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Crumbling heritage

One of the oldest documented Islamic palaces is being torn down right under the nose of the local authorities.

Written by Ruchika Talwar |
June 16, 2013 3:25:52 am

One of the oldest documented Islamic palaces is being torn down right under the nose of the local authorities. Lal Mahal,located less than 500 metres from the Nizamuddin police station,is a 13th century palace built by Ghiyasuddin Balban of the Mamluk dynasty,who ruled the Delhi Sultanate from 1266 to 1287. Traveller Ibn Battuta stayed here during his visit to the “Dehli” of yore.

Today,one meets with opposition from people who have been living in the building since 1947. But the fault isn’t entirely theirs. This building,considered an architectural marvel,houses the true dome,true arch and tehkhanas (cellars),but is not considered important enough by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

An official in ASI said that Lal Mahal is “not a building of national importance” despite its rich history,hence it doesn’t enjoy ASI protection. However,an ASI site plan from 1946 shows 0.31 acres earmarked to be acquired for Lal Mahal’s conservation,another 1973 site plan is further proof of ASI interest in the building in the past.

But all they have done is file a complaint. Vasant Kumar Swarnkar,superintending ASI archaeologist and head of Delhi region,said the complaint had been filed at Nizamuddin police station against alteration activity going on near three ASI monuments — Ghalib’s tomb,Barakhamba,Chausath Khamba. The complaint was filed on June 10 but the activity continues unabated.

Under the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act,no alteration can be made to any building without the civic agency’s approval. Ashok Kumar,South corporation deputy commissioner,has no clue about the issue. He said the agency would inspect the site on the next working day.

Fazl-bin-Akhlaq says Lal Mahal has been his home for generations. “No government agency has a problem with us. ASI,MCD,DDA,police — none has questioned what we are doing to Lal Mahal. I wonder why private agencies are after our lives,” he said,pointing to conservation bodies like INTACH and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

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