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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

ASI heritage sites: Week after govt announcement, many monuments remain shut

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Monday reopened more than 2,000 heritage sites, but the Taj Mahal and other monuments in Agra remained out of bounds.

Written by Divya A | New Delhi | Published: July 9, 2020 2:22:42 am
People in a Srinagar garden on Wednesday, a day after the Jammu and Kashmir administration ordered the reopening of all gardens and parks as part of a gradual unlocking process in the Union Territory. (Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

A week after the government announced the reopening of all centrally protected monuments and sites from July 6, some of the country’s most popular heritage spots, including the Taj Mahal in Agra, continue to remain shut due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Monday reopened more than 2,000 heritage sites, but the Taj Mahal and other monuments in Agra remained out of bounds. In a signed order, Agra District Magistrate Prabhu N Singh declared all monuments in the city, including the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Akbar’s Tomb and Itmad-ud-Daula Tomb, as “buffer zones” after 55 new cases were reported in the city over a period of four days. Any access to the heritage sites could lead to further spread of the infection, the order stated.

Although neither the district administration nor the ASI put any date on the reopening of the Taj Mahal, sources told The Indian Express that the monument is unlikely to reopen before the end of July.

ASI officials in Maharashtra said that all the monuments in the state will continue to remain closed till the end of the month, or till further orders. Officials from the ASI’s Mumbai, Aurangabad and Nagpur circles — which handle monuments such as the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Raigad Fort and the Elephanta Caves — confirmed that as per state orders, the monuments have not been reopened.

Meanwhile, the Charminar and the Golconda Fort, two of Hyderabad’s most famous monuments, were opened for visitors by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Monday morning, only to be shut later in the day after the Telangana government opposed their reopening.

An ASI official from the Hyderabad Circle said that a few people had booked their tickets online and were allowed in but the sale of tickets had to be stopped after the local administration expressed apprehensions that it could lead to violation of social distancing norms.

Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel, while announcing the reopening of monuments last week, had assured that it will be done “in compliance of the state and district administration”. Around one-third of the top revenue generating and popular monuments are located in the five states that are worst affected by the pandemic — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh.

Even in the case of monuments that have reopened, only a handful of people visited them. According to officials, only 60 people bought tickets to visit the Qutub Minar on Tuesday, while Jodhpur’s Chittorgarh Fort and Kumbhalgarh Fort recorded a footfall of a mere 150 each. Bhopal’s Gwalior Fort, Bellary Fort in Hampi and the Mattancherry Palace Museum in Thrissur also registered few visitors.

Officials, however, admitted that the low footfall was expected and they are anticipating things to get better in the months to come.

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