Who cares for heritage? Neither state govt, nor locals

Agra, Nov 16 (IANS)
Though the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has announced a series of activities including free entry to the Taj Mahal on November 19 to celebrate the World Heritage Week, the locals display no particular love or a sense of pride in their city’s heritage.
Rather many feel that due to the heritage monuments, Agra’s industrial development has suffered a blow, resulting in high unemployment rate and impoverishment.
As a fallout of the PIL by eco lawyer M.C. Mehta, industries in the Taj Trapezium Zone, spread over 10,400 sq kms, were forced to down shutters or switch over to natural gas.
“Right now there is a total ban on opening new units and expansion of existing ones. A number of restrictions stunt the growth of industries in Agra, Mathura and Firozabad,” said Rajiv Gupta, former president of National Chamber of Industries and Commerce.
Within the city, there are stringent restrictions on new constructions in the vicinity of ASI protected monuments. Though the Agra Development Authority has submitted a heritage vision document in the Supreme Court, three years ago, there has been no action or follow-up. As a consequence, town planners remain confused whether to develop Agra as a Smart city or a Heritage city.
The vision document was prepared by Delhi’s School of Architecture and Town Planning, after Mehta raised a number of issues and highlighted shortcomings before the bench.
Meanwhile, the Green activists, and conservationists have demanded Heritage city status for Agra in Uttar Pradesh, even as efforts are on to transform it into a Smart city.
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.
It is strange that though Agra abounds in monuments that draw millions of tourists round the year, the city folks remain apathetic and unconcerned about their precious heritage. The Yogi Adityanath government in the state has not taken any concrete steps to make Agra a tourist-friendly city. The emotional disconnect is hampering the growth of the tourism sector, many feel.
For decades, the demand for the Heritage city status has been hanging fire, but the state government has been indifferent and is seen dragging its feet in acting on this long pending demand.
Heritage conservationists of the city say “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.”
The Heritage Week celebrations, they say is a good time to focus on this demand. “So far, the state government is seen meting out a step motherly treatment to Agra, refusing to act on its promises including starting a ferry service in Yamuna which unfortunately has been reduced to a sewage canal. The demand for International air connectivity and flights to major Indian cities, has been shelved to benefit interest lobbies in Delhi,” says conservationist Devashish Bhattacharya.
World Heritage Week is celebrated all over the world every year from November 19-25.

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