‘Indifferent government, people to blame’
Srinagar: Srinagar has been the seat of power for many dynasties in the past including Mughals. The historic monuments of the city stand testimony to its past glory, but their present condition also convey the apathy of the modern day governments and people alike. Kalai- strong wall– in the foothills of Koh-e-Maran is a case in point.
According to historic accounts, Kalai was built by Mughal Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar during 16th century.
“After taking over Kashmir, Akbar started construction of the wall around the then city Naagar Nagar in the heels of Koh-e-Maran. Although it was not completed there and then but his son Noor-Ud-Din Jahangir completed it later,” says noted poet and social activist, Zareef Ahmad Zareef.
“Kalai is the identification of an empire and defines the rich past that people have forgotten to care for.”
A study has revealed that of the 4.75 Kilometre long Kalai, an estimated 800 meters are missing while some 700 meters are badly damaged. The structure is in disarray despite the fact that it was declared a ‘protected monument’ in 2010.
“Unfortunately, this heritage site was ignored and no attention was paid towards its preservation for around 22 years. Some of its portion was dismantled by people,” the poet says.
As per the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) norms, 100 meters of area around a monument has to be kept free of any structure. The Union Government is planning to double the radius of the restricted area. But for Srinagar, encroachments are so close to the Kalai that people residing “illegally” enjoy with their backs resting on the Mughal Wall.
Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has also come up with a survey of the Kalai. The organization terms the condition of Mughal Wall as “deplorable”.
The rampart, which was believed to be 28 feet high and 13 feet wide, stands exposed to encroachers and stone excavators. The authorities have not only failed to remove the encroachments but many new constructions have been allowed around Kalai.
“Even the graveyard has not been spared. While the number of illegal encroachments continues to go up, authorities act as mute spectators. People illegally resort to construction of houses around Kalai, thus ensuring its slow but steady deterioration,” says a local resident, M Ashraf.
The local residents say that over the years, particularly since 1970s when the then government rehabilitated a particular community near Kalai, residential dwellings popped up close to the rampart.
Scores of houses and other structures have come up in the proximity of the Kalai so much so that the Mughal rampart is serving as the forth wall of many hutments, they revealed.
“It was Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah himself who rehabilitated us, otherwise we had nowhere to go,” says a local resident, Muhammad Akbar Sheikh.
“Nobody paid attention towards the Kalai. Since we had no option, and compelled by the circumstances, we started building our sheds around it,” says another resident, Ghulam Nabi.
“Kalai (Faseel-e-Akbari) took 23 years to get completed, between 1597 and 1620,” says Zareef.
Mughal Wall has three gates – Kathi Darwaza, Sangeen Darwaza and Bachi Darwaza. Kathi Darwaza seems to have been the principal entrance with inscriptions – lore has it – so as to welcome the emperor.
Although the major portion has been encroached upon, the stretch between these three main gates of the historic wall is worst hit. Besides the two sides of the mighty wall, its top too has also been encroached.
It is seen that over 700 meters of the rampart have developed massive cracks. And experts fear that if immediate restoration measures are not taken, the portion would collapse.
“The major issue of the Kalai is its damaged part. Due to the negligence of authorities, non-maintenance and lack of care the wall has suffered extensive damage. It is quite tragic that encroachments were allowed to deface the historic wall,” says convenor INTACH, Muhammad Saleem Beg.
“We at INTACH are trying to restore the parts which are clear of encroachments. We can restore some of its damaged parts and portions which are substantially restorable but government now too needs to wake up for the restoration of Kalai,” he says.
Eminent historian Prof Fida Hasnain says blaming government for everything is unfair as people are as much responsible for the preservation of the historic sites.
“People are not aware of the importance of this heritage. It is the prima-facie duty of every person to maintain the glory of the heritage sites. We cannot directly blame the government for everything,” he says.
Although state’s tourism department has come up with a plan on the development of Naagar Nagar, the area within the neglected historic wall, experts believe that conservation work cannot be started unless the encroachments are removed.
However, restoration work is in progress at various spots which have not been encroached so far.
“Preservation of Kalai should be everyone’s concern, both at individual level as well as at collective level,” says Zareef.