Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bhopal's historic Shaukat Mahal facade brought down: Destruction of heritage due to apathy of government, civic authorities

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Shaukat Mahal palace, a unique example of Indo-French structure, built during the reign of Nawab Qudsia Begam nearly 180 years ago, was in the need for restoration and it was repeatedly brought to the notice of authorities.

Yet, there was no attempt to save and strengthen the heritage building and when a crack developed on the facade of the structure this week, the civic authorities instantly went and demolished the portion--crown and two storeys on the front.

This shameless display of apathy towards heritage is common place in the country, despite growing awareness about need to conserve the past and save the heritage structures.

Bhopal--City of Lakes, Palaces, Monuments, Mosques

Bhopal is among the few cities that have have such abundance of heritage structures--palaces, historic structures and gates.Take for example, the royal complex near Moti Masjid, you will be overwhelmed by the grandeur of imposing buildings of the era when Bhopal was a princely state.

On one hand, you have Gauhar Mahal, the beautiful Baab-e-Sikandari gates, while adjacent to it is Moti Mahal. Further, the Shaukat Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Sadar Manzil and Humayun Manzil, along with the Moti Masjid and Minar-e-Iqbal, turn the place majestic.

But successive governments and civic authorities have turned a blind eye to the restoration of these structures.

The city of lakes has so much for tourists, yet, authorities have failed to even project it as a tourist destination.

In fact, despite monuments, lakes, museums, mosques and dozens of tourist attractions, government has totally failed to harness the potential.

Demolition easier than restoration!

Worse, the structures are crumbling and there is no attempt to save them--either on one pretext or the other.

If one structure can't be protected because it is either Waqf property, or it can't be saved because it is not under a particular department's jurisdiction.

There are so many bahaanaas, the pretexts--for yet another monument there is 'lack of budget' or a particular monument is 'private property'.

The truth is harsh. Successive chief ministers and civic administrators have no vision and as a result the monuments are being destroyed.

Citizens do share a part of blame. But this is also a fact that people came on the streets to save structures in the past, which government wanted to demolish.

Especially, in the case of Jumerati Gate and Old post Office. Majority of officials and ministers have little interest in saving heritage.

Hence, handful of activists and protesters' voice or demonstrations are just not enough to shake the babus.

The heritage is being ravaged by careless civic officers, land grabbers and the illegal encroachers.

What can be more tragic than the fact that we are all witness to this shameless destruction of heritage.

[Photos courtesy, news link as well: Dainik Bhaskar]
[Shaukat Mahal was built during the reign of Nawab Qudsia Begam, as wedding gift for her daughter Nawab Sikandar Jahan Begam]