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September 2012
 
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The bells chime alongside

Known as the Sangam City, Allahabad is also home to some richly ornate and historically significant churches

Rarely will you find Allahabad quoted on the same lines as Canterbury. The two cities are divided by more than just 7,200 kilometres of land, sea and civilization, if not history. Their most apparent link today, however, could be their equation as pilgrimage sites for Hindus and Christians respectively.

But as one ambles in through the lush gardens of the All Saints Cathedral in central Allahabad, the likeness with Canterbury starts to show, one door at a time.

The Patthar Girja (Church of stones) as the All Saints Cathedral is popular here, is the most distinct figure of colonial architecture in the city. Its 240 feet by 56 feet Anglo-Gothic stone mass, with a 130 feet by 40 feet nave, resembles most the east end of Canterbury Cathedral in England which is the site of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the symbolic leader of the global Anglican Communion.

The Canterbury cathedral was founded in 597 A.D. but was completely rebuilt in 1070-77 A.D. Following a fire in 1174 A.D., its east end was enlarged and rebuilt in the present Gothic style.

That style was used elaborately by eminent architect Sir William Emerson, famous for designing the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, when he crafted the Patthar Girja in 1871. The stained-glass murals, resembling those in Fatehpur Sikri, and intricate designs on the marble altar have retained their originality even today. The Bishop's throne is engraved in the style of the Lahore School of Art.

The Girja is also known for housing plaques, which depict the deaths of British nationals during the colonial era. A passionate author has gone as far as comparing it to a peaceful coasting ship.

However, the Patthar Girja is not an aberration to the Hindu heritage of Sangam City. Besides the first church which was built inside the Allahabad Fort, the city has at least 14 other churches that pay tribute to colonial, neo-colonial, Indian, Roman, Greek and modern architectural designs.

The oldest one, built around 1840, the Holy Trinity Church is another sample of Gothic sculpture. It stands on eight pillars, each measuring 125 feet by 70 feet. For the scholar, the church has much historical value as it stores memorials from the Gwalior campaign (1843) and the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. But for the common eye, its brick and stone structure can be as thought provoking.

A similar gothic style is noticeable in the half moon bordered clock tower of St. Joseph's Church (1884). Its red brick and stone structure also showcases Roman influence.

The Medhodist Church, or Lal Girja due to its distinct red brick figure, presents a contrasting style. With stone pillars and a tinned roof structured on the Indo-Roman style, it can be easily identified in any collage. The oval window on its east wall is so finely placed that it allows the first rays of the sun to fall directly on the prayer spot. Its tiles are similar to the ones in St. John’s Church, and are unique in a sense that they present a curious blend of gothic and colonial art.

The Indo-Roman style is also used in St. Patrick’s Church, which is the only one here whose hall is built in a north-south direction; its entry is from the south. Most other churches are built in the east-west direction.

Stone carvings in Urdu and Hindi fonts welcome you to St. Paul's Church. Its eight pillars appear attentive like a formation of erect bananas. Constructed in 1856, it served as a school till 1881, when it was granted the status of a church by England. It has a high roof of finely laid stone slabs, with a tin shed and wooden pillars under an iron net. On the east end of the hall, a bell made of German silver hangs from the roof.

The Pentecostal Church, however, welcomes you differently. A wooden portico, whose upper half is hidden, strikes you at the entrance. If you stare long enough, you could even estimate its original shape. This church, built of stone and red bricks in 1840, was the first to be built on rented property. But today, the compound is scattered with encroached homes, leaving behind only a legacy of architectural finesse.

Nevertheless, such diverse architecture can definitely not go unnoticed. The Allahabad Museum, one of the four national museums in the country, has taken note and during Christmas last year, it hosted a 12-day photo exhibition on the ‘Churches of Allahabad’.

“It was to highlight the architectural vividness of the structures. And also to draw the audience’s attention to the intricate designs and architectural beauty within the city,” says Rajesh Purohit, the Director of Allahabad Museum.
 

1 September 2012, Hindu

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Stop preying on our heritage

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) received a letter from the Jamiat-ul Ulama-e-Hind. The letter wanted 31 protected mosques to be opened for prayers. “Although the commission was not very keen that heritage monuments should be opened for prayers, it decided to suggest a joint survey for ascertaining the condition of these mosques.” Officials from the NCM, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Wakf Board will carry out the joint inspection according to the suggestion made by the commission in its letter sent to the Ministry of Culture towards the end of July.

This reference made by the NCM needs to be looked at a little carefully, because the issue is not likely to remain restricted to these 31 mosques nor will it remain confined to Delhi. The reference impinges on questions of law and will eventually inform our attitude to the wider question of heritage protection.

In 1958, Parliament enacted The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 in order to protect and preserve monuments, archaeological sites and remains that had historical or architectural value and were more than a 100 years old.

Among the provisions of the Act, it was stated that any place of worship which was considered worthy of protection but was being used for worship/prayers at the time of enactment of the law would continue to be so used. But if a place of worship, considered fit for protection, which was not being used for prayers/worship when the act came into force, will be taken over and preserved as a protected monument.

The implication of this understanding was that such monuments will not subsequently be used for worship but would be preserved as national heritage.

It is under this law that the temples of Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) Khajuraho and Konark, the caves at Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta, the Stupa at Sanchi and hundreds of other structures and sites have been taken over and preserved as historical monuments where no worship is permitted.

The mosque built by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak — the first mosque built in Delhi — falls under the same category as do all the 31 mosques including the Jamali Kamali mosque, the Sher Shahi mosque at Old Fort, the Mohammadi mosque near Siri Fort, the Neeli mosque near Hauz Khas Market, the Begumpur mosque near Vijay Mandal Enclave, the Khirkee mosque at Khirki Village, the Khair-ul-Manazil mosque near the Sher Shah Gate, the mosque at the Mausoleum of Isa Khan and the Afsarwala mosque, etc.

Implications
The question of law that is involved is rather basic — can the 1958 Act of protection of monuments be relaxed in the case of mosques? Will it not open up the floodgates for similar relaxations for a whole lot of other protected monuments? Having once made an exception in the case of one community, can the state afford to refuse it to others?

And what would happen in cases where there is a dispute with two or more communities claiming the right to pray at the same site.

The only solution to this issue is to follow the law uniformly for all and not to make any exception. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, the strange creatures that crawl out will be impossible to put back.

There is another dimension that you need to consider. What would happen to these monuments if they were ever to be handed over to those who are currently wanting to use them as places of worship or to those who might raise similar demands for other protected monuments in the future?

There are enough examples to demonstrate the excesses that would be visited upon these protected monuments once they were opened for prayer/worship. Look at the 14th century Kalan Masjid in the Turkman Gate area. Considered to be one of the most remarkable mosques to be built in Delhi, it has been painted and repainted so many times that it now looks more like a multi layered cake than a mosque. Go and see the arches of the Jama Masjid at Firozshah Kotla that have been painted a horrible shade of green. The arches at the Nizam-ud-Din Jama Masjid have met a fate which is not less heartbreaking — aluminium frames and glass panes have been fixed into the arches of this 14th century mosque.

Do not for a moment think that this strange rush to renovate and recast structures, to an extent that they become unrecognisable from what they were, is confined to the buildings mentioned. Far from it.

Go and see what has been done to Kalkaji Mandir and the temple of Yog Maya and you will see what I am talking about.

Our heritage is too precious to be handed over to those who claim to speak for entire faiths and entire communities. The protection of our heritage is a secular act and should be left under the care of secular institutions created for this purpose.
 

1 September 2012, Hindu

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Humayun’s Tomb back in form

Newly Restored Central Chamber To Be Thrown Open Today

New Delhi: Almost a century-old publication of the Archaeological Survey of India describes the wall and dome of the central dome chamber of the 17th-centuryHumayun’s Tomb covered with striking gilding and tile work. Later on, seepage inside this main dome would prompt ASI to apply cement and whitewash on the tile work. The historic chamber is now being carefully restored in a unique conservation project at the Mughal monument, which will be opened for the public on Saturday after being closed for two months.

In partnership with ASI and with co-funding from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has been carrying out a major conservation project at Humayun’s Tomb since 2008, and has now shifted its focus to the main hall chambers. “The 1919 ASI publication outlines the dome and chamber walls of the central tomb with intrinsic tile work. But in 1955, the central chamber had to be plastered with cement and whitewash due to seepage. This not only spoilt the historic character of the tomb but also lent a dark and dingy appearance to thetomb chamber,’’ said Ratish Nanda, project director of AKTC.

Sources said though AKTC has carried out significant research, experimentation and training in making of Mughal handmade tiles, with no evidence of tile patterns on the interior wall, the surfaces tiles could no longer be restored to the innertomb chamber. “Since June 2012, trained craftsmen have been carefully scrapping off whitewash and cement layers in the eighty-feet high dome chamber, which for two months has been covered with a web of scaffolding with craftsmen perched everywhere,” said an AKTC official. Repairs using lime plaster have also been carried out wherever required. “The material has been covered with a 1mm thin layer of almost pure lime plaster mixed with marble dust and egg white — used by the Mughal builders to mimic the more expensive marble,” said Rajpal Singh, chief engineer of AKTC.

ASI officials added that during the removal of cement layers, Mughal-era red polychromy was discovered in the webbing of the arches; it is still found in the spandrels of the arches and is being carefully restored. “The red and white contrast of the exterior of the tomb is effectively used also in the interior spaces,’’ said an AKTC official. P B S Sengar, director (monuments) ASI, added: “The restoration of lime plaster to the interior surface will not only significantly ensure long-term preservation of the structure but also lighten up in the interior space.’’

The tomb was not the only monument to decay for want of conservation in the earlier years. Experts say the awareness of use of historic materials was so poor in the 20th century, that cement has been similarly applied to almost all historic buildings of Delhi. Conservation works at Humayun’s Tomb is likely to be completed by year-end, and the team is researching for an appropriate lamp in the central chamber as is thought to have been fixed there.
 

1 September 2012, Times of India

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When it's pug marks versus footsteps

Around 60 tigers have been killed and hundreds of villagers’ lives lost in human-tiger conflicts in Terai region of Uttar Pradesh

It is a commonly held belief in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh that no tiger meets a natural death in the jungles or in the farmlands situated on the fringes of the forests. Human beings are instrumental in the unnatural deaths of the feline which roams the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, the proposed Pilibhit Tiger Reserve, Kishanpur Sanctuary and Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Lakhimpur Kheri, Pilibhit, Shahjahanpur and Bahraich districts respectively in the Terai region bordering Nepal.

But then, what could be the cause for provocation on both sides of the human-animal divide? For the wild cat to attack and even kill humans, and the villagers to respond with an equally deadly effect? For the villagers, tiger conservation serves no meaning as they are out to avenge the killing of their livestock, or their near and dear ones by the big cats. Four tiger deaths in Haripur forest range in Pilibhit between May and August, the killing of a leopard in Katarniaghat in July and the recent fatal attack on a village woman highlight the age-old human-animal conflict in the region, notwithstanding the efforts and claims by the forest authorities to contain the incidents.

In a nutshell, efforts have been lacking on the part of the Uttar Pradesh government and the forest authorities to create awareness among the villagers, or to involve NGOs, or to increase the compensation for humans killed by the feline (in U.P., it is Rs. one lakh as compared to Rs. 5 lakh in Karnataka) in a bid to minimise incidents of human-animal conflict. More importantly, they have failed to address the main issues behind the conflict. Consider the recent incidents:

  1. A full-grown male tiger was found poisoned to death in the Haripur forest range on May 24. The next day, another tiger was found killed in a similar manner.
  2. A stray leopard was beaten to death in Kakraha forest range in Katarniaghat on May 21.
  3. A third tiger death was reported in July, but the cause of death could not be ascertained by the forest officials.
  4. In July again, a two-and- a-half year old male tiger attacked a person working in his field in Pilbhit’s Puranpur area.
  5. In August, a carcass of an adult tiger was found floating in a canal in Pilibhit district and was assumed to have been poisoned.
  6. Recently, a tiger killed a human being with the forest officials quick to describe the incident as “unfortunate”.

“The first two tiger deaths in May were retaliatory as the villagers were out to avenge the killing of their livestock and mixed a poisonous substance with the carcass of cattle, which was used as a bait," said Rupak De, the Chief Wildlife Warden of Uttar Pradesh.

