the palace and conducted a panchnama of the place. However, I am not the authorized officer to decide whether we can call in the police to comply with this order of the HC.” Majumdar, however, added that the Municipal Commissioner was the competent authority to seek the assistance of the city police to ensure that the disobeying party complied with court orders.
Despite Friday’s stay order on the demolition of Nazarbaug, issued by the Gujarat High Court, the structure continued to be brought down on Saturday. INTACH members said that Pratapsinh’s Vadodara office at Indumati Mahal refused to accept the court orders served upon them. Sanjeev Joshi of INTACH, who rushed to Nazarbaug said, “The office of the Gaekwads at Indumati as well as their lawyer refused to take the orders of the HC that were to be hand delivered to expedite the case for the next hearing on Tuesday. So, we are now sending the orders by registered post as well to Pratapsinh. The structure has been brought down much more since yesterday in a clear violation of court orders. It is unfortunate that the Municipal Commissioner, who is supposed to ensure the implementation of the revised GDCR Rules of 2012 that protect heritage sites, has simply remained unresponsive even today while Nazarbaug is being brought down blatantly.”
The Second Revised General Development Contol Regulations of 2012, of the VMC, provide for a Heritage Conservation Committee to be appointed by Government, that will oversee the overall upkeep, preservation and development of “to-be notified” heritage buildings in Vadodara. However, as of date, the Committee has not been formed. Although Municipal Commissioner Manish Bharadwaj has mentioned that the plan to preserve heritage structures is “top priority”, the VMC has been caught napping in cases of most heritage properties that are lying in a state of neglect across the city. So far, most of the 17th and 18th century structures, built by the Gaekwad rulers of Vadodara that also bring the city its identity, are only “private properties” – while some house government offices.
On Saturday, neither did Pratapsinh revert to calls and text messages to explain his rebuttal of the HC stay, nor did Bharadwaj respond to messages sent by The Indian Express to clarify why the VMC had not sought any help from the police department on Saturday to comply with the court order inside Nazarbaug premises. A family aide of Pratapsinh, however, said, “We have another order in our favour and the palace will continue to be demolished. That is certain.”