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Amid encroachments and vandalism, 18th century Zafar Mahal in sorry state

Despite the monument being declared a national heritage site by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the 1920s, surrounding buildings are slowly eating up its space.

Written by Divya A | New Delhi |
April 24, 2016 5:08:11 am
The Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli, New Delhi. Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal New Delhi 020416 (For Divya's City story on Encroachment) The Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli, New Delhi. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Zafar Mahal, the 18th century monument located in the overcrowded Mehrauli village in south Delhi, was built as a summer place during the fading years of the Mughal era. Historians say Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, used to live here before he was exiled to Myanmar by the British. Now, encroachment in and around the monument is posing a serious threat to its very existence.

Despite the monument being declared a national heritage site by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the 1920s, surrounding buildings are slowly eating up its space.

The once lavish courtyard has shrunk to less than half its original size. A brick wall has come up in the open space, and some of its portions appear to have been vandalised.

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Amita Paliwal — assistant professor in the history department at Jesus & Mary College — who has been working on Zafar Mahal for the past three years – says, “In the past few years, I have visited this monument at least 14 to 15 times and each time I see its condition worsening. Besides the encroachment of modern buildings (defying the Ancient and Medieval Monuments Protection Act), I noticed materials missing from the monument. The guard appointed by the ASI finds himself incapable in stopping the drug addicts who frequent the place.”

When The Indian Express visited the monument a few days ago, the guard could not even be spotted. ASI officials admit that it has been difficult for them to preserve monuments, such as the Zafar Mahal, due to their location inside urbanised villages.

Daljit Singh, superintending archaeologist, ASI-Delhi Circle, says, “What has happened at Zafar Mahal is not technically encroachment because nothing has come up in the premises of the monument itself. However, considering the 100 metre prohibitory rule, it is illegal to carry out construction in the adjoining area. Our field officer had informed us about this.”

He added, “We have sent notices to individuals living in the vicinity, who are responsible for the act. A copy of the notices have been submitted to the ASI director-general, the Delhi Police and civic authorities concerned. If they don’t comply, we may contemplate action and even demolition of the towering structures, if need be.”

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has also listed this monument as a conservation area.

A few years ago, the ASI had proposed to set up a Mughal Museum in the palace with an aim to encourage visitors. This, however, has remained on paper. In fact, experts and historians say it would do greater service if the ASI could ensure removal of extensive encroachments in the precincts of the palace.

“Residents of the locality have been building additional floors over the years, some of which are on top of the monument’s surface. Zafar Mahal used to be a huge palace and what is now visible is just a fraction of its original size,” says Paliwal.

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