But even as it is difficult to curb the predatory nature of the tiger, human behaviour can also lead to the big cat’s provocation. “Humans tend to provoke the beast with their foolhardy behaviour,” says wildlife enthusiast Rahul Shukla, who runs an orientation programme ‘Saving Men from Tigers’ to educate villagers in the Terai region (Kheri, shahjahanpur and Pilbhit districts). He started this voluntary programme in the 1980s in the memory of his two maternal uncles who were killed by a tiger in Lakhimpur Kheri district in 1966.

An ‘ecological disaster’ struck in and around Dudhwa National Park and Tiger Reserve in the 1980s when an estimated 400 people were killed by around 30 rampaging tigers. In 1986, 14 tiger carcasses were found around the sugarcane fields around Dudhwa — mostly killed due to poisoning. The tigers ate cattle carcasses laced with pesticides BG Gamma, Parardon and Lintoff. The same pesticides continue to be used till today to kill tigers. Till date, it has been estimated, around 60 tigers have been killed and hundreds of villagers’ lives lost in human-tiger conflicts in the Terai region.

“The main reason for the recurrence of the human-tiger conflict is that there are no corridors in Dudhwa circle, Kishenpur, Katarniaghat and Pilbhit forests. Instead there are large fragmented forests housing the wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves interspersed with farmlands. The sugarcane farms served as a conflict zone for man and tiger,” says Dr. Shukla, who is a former Honorary Wildlife Warden of Kishenpur sanctuary and Dudhwa National Park.

So, what compelled the big cat to venture out of their natural habitat and prey upon livestock as was the case with a tiger from Pilbhit forests that strayed right till Rehmankheda on the outskirts of Lucknow in March this year and roamed around the area for two months before being caged and sent to Dudhwa. It did not attack human beings but only killed cattle.

“Depletion of prey base in their natural habitat is one of the main ‘push factors’ for the tigers to move out in the adjoining sugarcane fields in search of food,” says Dr. Shukla. Large-scale poaching of its chief prey base comprising chital, sambhar, wild boar, black buck and swamp deer, degeneration of forests, lack of buffer zones, presence of stray dogs and cattle in the fringe areas and human inroads into tiger habitats are primary reasons for the conflict.

While forest authorities have brushed aside the four tiger deaths in Pilbhit as “recent aberrations”, fortunately the courts have been strict in dealing with cases of tiger killings. In June, the Pilibhit District Judge turned down the bail plea of two persons who had poisoned the tigers in the Haripur range. The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bahraich had earlier denied bail to two persons who had beaten a stray leopard to death in Kakraha.
 

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The Narmada fossil files

When geologist Arun Sonakia accidentally discovered South Asia’s first ancient human remains at a place called Hathnora in the Narmada Valley one winter 30 years ago, the region came under the trowels and maps of archaeologists and paleo-anthropologists worldwide.

Three decades on, Indian and international scientists have turned up treasures that are slowly adding pieces to the puzzle—how and when did early humans come here, what were they like, and what other creatures did they share these lands with?

No other ancient fossil has been dug up yet, at least not one that can be definitively identified as a specific early human species, but scores of what appear to be stone tools used by these missing people have certainly begun to tell us more about them, as have the animal fossils, which range from bones of an almost complete Stegodon, the modern elephants’ extinct cousin, to ancient wild-dogs and wild-boars, cousins of the modern horse, hippopotamuses and ostrich eggshells.

The stone tools are as old as 800,000 years and as young as 10,000 years, spanning a large swathe of the stone-age. While some believe modern homo sapiens entered the Indian sub-continent from Africa through West Asia between 70,000 to 50,000 years ago, the archaeological site at Attirampakkam, near Chennai, is believed to be between 1.07 and 1.5 million years old and was possibly home to the pre-modern species, homo erectus.

So what happened in the hundreds of thousands of years that fall between these time-lines—who lived in the landmass between these regions, and was the Deccan region a passage from north to south?

As of now, archaeologists agree they need to dig deeper and wider in the Narmada Valley, and a team has been formed to do that, involving experts from the Stone Age Institute in the US, M S University in Vadodara, and Panjab University in Chandigarh and the Deccan College in Pune.

“In India, we do not know when modern human groups first arrived, how many dispersals there were and if they inter-bred with the pre-existing hominin groups in the region. We don’t even know if there were any other hominin species in India when modern humans arrived there. But it is also possible that within the last two million years, India was home to one or more unknown hominin species, fossils of which we have not yet discovered,” said Parth Chauhan, a researcher with the Stone Age Institute and Department of Anthropology (Indiana University) in Indiana, USA, who presented some recent findings at the IIT-Gandhinagar this week.

Chauhan was one of eight scientists to co-author a 2009 paper in the Journal of Human Evolution that listed a wide array of discoveries such as stone blades, flakes, choppers, hand-axes, picks, cleavers, micro-fossils and other fossil teeth and bones. Over two years of combing the Narmada Valley, the team found stone tools in ten places. Considering the mixed nature of archaeological and fossil material dated from the deposits, the team’s preliminary analysis suggests the “Narmada man” may be much younger than 250,000 years as earlier believed, maybe between 160,000 years and 50,000 years old.

Meanwhile, findings at another site called Dhansi, about three kilometres south of Hathnora and separated by the Narmada River, have been significant. No Acheulian elements have been found there so far, and whatever stone artifacts have been found there are simple flakes, cores and a chopper. These resemble those of Oldowan, the earliest of all stone tool technologies—existence of which has never been “properly proven” in South Asia. Based on the previously-dated age of the sediments here, the artifacts are at least 780,000 years old but require further scientific verification, the researchers say.

Until younger implements are found, the present lot seems to suggest non-modern humans indeed lived there as long as two million years back. Tentative archaeological evidence from northern Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s also suggests this.
 

2 September 2012, Indian Express

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Terracotta treasures

Housing many peerless terracotta temples, Ghurisha in West Bengal has great potential of being a tourist destination for those who love to revisit history, writes Somen Sengupta

In the chronology of Bengal’s terracotta temples, Birbhum scores almost equal to Bankura as far as the number of temples and the quality of artifacts are concerned. There is a zone in Birbhum where at least a few terracotta temples exist in every village. Some of them are simply extraordinary in size and shape. Although many of them are in dilapidation, they all are pregnant with many unknown pieces of history.

One such village is Ghurisha. Falling under the police station of Ilambazar, a small town which also houses several peerless terracotta temples, Ghurisha has enormous potential of being a tourist destination for those we love to revisit history. The village has a rich past. Once it was a centre of Sanskrit learning. However, one will be disappointed if he goes to find any such thing today. Instead he can take a terracotta tour.

Start your journey with the bigger temple, locally known as the Gopal Lakshmi Janardhan temple. This is a massive navaratna temple of the Bengal school standing like a silent sentinel of a bygone era with its captivating artifacts embellished on its walls. Every ratna (tower) was once decorated with a metal chakra but now five of them have vanished.

Not much is known about its founder except that some Khetramohan Dutta, a trader who made money by doing trading with Europeans from Ilambazar, was its founder. The temple was founded in 1739 AD. The year sparks curiosity among historians because it was the time when this part of Bengal was ravaged by Maratha invaders from the west. In such a tumultuous period, a man showing off his wealth is little unusual.

The first thing that catches attention is the size and shape of its panels. Based on a plinth height of 3.6 ft, this 60-ft high temple has both covered and open verandah. Faced on the east like most of the Hindu temples, this piece of architecture invades your mind the moment you stand in front of it. There is a platform inside the garbhagriha. Here several icons are worshiped. These include an ashtadhatu-made Gopaljee, two female goddesses called Tripurasundari and Mangalchandi, and one image of Lord Ganesh. The large size terracotta panels that decorate the front side of the temple are all blending of Shakta and Vaishnava cult.

Panel-curved statues of Sri Chaitanya and Nityananda performing religious dance and song with their followers are seen in the front. Such a prominent statue of Sri Chaitanya on the front side of the temple is rare in Bengal. Even the Durga motif found on the right corner is exceptional. The panel is big and here we find her not with her children but with two female companions — one on each side. They are known as Jaya and Vijaya.

On the right there is a sleeping shiva and from his navel the booming lotus goes upwards. On the lotus a female god is placed and there are many subordinate statues around. Many of them have weapons in hand. We can figure out a Vishnu with four hands in that group.

Some of the most interesting panels are on the right side of the front wall. Although the upper rows have vanished long ago, the remaining rows show us the social side of that era. They capture a domestic scene where a male is found to abuse a female. Apart from that, Radha, Krishna and girls gossiping are curved in the section. No one can ignore a panel showcasing Rama and Sita in their royal chamber surrounded with subjects. This row is on the top of the front wall. The back side of the temple is bare and left with no terracotta panel.

In the same village there is another gem. It is small yet captivating temple of Lord Rama. The foundation stone tablet is still there. From this one can say that one Raghunath Bhattacharya built this Charchala temple in 1633 AD as a token of respect to Rama. Charchala is a typical Bengal school temple that capsulate hut-shaped mudhouse with slopped roof.

This temple is fascinating in its richness and detailing of terracotta figures. Embellished with terracotta panels covering loads of Hindu mythology and epics, it is surprising to find no European figure or scene from social lives. A legend that famously circulates among the locals says that there was a gold image of Lord Rama in the temple, but was robbed by Maratha invaders Bhaskar Pandit and Raghuji Roa Bhonsle in the mid-18th century. Although it is a historical fact that the Marathas caused an unprecedented rapacity and loot in this part of Bengal in that period, but no historical data is available to support the legend. Interestingly, the story charges the Marathas, who were ardent Hindus, of looting a Hindu temple!

The 30-ft high temple is faced east-ward and there are stairs that go down from door to plinth. The verandah is not covered and it runs all four sides of the plinth which is nearly four-ft high from the ground level. Like many other temples of Bengal, this too dons war sequences from the Ramayana where we find Lord Rama pointing his arrow towards Ravana. The front wall on the east side contains a folded-hand Garuda. One can also see the three avatars of Vishnu — Narasimha, Rama and Vishnu himself. One can also find the astonishing details of Krishna’s leela with gopis. Next to that are intimate physical postures of loving couples. These figures are mostly on the back side of the temple and are quite vivid in details.

If your eyes are meant for terracotta and you are aware of Hindu mythology, you can also find Mahisha Surmardini, Lakshmi, Balarama, Anantashayane Vishni, Baraha, Kurmi, and many more.

This temple was first renovated in 1964 by Rammoy Panchatirtha. Today it is being looked after by a Chowdhury family and the locals call it Chowdhury’s family temple. Till now neither the Archaeological Survey of India nor the State Archeology Department has shown any interest to protect this temple. Although the present condition is satisfactory, but mindless construction around the temple is a potential threat to it.

Spend few hours in this dusty village and go home enriched with something that you can cherish forever.
 

2 September 2012, Pioneer

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Landscapes of India

The first ever comprehensive overview of landscape art in India, this exhibition documents how this genre evolved over three centuries — from the late 18th century to the recent past — representing artists from major art centres in the country.

While a veritable goldmine for critics and scholars, it is an exciting one for the collector too since all the paintings are for sale. Ashish Anand, Director of Delhi Art Gallery, says, “It’s something no one has attempted before.”

The exhibition brings together the works of the earliest European artist travellers to India such as Thomas Daniell, William Hodges and Edward Cheney; academic realist oil landscapes by acknowledged masters J.P. Gangooly and Ravi Varma. The Indian Art School- trained artists from the 1920s-1960s like S.L. Haldankar and L.N. Taskar have a strong presence. Master printmaker Haren Das, known for his serene landscapes of rural Bengal, finds substantial representation. A highlight is two scrolls over eight feet long; by Kripal Singh Shekhawat and Bishnupada Roychoudhary depicting long narratives painted painstakingly over paper reflecting a strong Japanese influence.

Post-Independence Indian art is represented by Gopal Ghose, experiments in abstractions by F.N. Souza, K.S. Kulkarni, S.H Raza and others. There are also two paintings by M.F. Husain, not known to have painted many landscapes.

The exhibition is a journey through time portraying not only the changes in art over three centuries, but reflecting the fast-shifting rural and urban landscape of India. The exhibition both examines the past and contextualises the present. In William Hodges’ almost photographic representations, one can see India as it used to be; while F.N. Souza’s abstract works open an entirely different window. Both an exhibition and a quick tour of the country, this is a must-see for art lovers.
 

