The current facelift being carried out at Red Fort by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has raised concerns from the global monument conservation body, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which has said that a part of the work is being done in violation of international norms. The body has urged the ASI to “review the interventions” being carried out at the Red Fort.
A massive renovation exercise is currently on at the monument, which also includes, as per officials, a new red sandstone pathway being built over the existing quartzite stone pathway near the Chhatta Bazar and Naubat Khana buildings. Conservationists say this is being done in violation of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) of the Red Fort.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit the monument to inaugurate the Azad Hind Museum — dedicated to Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army — and hoist the Tricolour to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Azad Hind Government. The ASI is also planning three other museums in the complex as part of the makeover.
Gurmeet Rai, vice-president, ICOMOS, said, “We urge the government to review these interventions as they are in violation of the originality of the monument. The Red Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so best practices in site management plan need to be adopted.”
In May, a debate had ensued after Red Fort was “adopted” by Dalmia Group. Less than a month later, ASI earmarked Rs 50 crore for restoration of the monument, including building toilets, providing drinking water, signages, landscaping and horticulture, and illumination of the facade — all that the Dalmia Group, which is to spend Rs 25 crore in five years, had pitched in its vision document to the Ministry of Tourism under the ‘Adopt A Heritage’ scheme.
However, Rakesh Lal, Additional Director General, ASI, told The Indian Express, “Dalmia Group is not doing anything inside the complex. Whatever work is being done, it’s being done by ASI.” Lal added that he is not aware of the “exact nature of renovation being carried out inside the complex”. The ASI says it has involved NBCC and CPWD (Central Public Works Department) for the current round of the facelift.
In 2003, a PIL was filed in Supreme Court against “the manner in which the Red Fort was being restored by the ASI”. Following this, the SC had asked CPWD to stop renovation work, and CCMP was put in place instead. Experts fear the current round of renovations is a rerun of that event.
The CCMP submitted by the ASI in 2009 to the SC recommended the restoration of the architectural integrity of the complex, to be implemented in 10 years.
An archaeologist who has worked with the ASI but did not wish to be named, said: “What is happening at Red Fort is development, not conservation, and is being done with tourism (commercial) potential in mind… Changing the floor from quartzite to concrete and red sandstone may amount to altering the integrity, since when Shah Jahan built the Red Fort, the uneven quartzite floor was meant for horses and elephants to move on, while the red sandstone flooring may be too slippery for these animals.”
Conservationists have also said that no heavy equipment can be brought inside the campus of an ancient monument, as it can damage the structure. “A plinth of the Naubat Khana has been broken now. Does it not amount to defacement of the monument, which is a punishable offence?” the archaeologist said. Rai, who had prepared the Red Fort CCMP, said: “ASI’s own rules say it can’t dig below 30 cm and there is no way they can use mechanised ways for digging; it has to be done manually.”
Conservation architect AGK Menon, one of the petitioners, said: “I heard some barracks were being demolished… Since Red Fort is a monument of immense significance, the government owes it to the public to disseminate information about what exactly is being done there.”