Uttar Pradesh monuments cry for attention: ‘Heritage spaces in Lucknow not being maintained properly’

Heritage enthusiasts say authorities in both the Centre and U.P. have failed to take concrete steps to remove encroachments. A view of Rumi Darwaza in Lucknow.
| Photo Credit: SANDEEP SAXENA

Syed Mohammad Haider Rizvi, 50, believes heritage sites are a collective legacy. A lawyer and heritage enthusiast, Mr. Rizvi was momentarily jubilant when the Lucknow Bench of the Uttar Pradesh High Court on February 7 once again directed authorities to convene a meeting of the committee constituted in 2013 by the High Court, to identify and take action against encroachments in monuments in Lucknow.

“The Court had asked the authorities to remove encroachments from centrally protected heritage sites, but the administration did little,” said Mr. Rizvi. The committee has met only 13 times over the past decade.

Protected by law

Up to 60 protected monuments in Lucknow have been declared to be of national importance under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Mr. Rizvi said that most of these structures, built during the Nawab era (17th to 19th centuries), have been encroached upon in the last few decades.

Authorities, both at the Centre and in the State, had failed to take any concrete step to remove intrusions, he alleged. “Despite numerous petitions and public interest litigations (PILs), encroachment still exists at Chattar Manzil, the Kazmain buildings, Rumi Darwaza, Bada Imambara, Chota Imambara, among other heritage sites,” said Mr. Rizvi.

However, ASI’s Superintending Archaeologist in Lucknow, Aftab Hussain, said: “We issue notice to encroachers and approach the local administration for taking legal action wherever information of encroachment is found correct. We have issued notices to more than 1,100 people in Lucknow alone, and many encroachments have been removed.”

On the ground

The ground reality is different. Lucknow’s iconic Bada Imambara, constructed in the late 18th century, has people living within the complex. Declared a protected monument by the ASI in 1920, it also houses a large Asfi mosque and a bhul-bhulaiya (labyrinth). It was built during a devastating famine by Awadh Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, who aimed at providing employment to people reeling under poverty and hunger at the time.

The Ministry of Culture did a recent assessment of the Kazmain buildings, built mirroring a similar structure in Iraq, considered sacred to Shia Muslims. “The monument shows signs of rising dampness in the external façade on all sides along the plinth level,” reads the report published in October 2023. It goes to on to note “structural cracks at the lintel level”, “water seepage…at the ceiling which further led to deterioration of wooden roof structural members”, and “missing copper panels [from the dome]”.

The kothi (large house) at Bibyapur on the banks of the Gomti river, now in disarray, was built by Asaf-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh, in the late 18th century. Designed in the neo-classical style by Antoine Polier, who was intermittently a part of the British and Nawab’s army, the residence was used as a country retreat for the Nawab.

So far, U.P.’s heritage zones are governed by rules monitored by the local development authorities. “In Lucknow, three heritage zones have been defined by the Lucknow Development Authority: Husainabad Zone, Kaisarbagh Zone, and Lamartiniere Zone,” said Indu Prakash, a trained archaeologist who worked with the ASI for more than 35 years.

Mr. Rizvi and other heritage enthusiasts feel rules are not enough. “Heritage by-laws are needed. These will act as a catalyst in preserving these monuments,” he says. “They will include provisions like no construction up to a distance of 50-100 metres, and other relevant provisions for individual monuments after assessment of each building.” He added that dozens more heritage sites in U.P., like the clock tower, deserve to come under centrally protected monuments.

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