2 September 2012, Hindu

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Greens oppose residential yoga facility on river bed

New Delhi: Even as questions are still being raised about the legality of the location of the Akshardham temple and the Commonwealth Games Village on the Yamuna river bed, a new structure between these buildings is making the greens see red.

The yoga-cum-residential complex being built by the Akshardham trust is located on 25,497 sq m land but authorities have not applied for clearance to either the Delhi state environment impact assessment committee or the Delhi urban arts committee.

According to spokesman of the temple trust, Janak Dave, all necessary permissions have been obtained for the project. “This is a yoga centre withresidential facilities for our volunteers. Whatever permissions were necessary have been obtained,” he said.

For any construction with a built up area of 20,000 sq m or more, an environment clearance is necessary. Sources in SEIAC confirmed that no such request had come to them. “This project — on grounds of its size and location on the river bed — would need a goahead from the committee. However, it has never been submitted to us and is a violation of the Environment Protection Act,” said a member.

DUAC also confirmed that their permission was necessary for the same reasons but nobody had approached them. “The project has never been submitted to us and hence permission from DUAC is out of the question,” said a source.

Manoj Misra, convener of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, brought the matter to the notice of the LG in 2010 but government officials had claimed that the project had been cleared by the agencies concerned. “Work on the project started around November 2010. The land on which the building is coming up was not part of the original Akshardham temple and this extra land was transferred to the trust after the temple was built. We filed an RTI with DDA in September last year but are yet to receive a reply from them,” said Misra.

He added that in 2000, DDA had sold 12 hectare land to Akshardham. Later, Akshardham procured additional land in front on lease from the UP irrigation department under a commitment that its land use would be ‘green’.

“However, much of that was converted to a parking lot. On the other hand, construction work is also going on in the area which has been earmarked as ‘parking’ under the zonal plan for zone ‘O’. When there is already such a huge parking lot available, we have asked DDA what work is now taking place. DDA is yet to respond to the query,” said Misra.
 

2 September 2012, Times of India

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Fading from the skies

The vulture’s decline in India — due to a pain-relieving drug — has been well documented. But what about the other birds that also seem to be on the way out? AREFA TEHSIN AND RAZA H. TEHSIN

In the Ramayan, it was Jatayu’s excellent vision that helped Ram in his search for Sita. Today, however, the vulture population is the victim ofshort-sightedness, evident in policies that are destroying delicate eco-systems. The use of the pain relieving drug, Diclofenac, in cattle led to about 97 per cent of vultures — that fed on the cattle carcasses — being wiped out within a decade. The drug was then banned.

But it’s not just the vultures that are fading from our skies. Many birds, once a common sight, are rarely seen any more: eagles, magpies, kingfishers, owls, sparrows and many more.

O.W. Holmes said, “A goose flies by a chart the Royal Geographic Society could not improve.” If we acknowledge the skill and wisdom of birds, we can solve many a modern-day problem.

Back to Nature
Most of us want to live healthy and eat organic. But given that our water, food and air have been poisoned, given the lack of pesticide-free organic food and a sleeping political will, is this even a distant possibility? Perhaps it is. Only if a concerted effort is made to go back to Nature. Some people use creative methods to provide pesticide-free farming and creatures like birds use their natural instincts to provide us with organic food. Let’s see how.

The most prolific breeders in Nature are insects. Over 3000 species of insects are found in our country and more are being discovered every other day.

Take a pair of chinch bugs and breed it. In a single season, it develops 13 generations. In the 12th generation, if we can keep them in a single line — assuming there are 10 chinch bugs to an inch — this line would be so long that starting from one end it would take 2500 years to reach the other end, assuming we travel at the speed of light.

A pair of cabbage aphid can, in a single season, become so numerous that their weight would be three times the weight of all human beings on earth put together. In a 3300-acre farm in South Africa, locusts laid eggs. Almost all the eggs were dug out; they weighed 14 tonnes! If they’d hatched, there would’ve been 1250 million locusts.

How birds help
Insects do enormous damage to vegetation. Food eaten by a single silkworm in 56 days is 86,000 times that of its weight at hatching. Some flesh-eating larvae consume 200 times their own weight in 24 hours. That is the power of insects.

In Nature, several factors work together to check the growth of insects. The major factor is birds. Most birds are insectivores and prey on insects, their eggs and larvae. A pair of starlings was observed to bring food like caterpillars, grasshoppers to their nestlings 370 times a day. House sparrows bring food to their nestlings 260 times a day.

A German ornithologist estimated that single pair of tits and their progeny destroyed 120 million eggs of insects a year. An owl hunts 2-3 rats in a single night. A pair of house rats, bred in ideal conditions, can increase to 880 rats a year. Scavenging birds like vultures clean the environment by devouring dead animals.

Birds are equally important for pollination of flowers and seed dispersal. The dodo — the modern icon of extinction — was called a simpleton as it had no fear of humans. It approached humans too closely and finally died out due to excessive hunting.

With the disappearance of the bird, an indigenous tree also died out. The connection: the dodo ate the fruits and the hard shell dissolved in its gizzard. The seeds were then passed out along with its excreta and sprouted where they fell. Without the dodo, the shell of the fruit could not be removed and germination was not possible.

Inspiration
The song and flight of birds has inspired melodies, literature, science and inventions. Birds inspired men to fly. After World War II, when humans started to build wide-bodied airplanes, they were unable to land them on a short runway. They thought of vultures. Despite their heavy bodies, they land on a small space and take off just in a few steps. Scientists studied their landing and take-off in slow motion and learnt to build wide-bodied airplanes.

Human impact
Overall, the population of birds in India is declining. There are several causes for this: the most important being destruction of habitat and nesting site. Commercial exploitation of wetlands has resulted in the decline of cormorants, pelicans, darters and other birds that depend solely upon fish.

The collection of wild fruits and berries for human consumption has caused scarcity of food for frugivorous birds. The graminivorous birds are lethally affected by insecticides.

Game birds are hunted down for meat. Some migratory birds, which come to the Indian subcontinent, are hunted en route in countries where hunting is permitted. The disconnect with and apathy towards birds is so huge that, leave aside identifying common birds like house sparrows, we don’t even sense their decline. Neither the education system nor the government is taking this problem seriously.

A swimming pool is no substitute for a lake nor is an umbrella for a tree. An air-conditioner cannot replace the cool evening breeze just as a pesticide cannot replace its natural counterparts. Birds check the growth of insects and rodents on a massive scale. The native insectivorous birds of each region can be identified and bred around farmlands across India. This will not only serve as a powerful tool to control pests and reduce the use of pesticides, but also help birds flourish.

They say that birds will be happier without humans on earth, but humans cannot survive without birds.
 

2 September 2012, Hindu

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A beauty worth fighting for...

Kashmir witnesses a beautiful play of changing seasons and its salubrious climate ensures that the State is attractive to visitors round the year. Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, spreads on both sides of River Jhelum.

We found plenty of accommodation in and around Dal Lake. We hired a houseboat for ourselves. These houseboats are equipped with modern facilities with beautiful Indian, Islamic or Persian architecture and design.

The Nagin Lake is separated from Dal Lake by a causeway. We visited three main islands on the lake, each a popular tourist point — the Silver Island at the northern end of the lake, the Golden Island at the southern end and the Nehru Park at the end of the main stretch. The locals informed us that shows, dances and festivals are often held during summer at Nehru Park.

Kashmir was a favourite destination of the Mughal emperors who visited it as often as they could. They planted gardens with stepped terraces and flowing water courses. The largest of these Mughal gardens is the Nishat Bagh which presents a beautiful sight between the Dal Lake and the Zobarwan Hills. The Shalimar Garden was built by Emperor Jahangir for his beloved wife Noorjahan. The Cheshmasahi Garden is the smallest of the Mughal gardens. The natural springs in these gardens are said to have medicinal properties.

We also visited the sacred temple of Shankaracharya located on top of the hill. It is a famous tourist destination of Kashmir. Here people come in large numbers to have a glimpse of the lingam.

We also tasted the famous Kashmiri cuisine, the traditional wazwan consisting of non-vegetarian and vegetarian dishes, including the Kashmiri pulao with saffron. The most important of all is a cup of kahwah (Kashmiri tea) which every visitor to Kashmir should try without fail.

Craft items from Srinagar make for perfect souvenirs — especially woollen shawls and cricket bats. Srinagar produces the finest cricket bats in the world. Kashmir is renowned for its silk carpets too.

Gulmarg is considered to be one among the most picturesque hill resorts in the world. Gulmarg is a lovely valley situated in the uplands of Kashmir. It is surrounded by snow-covered peaks from all sides and the Alpather Lake is a captivating, icy lake, which remains frozen till the middle of June. In Gulmarg, we enjoyed the uphill trek to Khilanmarg, which was blooming with flowers during the summer season. The whole journey offered us a unique view of the widespread mountains, flowing waters of Wular and other lakes.

Patnitop is located on the Jammu-Srinagar highway at 2,024 m of height. It is a peaceful hill station with beautiful picnic spots. A long and enjoyable drive through the wooded forest trail was the most exciting part of our holiday here. The residents of Patnitop informed us that the best way to get to know this beautiful town is by walking on its quiet roads. It is a pleasure to explore this town all year round. Autumn and summer seasons are wonderful here with deep blue skies and wild flowers. The monsoons are a good time too — this is the time when the town is at its quietest, not too many tourists, only gentle rains and mist and the most awesome of sunsets. I’m sure you will lose yourself in its charm.

 

2 September 2012, Deccan Herald

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Memories of the Walled City

CITYSCAPE Through the 1950s and 60s, Azad Hotel in Urdu Bazaar was home to the most peculiar cast of characters, remembers R.V. SMITH

There was a rum place in the 1950s and 60s in Urdu Bazaar called Azad Hotel where cranks and intellectuals lived cheek by jowl with characters like the merry widow of Najafgarh. A big contrast to her was Tyagiji, a wreck of a man who was a Brahmin and occupied a room facing a big pipal tree with in-transit Mullahs and Khojas from Mumbai (headed by the glass-eyed qawwal, Firoz Kanchwala) as neighbours. The hotel was run by a man with multiple wives and a love for shayari.

Tyagiji did not mind eating mutton curry and chapatis for dinner, served by the waiter Rais to him every evening at 8 o’clock, after which, tired with the day’s exertions, he went off to sleep and got up only in time to attend the aarti at a temple in Esplanade Road. He then came back for his breakfast of two slices of bread and a cup of tea (served by Salamat) or, depending on the money in his pocket, settled down at a dhaba in Matia Mahal for nahari-roti. Thereafter he clutched an old, rumpled bag under his arm and caught a bus to Chanakyapuri, where he worked as translator in a western embassy.

Once he was asked by a young diplomat to translate Book One of Milton’s Paradise Lost into Hindi. Tyagiji took up the assignment in his usual nonchalant way but as he proceeded with the work, found it difficult to translate some passages of which he could not make head or tail. Among these was Satan’s speech to his fellow-fallen angels that had the famous line: “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven”. Tyagiji, his hair tousled and a big frown on his face, went to the other building of the hotel, adjacent to Jagat Cinema, and sought out a trainee journalist, secretly in love with the proprietor’s favourite daughter, who was quite conversant with Milton and other English poets. The youngster sat down and began explaining the difficult passages to Tyagiji who had to hold several sittings with him to get the hang of things. Even then it took six months to complete the translation, with help from other quarters too.

Next he was given Cleopatra, The Woman of Passion, a novel by Henry Rider Haggard. Tyagiji did not know a thing about Egyptian gods and goddesses and here he was confronted by the history of Harmachis, son of the High Priest, Amenemhat, with whom Cleopatra hadfallen in love while Antony was away from the Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt. Deities like Osiris, Isis, Sethi and Ra and the underworld of Amentia and Abouthi were quite alien to him. Since Tyagiji’s journalist friend was leaving for his hometown for Christmas, he introduced him to the European parish priest of St. Mary’s Church, opposite Old Delhi Station, who had earlier been posted in Cairo and was well versed in the Classics. The old Italian father helped him along until the friend returned and the novel was translated after three months. It later turned out that the diplomat who had assigned the work to Tyagiji did not really need the translations. He just wanted to create work for the poor man as there was not much else for him to do otherwise, and that would have meant loss of his contract with the embassy.

