Heritage week gone, but Agra remains indifferent to its precious cultural wealth

Agra, Nov 29 (IANS): For a whole week, the monumental heritage pieces that draw millions of tourists around the year from all over the world were in focus but the local population of Agra remained largely indifferent to the city's precious cultural wealth.

Though the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) organised a series of programmes to sensitise people and create a better understanding of the importance of heritage, the locals stayed away, struggling against air and water pollution, traffic jams and poor civic amenities.

People in Agra lack interest in their rich heritage. Rather they look at these grand Mughal monuments as major impediments to development as all kinds of restrictions have been imposed on economic activities, explained Rajiv Gupta, president of Lok Swar.

"The state and the union governments are also to be blamed. So far there is no clarity over whether Agra has to be recognised as a heritage city or a Smart city," says environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya.

"Three decades after the Supreme Court intervened to save the Taj Mahal from environmental pollution, through a series of directions and a package of restrictions, the government agencies have miserably failed to arrest the high pollution level in the eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone. The Yamuna, the lifeline of the Braj Mandal, has been reduced to a sickly stream carrying toxic pollutants from Delhi and upstream industrial clusters. The air pollution level remains alarmingly high," Bhattacharya adds.

Local green activists and conservationists have long been demanding Heritage City status for Agra, but for some unexplained reasons, the Yogi government has demonstrated its bias against Agra, preferring the neighbouring district of Mathura, for showering its generosity.

The Supreme Court which took up the Heritage City status issue in 2007 and later demanded a Vision document for Agra in 2018, has virtually forgotten its own initiatives, as the city continues to languish in the backwaters, says social activist Padmini Iyer.

"The High Court bench, the international airport, the Yamuna barrage, the IT Park and the Leather Park, the international Mughal Museum, the International Potato Research centre, and a few other issues are all hanging fire," Iyer adds.

With three world heritage monuments, the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, two under consideration, Sikandra and Itmad-ud-daula, and dozens of other historical structures, Agra is "highly qualified" to be designated as a heritage city, say conservationists.

Sikandra is the mausoleum of Akbar. It has a perfect blending of Hindu, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, and Jain themes.

Itmad-ud-daula, the first tomb to be built in white marble, marks the departure from the red sandstone buildings of Mughal architecture, according to the official website of Agra city.

Another unique addition to Agra's rich cultural heritage is Soami Bagh, which opened three years ago after 114 years of construction work. Many consider Soami Bagh, the samadhi of the founder of the Radhasoami faith, as an architectural rival to the Taj Mahal because of its intricate inlay work and carvings. The samadhi, with gothic-style pillars flanking the sides, harmoniously synthesises several architectural styles. The 193-foot-tall structure of white marble rests on a foundation of 52 wells, while the gold-plated pinnacle (Kalash) weighs 5.5 tons.

"Agra deserves the heritage city tag, to protect its identity. The haphazard urban growth is a huge threat to historical monuments. Encroachment around monuments and mushroom growth of colonies should be discouraged," said Gopal Singh and Mukul Pandya of the Agra Heritage Group.

Though the tourism industry in Agra is the direct beneficiary of Heritage preservation, the captains of the hospitality sector have done nothing concrete to make tourism everybody's business or to get the locals involved in the promotion of cultural tourism, laments Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society secretary Sonal M Singh.



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