Like Tyagiji, Sydney Bellety, an Anglo-Indian from Kanpur, also stayed at the hotel. He used to be a good boxer in school and, though forced to limp after a foot injury, was still good enough to teach two sons of the hotel owner to box as they were street hectors and in sore need of the art of self-defence. Bellety had to tie up their feet sometimes so that they did not run away after getting a few punches from him. “Stand up and face it like a man or you will not be able to protect yourself”, he would shout in English and then repeat the same in broken Hindi.

Then there was a dimpled peacock dance artiste, Shanta Rani, who lived with her lanky Zamindar companion Latif Mian and nursed a grudge against sexy vocalist Naseem Bano, occupant of Room No. 4. Khan Sahib, who hailed from Saharanpur, would sometimes peep at her while she was changing costume for a performance. After losing his job as manager of an oil mill in Nuh tehsil, he decided to stay at the hotel and work as supplier of wines to hotels in South Delhi. Khan Sahib was very fond of fishing and the lovey-dovey singing duo of Anwar Sultana, holed up in Room No. 3. He was also on very good terms with Tyagiji who, like him, used to be reprimanded every month by the hotel owner for not paying his bills. Once Khan Sahib caught a big Rohu and presented the fish to Afzal Mian, which earned him a week’s reprieve. A sultry girl from a stranded Bombay drama troupe, patronised by actor A. K. Hangal, sang the then hit number, “Purva sohani aiya re, Purva” one breezy evening which earned her party a similar reprieve.
There was also a gay Eurasian dancer who lived next to the room of the divorced wife of a Colonel and was the butt of many a joke for “enticing the he-men” of the area. What befell most of these characters after they left is not known, but one of them is still around to bear witness to the crazy happenings at what was probably the most rummy place in Delhi some 50 years ago.
 

3 September 2012, Hindu

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Bamboo trade may open up to tribals

Forest Department Set To Lose Monopoly Over 10k Cr Annual Business

New Delhi: Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan has overruled objections from her officials to break the forest bureaucracy’s monopoly over the annual Rs 10,000 crore bamboo trade and declared it a ‘minor forest produce’ instead of a ‘tree’ under forest laws. This will allow tribals, instead of forest departments, to harvest and auction bamboo, which is one of the major raw materials for the paper, pulp and board industry, from their community and private lands.

The forest ministry had for long classified bamboo as a tree despite its scientific description as a grass. The classification ensured that under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, fallen bamboo got classified as timber and remained under the firm control of the forest bureaucracy which harvested and sold it to the industry. The tribals got a pittance on some occasions even as the industry got bamboo at low rates over long lease periods.

With the introduction of UPA’s flagship Forest Rights Act, the tribal affairs ministry pushed to get the fast growing species of grass out of the control of forest officials with the law providing that right to harvest minor forest produce (products not classified as timber) grown on traditional forest lands would lie with the tribals.

But the forest bureaucracy refused to alter its regulations and classification of the species and put up hurdles in various states based on the Indian Forest Act and its existing rules.

Previous environment minister Jairam Ramesh too pushed the case for relaxing the archaic and incorrect classification of bamboo and easing the norms to ensure that tribals got their rights under FRA but met with only partial success.

Earlier this year, the tribal affairs ministry secured Cabinet nod to offer minimum support price for minor forest produce, including bamboo, to tribals through a new scheme along the lines of the support prices provided to farmers for major crops. The PM announced the scheme in his August 15 speech as a part of UPA’s pro-tribal measures.

But the tribal affairs ministry, in the last stages of transferring control ofbamboo to tribals and finalizing the scheme, got a jolt when senior environment ministry officials stuck to the line that bamboo was a ‘tree’ under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and could not be harvested, transported or sold by tribals. Natarajan then stepped in and overruled her officials and put on record that bamboo would be classified as a minor forest produce under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 as well.

The decision will pave the way for the tribal affairs ministry to launch the scheme though officials still expect a lot of resistance from state forest officials in handing over real control to the tribals. In some states, forest officials have blocked tribals from selling bamboo by using other regulations like working plans for forestlands being amended to permit harvest.
 

3 September 2012, Times of India

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Delhi’s last chance to be a green city

Experts Demand Environment-Friendly Building Norms For New Urban Areas

New Delhi: The new areas of Delhi, categorized as ‘urbanizable areas’ in Master Plan 2021, are mainly tracts of farmland dotted with farmhouses. But now that they have been opened up for urbanization, city-based urban planners and architects want the government to take steps before the developers grab the land and turn these areas into another Gurgaon.

Planners see these areas as a“golden opportunity” to place Delhi on the global list of eco-cities. The opening-up of over 60,000 hectares for urbanization to accommodate about seven million people can be a real test for building an alternative city.

Urban planners insist on urbanizing these villages while maintaining an ecological balance. They say that without any guideline, real estate giants will raise huge skyscrapers but with no security for water or power or very less pedestrian space. There are reports of large areas already being bought, leaving little time to make interventions to design a better peripheral city. Planners suggest that the Delhi government prepare a set of guidelines that builders should abide by to create a “sustainable city”.

“It is a great opportunity to rectify what has gone wrong. We are not talking about very expensive technologies here. It may actually cost far less if private and public developers adopt these technologies. But once the city develops, there will not be any room for change,” says A G K Menon, architect, urban planner and conservation consultant.

Planner and architect Vinod Gupta also stresses that “The development of these fringe areas are the most interesting aspect of Delhi today. Here we have an opportunity to do what has not been done so far. We can study the topography and create norms for builders that will reduce the pressure on the environmental resources quite a bit”.

According to Menon, all buildings should compulsorily develop rainwater harvesting structures in the building, orient the buildings depending on the location and use landscape to minimize energy consumption and ensure optimum density of population in the new areas so that the peripheral cities are less resource intensive.

“Rainwater harvesting has been made compulsory. But it should be inbuilt in every new construction in the new areas. Building materials are also important. Look at Gurgaon, they have used so much glass when it doesn’t suit our environmental conditions at all. The guidelines should specify eco-friendly building materials that require less energy during construction and will help reduce the cooling or air-conditioning load later,” adds Menon.

Planners are also concerned about the optimum population density. It should neither be low density, leading to use of more resources for very few people, nor can it be very high density as “we don’t have the infrastructure to support it. We need to know what is optimum”, says Gupta.

The director of Indian Institute of Human Settlements, Aromar Revi, also bats for optimum density. “A core principle of sustainable urban design is to plan and incentivize condensed urbanism and contain sprawl. This makes cities more livable because many parts are then walkable, which reduces traffic. It also increases access to jobs as poor people have to travel less, and increases water and energy efficiency because these services don’t have to be delivered over long distances.”

Revi also thinks many parts of core Delhi are still low density. It will have an extensive Metro network connecting most parts by 2016 “This will enable people to use more public transport, leading to reduced congestion, air pollution and GHG emissions,” he says.
 

3 September 2012, Times of India

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The house of wonders

HISTORY A visit to Antoni Gaudi’s iconic Casa Batllo in Barcelona will leave you lost in amazement

It’s a house. It’s a museum. A city landmark too. And for the interested, a quick course in design dynamics. The spectacular Casa Batllo in Barcelona is all this and more. Built by iconic Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, it is considered his most emblematic work.

There are many great buildings this famous architect created across Spain, which find place among the country’s best-known tourist draws, and the Casa Batllo is one such, a residential building that became a celebrated work of art. It is also admired for being a space which has as much functionality as artistic value.

Originally built by Emilio Sala Cortés in 1877 (interestingly, he was one of Gaudi's teachers) it was acquired in 1903 by the wealthy Josep Batlló y Casanovas — hence Batllo House — as a family residence.

He commissioned Gaudí, then a reputed architect in Spain, to work on it. Gaudí virtually reinvented the place. Between 1904 and 1906, he redid the facade, redistributed internal partitions, changed the space occupied by the well of the building and made it very ornamental. Flamboyant colours and organic shapes together with several functional features were brought into the highly creative redesign.

The Barcelona landmark attracts tens of thousands of visitors every month. It was tough making our way through the surging crowds at the entrance. Inside, it was teeming with wide-eyed visitors and a group of earnest students pausing to make notes in every room and animatedly discussing various features. Our guide showed us around with understandable pride and said: “We Spanish consider it one of Gaudi’s most inspired compositions.” As we walked through the multi-storied building, we understood why.

The facade has an amazing undulating shape. The external wall is covered with a rich mosaic of polychromatic ceramic discs and coloured glass fragments. The ground floor has remarkable irregular, oval-shaped windows. All this and the flowing sculpted stonework give the impression that Gaudi deliberately avoided straight lines.

From the entrance hall on the ground floor with its vaulted ceilings, a grand wooden staircase leads up. The family's private residence area has its own courtyard in the centre of the block, accessed through the dining room. Further up, a large gallery projects onto the street giving a fine view of the city below and around. The catenary arches add allure to the interiors.

The windows were smaller on the higher floors compared to those on the lower areas to ensure ideal light distribution, and below them were wooden slits for ventilation. In the centre of the light well is the lift with its original wooden cabin still intact and functioning. We took it twice to save time in our rush through the building's various floors.

Glass panes and iron pieces make up a large skylight in the centre through which natural light floods the entire house. We noticed iron balconies and bone-like columns suggestive of skulls. A spiral staircase leads to the terrace whose most prominent features are the dragon’s back with its iridescent scales and the tall, colourful chimneys.

The attention to detail is noticeable everywhere — one of the reasons why Gaudi came to be celebrated as a great architect. Casa Battlo is richly ornamental in design. There are multicoloured ceramic tiles, eye-catching stained-glass windows, doors with embossed patterns, decorative pieces of masonry created from Montjuic sandstone, modernist floral designs, while the facade and chimneys are tiled with trencadis glazed mosaics. Everywhere there is a riot of colour and abundance of natural light. There are many marine-inspired features, with allusions to the sea, sand and tortoises.

When we stepped out, our guide told us that locally, it has many names. House of the Dragon (from the shape on the roof), House of the Bones (for the bone-like columns), House of Yawns (lip-like edges carved onto the stones), House of Masks, (the railings are shaped like masks) and so on. The house was as much a fun visit for kids as an insight into the creative genius of Antoni Gaudi for adults.
 

3 September 2012, Hindu

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Sethu row: Govt plans re-look at SC proposal, new routes

The Centre is planning to reject the Pachauri panel report on the Sethusamudram project and set up a new committee to re-examine ‘Alignment 4A’ suggested by the Supreme Court. If needed, the panel will identify an alternative route that avoids the Ram Sethu.

Walking a tightrope between ally DMK and Hindu sentiments, the Shipping Ministry has recommended that a new panel of experts analyse Alignment 4A with respect to its climate and environment impact and suggest ways that this could be minimised.

“In the event 4A is not considered worthy of further analysis, the new committee be entrusted with the task of suggesting a new alignment which is least damaging from the environmental point of view and is economically acceptable. It could take up further studies to suggest the new alignment which avoids the Ram Sethu,” says the ministry’s proposal to the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA).

Sources said the issue was listed for the CCPA meeting last Monday but was not taken up as Chemicals & Fertiliser Minister M K Alagiri was not present to provide his party DMK’s views.

The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project aims to create a shipping channel linking the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka to allow large ships to get to India’s east coast from the west without navigating around Sri Lanka, as they do now.

Work was started on ‘Alignment 6’ in July 2005 but that route raised controversy as it required dredging Ram Sethu, a stretch of limestone shoals that runs from Rameshwaram to Mannar Island, which Hindus see as as the bridge Lord Ram and his army built to reach Ravana’s Lanka.

The Supreme Court suspended work in September 2007 and later suggested Alignment 4A. However, a Committee of Eminent Persons headed by R K Pachauri rejected this route saying the impact on the fragile ecological zone had not been studied.

The Shipping Ministry, however, points out that the National Institute of Oceanography had not found any major reason for worry in its environment impact assessment. Moreover, it feels, the Pachauri panel did not do a detailed comparison between the two routes.

“Based on the analysis and the importance of observing a risk management approach, both in economic and ecological terms, it appears questionable whether A4A represents an attractive or even an acceptable option,” the ministry’s proposal says.

The ministry also wants the new committee to analyse the economic rate of return from the alignments and suggest measures to improve the same to an acceptable level.

The Pachauri committee had said that both alignments did not meet the benchmark internal rate of return of 12 per cent. While Alignment 4A would yield a return of 8.23 percent, Alignment 6 could provide a maximum of 7.7 per cent, it said.
The project was launched in 2005 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and so far Rs 766.82 crore have been sunk into it. If the BJP has threatened an agitation should the UPA press ahead with Alignment 6, the DMK will take offence at any shelving of the project that it considers essential for the economic development of Tamil Nadu.

 

3 September 2012, Indian Express

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Choked Old Delhi to get three new parking lots

The North Municipal Corporation will build three new multilevel underground parking lots in the Walled City area, which has some of the most congested and busiest markets in the Capital.

Church Mission Road will get a parking lot adjacent to the existing facility in Fatehpuri. “The corporation has a 6,000-square-metre plot, currently used for surface parking. A multilevel parking with space for 2,000 cars will be built there,” a civic agency official said.

“This place was chosen because of its proximity to Chandni Chowk, Khari Baoli, Lajpat Rai Market and Bhagirath Palace. Thousands of traders and consumers visit these markets every day, but find no space to park their cars. This is one of the most commercialised parts of Delhi,” he said.

The second parking lot will be built in Dangal Maidan, 500 metres from the proposed Church Mission Road facility.

This underground multilevel parking lot, to be built on 6,000 square metres of space, will be able to accommodate 2,000 cars.
The third one at a place close to Ramlila Maidan between Asaf Ali Road and Jawahar Lal Nehru Marg will be the largest - sitting on an area of 8,000 square metres.

“We proposed these parking lots to solve problems that traders and people visiting these markets face every day. These will, hopefully, ease the traffic congestions in the area. Narrow roads and heavy volume of traffic in these areas cause a lot of problems for the residents,” Ravinder Gupta, chairman of the corporation’s works committee, said.

“The parking lots will have two underground wings and three above the surface,” he said.

The councillor said the parking space near Ramlila Maidan would substantially cut down the chaos on the nearby roads, witnessed during religious and political events at the grounds.

“Moreover, those who visit Ramlila Maidan now park their vehicles far away from the venue. The new parking lot will help people overcome this problem,” he said.

 

3 September 2012, Indian Express

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Vanishing bird

Recently named Delhi’s ‘state bird’, the house sparrow needs our care - R. Dhanya and P.A. Azeez

House sparrows are very intimately associated with our day-to-day life. All of us may have sweet childhood memories linked to these chirruping beauties. Undoubtedly, we still expect these chirpings from our courtyards; but in vain. Our high-profile lifestyle, sophisticated buildings, exotic gardens and pollution made the birds’ life complicated and failed to offer them a safe haven. But, unfortunately, it is not just sparrows that are declining; several other erstwhile common species show the same trend and we need to deflect it.

The House Sparrow (Passer Domesticus) is a brown bird about 15cm long and very common in human-made habitats. They usually feed on grains, seeds, and lately more on garbage and refuse from eateries. But the nestlings are fed mostly animal matter, especially insects. Usually, these birds make their nests with grass and suchlike they find nearby, in built-up structures.

A decline in the house sparrow population across the world has been reported for the past few decades. Long-term monitoring of the sparrow population is conducted by several organisations and individual researchers. In India too, the phenomenon is reported, although information is anecdotal and requires further investigation.

Several reasons seem likely. The suspected culprits are lack of animal matter in the diet, lack of nest sites, electromagnetic radiation, increased traffic, pollution, chemicals applied on seeds and cereals and perhaps disease. These factors would vary from place to place. Most of these causes are aftermaths of urbanisation, changing lifestyles and architecture. Rapid construction activity results in local habitat destruction. Similarly, urban gardens are being dominated by exotic plants which may not be very hospitable to the native insect fauna. Moreover, most urban gardens are manicured and groomed regularly, using agrochemicals. Hence, most such gardens would offer no ecosystem to sparrows. The sparrow population is positively correlated with the number of weedy patches, as they offer wild seeds or grains. The spillover of grains from provision stores was an important food source. Malls and departmental stores, with neatly packed (in plastic) grocery items, would also deprive these creatures of food. Competition with other bird species such as House Crow, Common Myna and Rock Pigeon can also be a reason for food shortage. Unlike these species, sparrows are apparently much less adept in adapting to rapid changes of urbanisation.

Architecture plays an important role. The mode of construction draped in thick and largely reflective glass repulsive to birds wouldn’t leave any room for constructing nests. The tiled ground outside the buildings would not leave a place for the sparrows to take a mud bath. Earlier, rolling shutter-hoods served as an important nest location. But shops in urban areas nowadays have mostly concealed shutter-hoods, which pose a risk for the birds.

In Spain, Everaert and Balmori conducted experiments on the impact of electromagnetic radiation from mobile masts. They concluded that it has a negative impact on bird population. Urbanisation involves homogenisation of landscape and formation of urban heat islands that could also be possible reasons for the decline. However, such causes need to be further explored. It seems the decline of sparrows is because of the cumulative effect of several factors largely associated with urbanisation, which may be location-specific. During the initial stages of human habitation the species actually increases in numbers, while with higher-level urbanisation it declines.

Being a bird closely associated with human habitations, measures for the sparrow’s conservation should start with citizens. It would be appropriate to maintain bigger public spaces, water baths, nest boxes, tracks and trails, and perhaps leave sufficient living space for such beautiful denizens of human habitations. In town planning, planting native flora in parks, on roadsides and in government complexes should be encouraged.

Azeez is officiating director and Dhanya a research fellow, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History

 

3 September 2012, Indian Express

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Intl experts to make heritage dossier

New Delhi: Majuli Islands, hill forts of Rajasthan, Shantiniketan and Qutub Shahi monuments — all of them have been pushed by the Archaeological Survey of India for Unesco’s coveted world heritage tag. But all have missed it due to either incomplete dossiers or technical faults in drawings. To make sure that Delhi doesn’t meet with a similar fate with its final nomination dossier for the world heritage city tag, INTACH Delhi Chapter has engaged international consultants.

The dossier, being prepared by INTACH, is likely to be re-named ‘Capital Cities of Delhi’ from the earlier ‘Imperial Cities of Delhi’ and will feature Lutyens bungalow zone (LBZ) and Shahjahanabad.

“We want to show Delhi’s uniqueness that cannot be found in any other city. LBZ and Shahjahanabad are 350 years apart and represent two contradictory periods of Delhi. The Mughal rule in Shahjahanabad and the British regime in LBZ have contrasting lifestyles, architecture, culture and represent the intellectual highpoints of two opposing empires,” said INTACH convener A G K Menon.

ASI had submitted the tentative nomination dossier to Unesco last year, and the capital now features in the list along with 20 other Indian sites/properties awaiting the prestigious tag.

One of the experts brought in by INTACH specializes in drafting guidelines for world heritage nominations, while another is a former Unesco official who was involved in the selection of nominations for the final inscription. A third consultant works in a specialized heritage body, which, along with an NGO, evaluates nominations from various countries. “We have to consult widely to ensure our dossier meets all the parameters and fulfills all the criteria outlined by Unesco,” said Menon. The final dossier needs to reach the Unesco headquarters in Paris by February 1, 2013.

INTACH has set a deadline of September 30 to finish the dossier. It will then be examined by a number of experts and government bodies, which will also make their own suggestions. “The dossier will also have to be approved by the world heritage apex committee that was set up recently by the Centre to examine Indian nominations to Unesco following a series of rejections,” said an official.

After Ahmedabad’s nomination to gain the heritage city status in 2011, Delhi’s nomination, the second such proposal from India, appears in the tentative list updated by the UN organization on May 22, 2012.

Each country can finally nominate two sites every year for inscription under the natural, cultural or mixed categories. “It will be a fight to make Delhi one of the two nominations to be submitted to Unesco by ASI next year as there are 20 sites on the tentative list,” admitted Menon.

In the past five years, the only Indian additions to the Unesco heritage list are Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and the Western Ghats.

 

4 September 2012, Times of India

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Hotel coming up near Kuvempu monument

Tranquility is at stake near the residence-turned-monument of poet laureate Kuvempu (Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa) at Kuppalli in Tirthahalli taluk.

A member of the poet’s family has begun work on construction of a hotel on a site close to the monument, allegedly violating the rules.

A heap of stones have been dumped on the land meant for parking tourist vehicles. More than 300 tourists, including students from various parts of the State visit the monument every day.

The State government has handed over 15 acres of land in and around Kuppalli and 3.5 acres at Gadikal near Kuppalli to Rastrakavi Kuvempu Pratishtana.

Besides, the government gave cash and land as compensation to two member’s of Kuvempu’s family who were residing in the house. The remaining land has been identified as grama thana land, sources said.

Devangi Gram Panchayat had passed a resolution six months ago asking the taluk administration to not grant permission for construction of a commercial complex at Kuppalli.

But the Gram Panchayat has approved the proposed project, flouting the norms of land conversion, the sources alleged. Eight to ten acres are identified as grama thana land.

But, a survey has not yet been conducted, said Kadidal Prakash, assistant secretary of the Pratishtana.

Chairperson Nagarajaiah has asked Deputy Chief Minister K S Eshwarappa, who is also the district in-charge minister, to hand over the grama thana land to the Pratishtana after the survey.

4 September 2012, Deccan Herald

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Wullar project lacks security: Minister

Says 10 to 15 terrorists who attacked the project came from Pakistan

Even as work on the Rs 386-crore Wullar conservation project in north Kashmir remained suspended for the sixth consecutive day on Monday, state minister for Irrigation and Flood Control Taj Mohiud-Din alleged that the police had failed to provide security to the project.

“Keeping in view the sensitivity of the project and its past history, the Deputy Inspector General of North Kashmir was asked to provide security when the work started last year. However, no security was provided to the project,” the minister said.

A senior police officer on condition of anonymity told Deccan Herald that it was difficult to provide security to engineers and labourers working on different sites in Wullar lake.

“It is not possible to provide security to each and every worker as the Wullar lake is spread over several square kilometres having dense willow plantations,” he added.

The minister said the 10 to 15 terrorists who attacked the project came from Pakistan.

Contrary to police claims that the attackers were local militants and they caused only minor damages, the minister said: “Police initially believed that the attack was a local affair. But I maintained that it has been done by Pakistan. They (police) only believed me when a timer fitted with IED blew off a shed at the project site right in front of the officers who were analysing the nature of the attack at 12:30 pm on Tuesday (August 28),” Taj said.

“What have local militants to do with this project?” he asked. The minister said the Wullar Barrage project was considered by Pakistan to be a violation of the Indus Water Treaty and argued that the flood protection and conservation works are not violation of the treaty.

“When the project was conceived, the Central Water Commission was convinced that the it did not violate the treaty with Pakistan,” he added.

Despite assurances from police for ensuring the security of the workers and the site, the work remains suspended.

4 September 2012, Deccan Herald

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Recording history

An ongoing project called ‘Neighbourhood Diaries’ captures the tangible and intangible heritage of Bangalore’s localities such as Whitefield, Shivajinagar and Malleswaram in a series of films, writes Pushpa Achanta

History has many hues as it is often influenced by different beliefs and interpretations in spite of relevant audio-visual or textual records. But the content of these artefacts may also be debatable which actually makes the subject interesting. This is evident in ‘Neigh¬bour¬hood Diaries’, an ongoing project that is capturing the tangible and intangible heritage of Bangalore localities like Whitefield, Blackpally (Shivaji Nagar) and Malleswaram in a series of short films.

‘Neighbourhood Diaries’ germinated in the Bangalore City Project initiated by Max Mueller Bhavan/Goethe Institut, Bangalore in 2010 in which Bangaloreans Archana Prasad (an artist, art historian and co-founder of ‘Jaaga’, a space for creative expression) and Krupa Rajangam, (a conservation architect and co-founder of architecture firm Saythu), collaborated. The women observed, “We realised the significance of neighbourhood histories and of involving people of a locality in uncovering and documenting the unique aspects of the places where they have been living or working. Further, we have portrayed the transformation of different neighbourhoods from colonial times to the present and shown the films to the corresponding communities and others.”

Whitefield stories
Situated on the periphery of Bangalore, Whitefield was named after David E S White, the President of the Eurasian and Anglo Indian Association of Mysore and Coorg in 1882, who contributed to its establishment. Formerly, a countryside ‘pensioners’ paradise’, it still has some villas and churches like the Memorial Church consecrated in 1886 on land donated by the then Maharaja of Mysore. ‘Circle without Circle’, the first of six shorts in the ‘Whitefield Diaries’ series demonstrates how personal preferences and prejudices dictate oral or intangible history. While some think that the locality owed its name to the presence of English and Anglo Indians, a few feel it is because of Bele Maidana (white ground) or a betta (hill) with white rocks.

In the next film, ‘The Past is a Foreign Country’, J E Giddens, an 83-year old Whitefield resident says, “There were only 35 families here until the 1930s. In the part called the Inner Circle, people were allotted plots at Re. 1 per head in 1888. But the old mud and stone bungalows have not lasted thanks to water seepage.” And in ‘Time Capsule’, another Whitefield veteran Vivian D’Souza talks about the long standing Waverly Inn owned by James Hamilton where Winston Churchill supposedly visited to pursue his interest in Hamilton’s daughter. According to D’Souza, nobody “coloured” could stay overnight in Whitefield until 1947.

“There were hardly any buses, water or gas but we had bullock carts, sheep and cycles. I miss the ragi fields next door. The crickets don’t seem to exist anymore,” said elderly resident Christa Moss whose husband Lionel was President of the Whitefield Settlers and Residents’ Association that has maintained the neighbourhood since 1905.

Blackpally and more
Contrastingly, ‘Blackpally Diaries’ is centred in Shivaji Nagar, a culturally diverse commercial hub near Bangalore Cantonment, supposedly named after the legendary Maratha warrior, Chatrapathi Shivaji. However, during the British era, it was called Blackpally.

“There are many stories behind why the area was referred to as Blackpally. Some people attribute it to the proliferation of natives while others say it is due to the existence of blacksmiths in the area. Another version considers it a distortion of the term “Bile akki pally” or “white rice town” based on a local variety of rice,” said Rajangam at a screening of ‘Trade Off’, the second in the Blackpally series.

Shot over two months mainly by French documentary film maker Clemence Barret, Trade Off was a personalised response to the fire that broke out in February 2012 in the iconic Russel Market housing nearly 480 shops spread across two acres on two floors.

Christened after a Britisher who planned the structure along with Sir Ismail Sait, it has existed for more than 80 years selling vegetables, fruits, flowers, fish, meat and dairy products.

The lady behind the lens remarked, “After the tragic incident, we wanted to highlight the ground realities of the traders. They include Parvez Ahmad, Secretary, Russel Market Traders’ Association, whose family has been here for four generations”.

‘Lost Sequel’, the other ‘chapter’ in the Blackpally Diaries, revolves round the history of Elgin Talkies, Bangalore’s oldest movie theatre that closed on December 29 last year after its ownership moved from the family of A S Krishnamurthy. “Veerabhadra Mudaliar, my great grandfather, opened it as Elgin Hall in 1896 to stage plays. It was christened after Lord Elgin, the then Viceroy of India. My grandfather brought a projector from Bombay and converted it to a cinema place in 1920. The roof of the edifice had hollow tiles to eliminate the echo”, the erstwhile owner mentioned on camera.

His brother A S Suryakumar added, “After the first Indian talkies was screened here in 1932, it became Elgin Talkies. There is a record of every movie shown here since then”.

As per the former proprietors, women had a separate ticket counter, entrance and seating enclosure. “We were urged to construct a narrative around this building as it is a popular landmark that was becoming history. Our hope is to shoot more in Blackpally before moving to Malleswaram as people are keen on preserving common heritage. But we need financial support to continue,” Rajangam revealed.

4 September 2012, Deccan Herald

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Grasslands, not wastelands

Even as there is a debate all over the world about saving existing grasslands and rehabilitating degraded ones, Hesaraghatta’s grasslands, the last of such ecosystems around Bangalore, are under threat, writes Seema Hegde

Grasslands are the result of the lack of irregular rainfall to support the growth of a forest, but not so little to form a desert. They have grass as their dominant vegetation with a few thorny bushes of leguminous species and very few trees. They form a complex ecosystem of reptiles, birds, insects, beetles, bees and other crop pollinators and any disturbance to these grasslands would directly affect its inhabitants and indirectly affect humans by reducing the crop yield.

Forests or water are often associations that come up when one talks of conservation, but one hardly realises that scrub, thorny and grassland habitats are also needed for maintaining biodiversity. They need to be conserved for various ecosystem services they provide.

Grasslands are often mistaken for wastelands. It is wrongly perceived that the tangible (or direct) benefits society receives from grasslands are few as compared to what it receives from croplands or forestlands and hence, grasslands are given lesser importance and attention than croplands and forest lands.

A direct benefit from grasslands as perceived by society is providing fodder for cattle. But other intangible benefits like an increase in ground water level, prevention of soil erosion, and harbouring a variety of birds, and insects are not easily perceived. In many cases, grasslands are converted either into agricultural lands by ploughing and treating the land with chemical fertilisers, or into forest lands by planting fast-growing exotic species.

According to a survey by National Geographic, about a quarter of earth’s land is covered with grasslands, but many of these lands have been converted into farms.

Conversion of grasslands into croplands or forest lands or use of grasslands in other money-making projects is happening all around the world. In India also, there has been a deterioration of grasslands over the years due to both natural and anthropogenic reasons. Natural reasons like extreme temperature, variable precipitation, insufficient moisture and anthropogenic reasons like large cattle population, free and uncontrolled livestock grazing, modification of land for agriculture, conversion of grasslands into plantations for industrial use, and poor management have turned the grasslands into a really bad shape.

Dwindling bird species
The report of the Task Force on Grasslands and Deserts by the Planning Commission of India in its executive summary says that “grasslands and deserts are the most neglected ecosystems by the Ministry of Environment and Forests which looks after biodiversity conservation in India. Many natural grasslands have been converted to plantations, sometimes even in protected areas (PAs). In spite of the importance of grasslands and deserts for biodiversity conservation, livestock dependency and for poverty alleviation, we still do not have Grassland Development and Grazing Policy in place.”

Disturbance in grasslands is the main reason for the loss of many birds including the Great Indian Bustard. The Bombay Natural History Society has estimated that there are 600-700 of these birds in India.

Even as there is a debate around the world about saving existing grasslands and rehabilitating degraded ones, the grasslands of Hesaraghatta, the last surviving grasslands around Bangalore supporting a variety of fauna are under threat. It is an area of 305 acres owned by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Government of Karnataka.

It provides habitat to many migratory birds from Europe and Central Asia and also to one of the most threatened Indian birds, the lesser Florican, listed under the Schedule-I of endangered birds. Any disturbance caused to these grasslands threatens the life of the birds and other dependent fauna, and affects the chain system of the nature, and ultimately leads to ecological imbalance which we can never imagine.

Many ecological services
Residents of Bangalore may not realise it, but grasslands of Hesaraghatta provide many valuable ecosystem services to them. It is the catchment area for Hesaraghatta tank. These grasslands act as sponges, absorbing rain water and releasing it slowly into the lake. Rejuvenation of Arkavathi river basin or Hesaraghatta lake would not have any meaning if these grasslands are disturbed. These grasslands, once known for their beauty, have seen extensive littering by picnicking people and film shoot teams. There is talk of a theme park or a film city coming up, and the grasslands are under serious threat.

Researchers and scientists opine that in India, there is no special department designated to the conservation of grasslands. The Irrigation Department aims to convert grasslands into croplands and the Forest Department aims to plant trees on it. It is true that after the monsoon, the grasslands really look barren, but they really are not. The grass on the surface dies, but grows again as the stumps and seeds are underground. Even barren grasslands during summer support life and should not be disturbed and converted to land for construction. With proper protection and management, degraded grasslands can be restored to their original form.

Hesaraghatta grasslands need to be protected. It is necessary for the government and the public to understand the role of grasslands in biodiversity conservation and take immediate steps to conserve them.

No doubt, there is a necessity to conserve forest ecosystems, but at the same time there is an absolute necessity to save the grassland ecosystems as well.

4 September 2012, Deccan Herald

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Restored link for survival

At a time when incidents of wildlife straying is rampant due to shrinking of habitats, an important degraded corridor of the Kanha-Pench tiger reserves in Central India, under the Kopijhola forest block, has been restored. The success of the restored corridor lies in the fact that camera traps in the forest block has recently captured pictures of a tigress, indicating its functionality.

The corridor area covering an area of about 182 sq km, under the South Seoni Forest Division in Madhya Pradesh offers crucial connectivity for the two important tiger source populations in the two Reserves. This could be possible with the timely intervention of World Wildlife Fund-India.

The WWF team led by Senior Project Officer, Jyotirmay Jena, who had been monitoring the area intensively, informed that it was the same tigress that was previously active in the Keolari area of the Kanha-Pench corridor where it had been photo trapped thrice. Her recapture in camera trap in Kopijhola forest block show that she had moved about 18 kilometres from Keolari.

“This also proves that the corridor has become functional and is aiding in the dispersal of tigers. In addition, repeated captures of the same tigress from the area may also indicate that it is not just used for disperal but might also be the territory of the tigress,” pointed out Jena.

The restoration exercise began in 2010 when the team observed indiscriminate felling of trees by the Madhya Pradesh State Forest Corporation (commercial wing of the state forest department) in the Kopijhola forest block. Later it was learnt that these forests as a whole was proposed to be handed over to the Corporation to start commercial logging operations.

The team undertook a rapid survey of the Kopijhola forest block to assess its biodiversity. The results of the survey, which advocated a complete ban on further timber extraction, were submitted as a report to the Madhya Pradesh State Forest Department in early 2011. Based on the report, the Forest Department stopped further felling and the proposed handover was stopped as well, pointed out Jena.

The experts consider it as a positive development as corridors such as these help in the dispersal of tiger populations from source sites and thereby help in increasing genetic diversity favouring long-term survival of the species.

5 September 2012, Pioneer

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Metro’s Sarai Kale Khan station under Phase III runs into ‘green’ trouble

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s (DMRC) request for land at Millennium Park near Nizamuddin Bridge, for construction of entry and exit structures of the Sarai Kale Khan station, has not gone down well with Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

According to sources, the land agency has raised objections to construction of some portions of the station in this green belt.

Both the agencies have been in discussion over the matter, sources said. The Sarai Kale Khan station is supposed to come up as part of the Mukundpur-Yamuna Vihar corridor under Phase-III. The Millennium Park was developed by DDA and is spread over 20 acres.

“A recent meeting was held and certain issues were raised over DMRC’s request to construct part of their Sarai Kale Khan station in Millennium Park. DDA has raised objections as they feel that any construction by DMRC will ruin the green cover,’’ said a source.

DDA officials say the construction of the Nehru Place station has taken away from the beauty of the Astha Kunj Park, which is located near the station, to validate their point.

The Mukundpur-Yamuna Vihar corridor is one of the longest under Phase-III and will run almost parallel to the Ring Road.

DDA spokeperson Neemo Dhar said: “This matter is at a very preliminary stage of discussion and nothing concrete can be said about it.”

The DMRC, meanwhile, said they only require a small portion of land in Millennium Park to ensure integration of the Metro station with the Sarai Kale Khan ISBT, which is to be upgraded soon.

“At present, we will only construct the entry and exit points to the station in Millennium Park. The construction of a station near this area is necessary for integration of Metro services with the Sarai Kale Khan ISBT,’’ said a DRMC spokesperson.

According to the DMRC, they have had several discussions with the Transport department over these integration plans. Similar integration plans have also been taken up near Kashmere Gate ISBT.

Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Center (UTTIPEC) had recently taken up the matter of integrating ISBTs with other modes of transport in the surrounding areas to ensure optimal use of public space and proper amenities.

5 September 2012, Indian Express

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Heed the call of the wild for protection

The Supreme Court’s directive to ban tourism in core tiger reserve areas for now, has triggered a national debate on conserving wildlife. Unfortunately, a lot of that discussion is based on half-information

The recent order of the Supreme Court directing the notification of ‘buffer zones’ has brought the terms ‘core or critical tiger habitat’, ‘buffer zone’, ‘critical wildlife habitat’ and ‘eco-sensitive zone’ into sharp focus. With little clarity amongst the elected representatives, the media and even some officials, the prevailing state of affairs has created a fertile breeding ground for rumour-mongering and mis-information campaigns by vested interests to create uncertainty and fear of displacement amongst communities living around tiger reserves.

Before the situation slides further, the implications of these and more specifically how or whether it affects local communities, must be clearly explained. In order to do this, it would be necessary to elaborate what each of these terms means.

First, a tiger reserve includes a ‘core or critical tiger habitat’ and a ‘buffer zone’ around its immediate periphery. ‘Core or critical habitats’ of tiger reserves were constituted by issuing an overlapping notification to existing sanctuaries and/or ‘national parks’, with highly endangered tiger populations. This was done under the provisions of Section 38-V of the Wildlife Protection Act after an amendment in 2006. These have to be managed as ‘inviolate’ areas (meaning no incompatible human activity) to protect breeding populations of tigers and their prey.

‘Buffer zones’ on the other hand are immediately adjoining the core areas where a lesser degree of habitat protection is required. Even though several CTHs were notified, ‘buffer zones’ were not created. The Supreme Court is now insisting that States complete the notification process of ‘buffer zones’ in a time bound manner.

Core and buffer zones: The law allows for resettlement of people living within core areas subject to certain conditions. The question of unilateral eviction does not arise, as all tribal forest-dwellers who were in occupation of land as on December 13, 2005, are eligible for and can opt for a voluntary resettlement package of Rs 10 lakh, including alternative land, housing and other amenities.

‘Buffer zones’ typically comprise reserved forests, protected forests, deemed forests and even unencumbered Government land contiguous with the ‘core area’. As against the ‘inviolate’ paradigm in ‘core areas’, ‘buffer zones’ are to be managed under a ‘co-existence’ paradigm. Therefore the bona fide rights of people within revenue enclosures of such forests will continue. So, the fear that the notification of ‘buffer zones’ will lead to displacement of people or curtailment of recorded rights is baseless.

Can buffers include villages? Not really, but in some States, the forest departments are attempting to notify privately-owned agricultural landscapes including entire village limits without any forest areas, as ‘buffer zones’ and even imposing some controls. This may lead to serious conflicts because the law is abundantly clear that a ‘buffer zone’ is also an integral part of a tiger reserve. A plain reading of the following legal provisions illustrates why private lands and villages should not be included in the buffer zone.

Section 38-V (2) clarifies that the provisions of Sections 18(2), 27(2), (3) & (4), 30, 32 and 33 (b) & (c) of the Wildlife Act apply to a tiger reserve as they apply to a sanctuary. These sections impose restrictions on littering the grounds of a ‘buffer zone’; causing or kindling a fire and use of injurious chemical substances. They also empower the chief wildlife warden to take measures for improvement of any habitat and enforce ecologically compatible land uses in the ‘buffer zones’.

On the ground, this may well translate into preventing farmers from burning of land after cropping, prohibition on the use of pesticides and imposition of prescriptions on changing cropping patterns.

It would, therefore, be prudent to leave out private lands and villages not encompassed within forests from the purview of ‘buffer zones’ even if this means the buffer does not fully wrap around the core.

Critical tiger habitat vs Critical wildlife habitat: There is huge confusion on this issue as well. While a CTH is notified under the provisions of Section 38-V(4)(i) of the Wildlife Act, a CWH is constituted under Section 4(2) of the Forest Rights Act. While there are differences in the provisions under the two laws, there is one important similarity, which is that both CTH and CWH are to be constituted by notifying ‘national parks’ and sanctuaries that qualify to be treated as inviolate for the purpose of tiger/wildlife conservation based on scientific and objective criteria.

Even in these areas, the preferred strategy rightly being adopted is voluntary and incentive-driven resettlement and not forcible eviction as is often portrayed by some activists and elected representatives to whip up public sentiment against notification of new areas.

Eco-sensitive zone: In order to ensure the integrity of the landscape around sanctuaries and ‘national parks’ and create a transition zone from highly protected areas to other areas that require lesser degree of protection it is now mandatory to notify an ESZ under Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act. This could extend up to 10km and even beyond if required. Activities in an ESZ are classified under three regimes: Prohibited, regulated and permissible. Mining and large hydel projects which destroy habitat integrity come under the prohibited regime. However, all ongoing agricultural and horticultural activity are in the permissible category and can continue unhindered. More importantly, acquisition of land or resettlement is not envisaged in these ESZs.

Is it realistically possible then to have a large core fully surrounded by forested ‘buffer zones’ and an eco-sensitive zone? Most reserves in India have convoluted boundaries and hard edges abutting highways, agricultural lands and villages. The reality, therefore, is to recognise ‘core areas’ are not encircled fully by other forest lands which then gradually merge into farm lands and human dominated areas. In most landscapes this goal may remain a utopian dream.

So, what’s the way forward? A practical strategy could be to first notify ‘buffer zones’ comprising only contiguous forests and un-encumbered Government land while simultaneously constituting ESZs of appropriate width around ‘core areas’ through a site-specific approach. This will synergistically operate to provide the necessary cushion to the ‘core areas’ to absorb shocks and prevent fragmentation of habitat.

Another innovative strategy could be to encourage tourism companies to forge equitable profit-sharing agreements with local communities/panchayats to convert farm lands immediately adjacent to reserves into viable buffer areas over a five to 10-year period. This could be feasible around many reserves, particularly in the Western Ghats.

While we continue to debate this important issue, there is an immediate and urgent need for elected representatives, officials and NGOs to reach out to local communities living in the periphery of tiger habitats and reassure them on why a ‘buffer zone’ or an ‘eco-sensitive zone’ will not lead to displacement or disruption of their bona fide agricultural activities. This will be crucial to minimise hostility and ensure success of this vital conservation strategy to secure wild landscapes — and not just small islands called tiger reserves.

(The writer is a trustee of Wildlife First and has served on the National Board of Wildlife)

5 September 2012, Pioneer

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NBWL meet strategises on reducing wildlife deaths

The meeting of the National Board For Wildlife (NBWL), on Wednesday, presided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first ever since its reconstitution two years back, considered several proposals including measures to check wildlife deaths due to linear infrastructure and diversion of CAMPA funds for conservation purposes among others.

No decision was, however, taken on subjudice issues related to eco tourism, import of cheetah or relocation of lions in Kuno Palpur reserve in Madhya Pradesh from Gujarat. According to well-placed sources, all the agenda lined up for the meeting was discussed. Stressing on the importance of wildlife and bio-diversity, the PM said additional funds would be provided for their protection.

The members raised the issue on the use of CAMPA funds for voluntary relocation from Protected Areas. They also called upon the need to review the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) and reminded on the impending amendment of the Wildlife Protection Act.

The meeting noted with concern the rising number of wildlife deaths in the wake of linear infrastructural projects in the country. The PM assured that he would write to the respective ministries of power, irrigation and surface transport to consider the proposal of mitigation fund that can be used to tackle such emergencies.

The issue of bringing important wildlife corridors and Elephant Reserves under the purview of the Standing Committee of NBWL was also discussed. The members stressed on the need to send such diversion proposals to SC-NBWL for approval. This, they pointed out, was as per the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) and Wildlife Conservation Strategy-2002 that clearly state that there can be no diversion of forestland for non-forest purposes from critical and ecologically fragile wildlife habitat.

 

6 September 2012, Pioneer

Weaving the nation with melody

Gandhi Jayanti will be celebrated on October 2 as World Melody Day by dozens of Veena maestros and professors in universities who will play the ancient musical instrument in different parts of the globe with the objective to usher in peace and harmony.

As a tribute to the Apostle of Peace, Mahatma Gandhi, accomplished Veena players in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Mysore and Thiruvananthapuram besides overseas will play their favourite instrument which “represents the confluence of the science of musical sounds and the Indian philosophy of harmony and tranquillity”.

Violin legend T. N. Krishnan will be honoured with the prestigious Sangeetgyan Tatwagyan at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan here.

On that day, Veena will reverberate in the auditorium as noted Veena players Saraswati Rajagopalan, C. Balasubramaniam, S. Radha Krishnan, Uma Balasubramaniam and Aishwarya Lakshmi will give separate performances.

Saraswati Rajagopalan, a top-ranking Veena player at All India Radio, says she was one of the founding members when the event started seven years ago. “I have been performing every year. This year I am giving the main performance. Through this festival, we want to propagate the need to have world peace.”

Noting that the long history of Veena is a magnificent saga of innovation in science, culture and art of music, Veena Foundation Secretary-General V. Raghurama Ayyar says: “Let us pledge ourselves to the cause of Veena so that the Ganges of our divine music may flow through the resonance of Veena from the South to the North to reinforce national integration. The Veena has been lovingly dedicated by maestros to express the music of the spheres and to establish communion with the Supreme Being. Veena recitals will be a unique and momentous celebration of the ancient acoustic innovation and the musical sound and resonance of India.”

Mr. Ayyar says the event to celebrate Veena is basically aimed at fostering harmony among the people cutting across religions, castes and man-made artificial boundaries.

The event is in memory of former Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts Trust president and Veena Foundation founder L. M. Singhvi.

Chennai will celebrate the birthday of the Father of the Nation at Sri Krishna Gana Shabha. N. Ramani (flute), Alepey Shri Venkatesan (vocal), Padmavati Anathagopalan and Jayanti Kumaresh (Veena), T.C.A. Sangeetha (veena), Revati Krishna (veena) and Jeyraaj Krishnan and Jeyashree (veena) will play.

Violin maestro L. Subramaniam will inaugurate the show at National Institute of Advanced Sciences in Bangalore. Prof. Visweswaran will play in Mysore. Kalyani Sharma and disciples, and Bhagwati Mani and disciples will play in Mumbai.

The musical prayer will start from Melbourne, Sydney and continue daylong to end in San Francisco, US, travelling through Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and sarod centres in India and Europe.

Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt will play Mohan Veena in San Francisco. The famous Iyer Brothers – Ramnath and Gopinath – will play in Melbourne and Malathi Nagarajan in Sydney.

 

6 September 2012, Hindu

Environment Ministry bats for endangered island bird

The Union Environment Ministry has taken the side of conservationists fighting for survival of 300-odd Narcondam hornbills, threatened by a Coast Guard plan to set up a radar surveillance system on the tiny island in the Andamans where the birds make their home.

On August 31, the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued an order rejecting the proposal, suggesting that the Coast Guard explore other options, “like installation of off-shore structures and several other viable options…which can spare the unique habitat of Narcondam Island from disturbance,” pointing out that “there is no such option available for the hornbill whose survival may get seriously threatened if the establishment of proposed radar is allowed on the Narcondam Island.”

The island in question spans less than seven square kilometres, and its mixed tropical forests are the only place in the world where these colourful birds are found. During the time of egg-laying and chick-rearing, the female birds shed their flight feathers, rendering them as vulnerable as the now-extinct — and similarly flightless — dodo.Conservationists had raised a red flag after the Coast Guard asked for the diversion of a little more than half-a-hectare of forestland, to set up a static radar sensor unit as part of a chain of similar units all along the coast for remote monitoring.

When the proposal was taken to the National Board for Wildlife last year, member A. Rahmani was asked to carry out a site inspection. His report recommending that the Coast Guard’s proposal be rejected was submitted in June. The final decision has now been announced by the Ministry, much to the delight of conservationists.

“Scientifically and ecologically, rejecting a project on Narcondam is fully and entirely defensible,” says Neha Sinha of the Bombay Natural History Society. “But it is also the romantic notion — of helping an island endemic species with no ‘other place to go’ — that also seems to have triumphed.”

The Coast Guard has now been asked to set up an expert committee to “study and explore other alternatives like aerial, satellite, off-shore, ship-based or land-based surveillance systems at other islands, for ensuring the defence and economic security of the country.”

 

7 September 2012, Hindu

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Bringing back grand old jamavar shawls and their magic weave

To resuscitate the rare art of producing jamavar, People for Animals is hosting an extraordinary two-day exhibition on antique jamavar shawls at Hotel Lalit here beginning this Saturday.

According to People for Animals chairperson Maneka Gandhi, the exhibition will be a first-of-its-kind in the country. “In order to explain to the public the art of painstakingly producing ancient jamavar shawls, we have roped in all-India expert Rajeev Sethi. People will know exactly how the antique form of weaving was done.”

Jamavar shawls are fast disappearing because the weavers, by and large living in the Kashmir Valley, are not willing to take up the tedious task of this ancient style of weaving, she says. “It takes a year to produce a jamavar shawl. This is the reason why this antique form of weaving has not passed down from one generation to another. Children have drifted to other professions. Two hundred and fifteen shawls procured predominantly from families in Jammu & Kashmir will be displayed on a grand scale. Proceeds from the exhibition will go for our pig and monkey shelters.”

Researchers from Ms. Gandhi’s organisation will put together a fabulous collection of both original and new jamavars which the current generation of weaver families have laboriously tried to revive.

Rajeev Sethi, known internationally for preserving the South Asian cultural heritage, will make the most of the opportunity at the exhibition in imparting his encyclopaedic knowledge acquired over the years on the art of identifying jamavars from different centuries. He will discuss the subject with film-maker Ekta Kapoor on the first day of the exhibition.

“I hope Ekta in one of her serials shows a mother-in-law fighting her daughter-in-law over possessing an ancient jamavar shawl!” says Rajeev in a lighter vein.

According to Rajeev, the discussion format will give people an idea of People for Animals’ consistency in creating awareness about such issues.

“It is adept at linking art to humanitarian concern. It will be a rare opportunity, extremely rewarding for anyone to acquire a heirloom which goes into meeting greater ends.”

Explaining the drastic decline in the art of producing jamavar shawls, Rajeev says the rapid proliferation of mechanisation in the 19th Century was the primary reason. “European looms were invented to break into the Indian market. In Europe it had become extremely fashionable to own hand-made products from India. Mechanisation led to manufacturing of products in large quantities but they eventually destroyed the livelihood of 2 lakh artisans linked to jamavar trade.” According to People for Animals spokesperson, the Jamavar weave came from Persia. Sultan Zain-Al-Abidin summoned weavers from Turkmenistan to teach their skills to Kashmiris. “The Mughal era saw this art flourish, reaching its height during Emperor Akbar’s time.”

Kashmiri weavers worked together simultaneously on one shawl and this could take up to three years depending on the technique, design and colour palette involved, he says.

 

7 September 2012, Hindu

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Ghaziabad 'clears' trees for golf course

Municipal authorities in Ghaziabad have agreed to allow the development of a golf course on large stretches of a city forest near GT Road. The stretches have already been robbed of their green cover by a drain that was allowed to overflow for years.

The Ghaziabad Municipal Commission (GMC) move has sparked talk that it allowed the trees on the stretches to die to make way for the golf course on land that is set to become more valuable after the constructions of an abutting shopping mall, the New Bus Stand Metro station and the road linking National Highway 58 and NH 24 are completed.

“The proposal to develop the golf course and a farm house was made in 2008-09. The trees, however, were a major hindrance. The sewage from the drain was not checked, which led to the deaths of the trees,” Rajendra Tyagi, a municipal councillor and social activist, said.

The GMC in June gave the go-ahead to the Ghaziabad Development Authority (GDA) to develop the golf course on adjacent stretches of 31.5 acres and 49.5 acres. The go-ahead came after the GMC board had been dissolved in view of local body elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The profits from the golf course, to be constructed at an estimated cost of Rs. 20 crore, will be shared 60:40 by the GMC and the GDA. The civic body hopes to fund a part of the R165 crore it is to contribute to Metro construction from the profits.

The 200-acre area, the land use of which is designated as city forest under the GDA’s Master Plan 2021, was developed in 2000-01. Material published then by the GMC claimed that around a lakh trees were planted.

In June 2009, social activists protested the damage to the trees caused by the dumping of garbage, its burning and the spill from the drain that carries untreated sewage to the Hindon river. The same month, Tyagi made public some GMC documents that spoke of the destruction of around 6,000 trees. The civic body later retracted the documents.

The next month, the Union environment ministry found that around 2,000 trees could be “damaged” if nothing was done to stem flooding in the city forest.

The GMC took steps to stop the dumping of garbage in 2009, but the flooding continued. As a result, only 25-30 trees remain in the 31.5 acre stretch. The 49.5 acre patch also has a huge area without trees. “Where have the trees gone? This is just not official negligence,” Tyagi said at a news conference on Thursday.

Municipal commissioner Jitendra Singh said the green light for the golf course had been given without any hurry. The project is “in the interest of the common man”, he claimed.

On the trees that have disappeared, Singh said: “The trees have vanished because of the spill from a drain. There must be some records of how many trees were lost, but I don’t know. I am not responsible for what previous officials did. Existing trees can be saved once the drain is concretised for Rs. 4 crore.”

The decision to concretise the drain, which splits the two stretches, was taken only after the go-ahead for the golf course was given.

GDA vice-chairman Santosh Kumar Yadav said the golf course would be developed only over a part of the 49.5-acre stretch and no trees would be felled. He was silent on how the 31.5 acres will be used.

 

7 September 2012, Hindustan Times

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Letters and beyond

Akshara, a week-long exhibition, combines calligraphy and crafts from across India to celebrate the power of the written word. Founder Jaya Jaitly speaks to Ektaa Malik about it

There is nothing more permanent than the written word. There is something very concrete about it. Celebrating that very permanence is Akshara an exhibition crafting Indian scripts. It will bring to the fore extensions of the languages and the scripts into various art forms and scripts. From weaves, paintings, wooden art effects, jewellery and jugalbandi of dance with scripts, this exhibition will present Indian scripts in a new light. It begins from September 16 at the Indian Habitat Centre.

With 22 official languages and equal number of scripts India is indeed a rare treasure in terms of linguistics. “With such a strong presence of languages and scripts, why do craft persons feel that they are illiterate and uneducated? Is it because they are not familiar with English? That means something has gone wrong some where. We have some of the oldest languages and scripts in our country, then why do we still need the stamp of English as a validation point? We are champions at undermining ourselves,” shared Jaya Jaitly whose organisation, The Dastkari Haat Samiti, is spearheading the project.

For Akshara Jaitly has used 14 of the 22 official languages. She visited many artisans, some came to Delhi and there was a lot of back and forth happening — with the ideas and the concept.

“This exhibition will be a display of how calligraphy can be a part of almost every thing. Be it a sari, with saubhagyavati bhav woven on the pallu or Kabir’s jhini chadariya painted on a wooden screen”, informed Jaitly.

Calligraphy traditionally has been part of the Chinese and Persian cultures. “But look at out languages. Even if one can’t read Tamil, Telugu or Gurmukhi, it’s beautiful to look at. We have used letters from those languages as motifs,” added Jaitly.

“No matter how important English is today, given the context of globalisation and what not. But now one can undermine the relevance of our regional languages which are our mother tongues. I am angry at my mother, that I can speak fluent French but not Malayalam, my mother tongue. I can speak Hindi fluently, given my politics but I cannot give a speech in Malayalam”, said Jaitly.

The exhibition will also see the release of the book which is a visual journey into the art of calligraphy and how its being used in multiple crafts.

A documentary film Aksharakaaram-Meditations In Calligraphy and Dance, will also be screened during the opening.

Apart from Kalamkari which has a visible influence of calligraphy, there are also other artforms that use calligraphy as part of their art. Gita Govinda by Jayadev has been painted on a mirror in the Kangra style of painting. There are duvet covers which have inscriptions in Tibetan. And they are not just meaningless words strung together, they also impart wisdom of the ages.

“These are expressions of a larger cause. The artisans also learn. Who couldn’t read and write, can now inscribe their name on the products that they themselves have made. And those who can read and write they help with the designing and idea of the craft,” said Jaitly.

The exhibition will be a showcase alone, where people can come and see the products. “We would be very happy if people come and place large orders. The craftpersons would be demonstrating their skills. We are sowing a seed and then it’s up to anyone to take it forward,” concluded Jaitly.

 

7 September 2012, Pioneer

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Delhi govt throws lifeline to 15 monuments in ruins

It is an early 18th century traditional water system that has a unique method of harnessing run off from the Hauz-i-Shamshi lake in Mehrauli to a pleasure garden with two pavilions and formed a Mughal retreat to beat harsh Delhi summer.

The structure — called Jharna —comprises three parts the reservoir, the waterfall (complete with a sloping overflow wall) and a series of fountains.

Presently, it lies in dilapidated condition with no water whatsoever and anti-social elements squat for most part of the day.

But now, there is hope in sight for this place. More than three years after they were identified, work for conservation and illumination of 15 heritage structures and monuments — including Jharna — would be taken up by Delhi government’s department of archaeology soon.

Few others of these monuments are unknown tombs and a tomb with enclosure wall in Mehrauli Archaeological Park, baradari and a tomb in Sheikh Sarai and three gateways at Badarpur.

The government is also in the process of renewing the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with conservation NGO Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) as the work would be outsourced to it.

The department had issued final notification for protection (under Delhi archaeological act) for more than two-dozen monuments in May.

Apart from renewing the MoU with INTACH, the government will also form a committee to evaluate/monitor work and recommend rates for conservation work.

“This committee would have experts and also officials from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI),” said AGK Menon, who heads INTACH’s Delhi chapter.

The MoU duration would be for five years. While conservation and preservation work would be taken up for all 15 monuments and structures, illumination would be done for those that are feasible.

“The cabinet note should be moved soon,” said a senior Delhi government official.

 

7 September 2012, Hindustan Times

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Lake reduced to dumpyard

Basavanakatte lake in Kengeri hobli, once a vital water body in the area, has now been reduced to a dumpyard of plastic waste.

Lack of conservation efforts by the authorities has left the lake to die a slow death.

Heaps of burnt and unburnt plastic wastes are dumped here illegally, polluting the water body and its surroundings. But the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike authorities and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board seem to be oblivious.

The lake measuring about four acres is situated at Yelchiguppe village near Magadi Road in Kengeri hobli. Some of the researchers working along with Dr N Nandini, Professor, Department of Environment Sciences, Bangalore University, during their field visit to study the lakes within the Palike limits found the Basavanakatte lake in a pathetic state.

“It is indeed shocking. The Basavanakatte lake is a good source of water. But burning the plastic on the lake bed will release hazardous dioxins and biphenyl into the air and the half-burnt plastic waste will pollute the water body,” said Dr N Nandini.

The environmentalists are worried that groundwater too will be contaminated here.

She wondered how the KSPCB accorded permissionfor the industries to dump waste here. When Deccan Herald contacted D R Kumaraswamy, Environment Officer, he said the Board was not aware of the issue and would look into the matter.

 

10 September 2012, Deccan Herald

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Hauz Khas, Lotus Temple, Akshardhaam Temple Lunch, Agrasen ki Baoli (beautiful step well), Firoz Shah Kotla, Nizamuddin Dargah

Hauz Khas Complex in Hauz Khas, South Delhi houses a water tank, an Islamicseminary, a mosque, a tomb and pavilions built around an urbanized village with medieval history traced to the 13th century of Delhi Sultanate reign.[1][2] It was part of Siri, the second medieval city of India of the Delhi Sultanate of Allauddin Khilji Dynasty (1296–1316).[1][2] The etymology of the name Hauz Khas in Urdu language is derived from the words ‘Hauz’: “water tank” (or lake) and ‘Khas’:“royal”- the “Royal tank”. The large water tank or reservoir was first built by Khilji {the plaque displayed (pictured in the gallery) at the site records this fact} to supply water to the inhabitants of Siri.[3] The tank was de–silted during the reign of Firuz Shah Tughlaq(1351–88). Several buildings (Mosque and madrasa) and tombs were built overlooking the water tank or lake. Firuz Shah’s tomb pivots the L–shaped building complex which overlooks the tank.

In the 1980s, Hauz Khas Village, studded with domed tombs of Muslim royalty from the 14th to 16th centuries, was developed as an upper class residential cum commercial area in the metropolis of South Delhi, India. It is now a relatively expensive tourist cum commercial area with numerous art galleries, upscale boutiques and restaurant.[4][5] Swans and ducks are among the attractions at Hauz Khas Lake - which is part of the attraction to visitors.

The water tank that was excavated during Alauddin Khilji‘s reign (1296–1316) in the second city of Delhi to meet the water supply needs of the newly built fort at Siri, was originally known as Hauz-i-Alai after Khilji.[1] But Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1351–88) of the Tughlaq dynasty re–excavated the silted tank and cleared the clogged inlet channels. The tank was originally of about 50 ha (123.6 acres) area with dimensions of 600 m (1,968.5 ft) width and 700 m (2,296.6 ft) length with 4 m (13.1 ft) depth of water. When built, its storage capacity at the end of each monsoon season was reported to be 0.8 Mcum. Now the tank size has substantially reduced due to encroachment and siltation but is well maintained in its present state (pictured).

Feruz Shah who ruled from his new city called the Firozabad (now known as Feroz Shah Kotla) – the fifth city of Delhi – was an enlightened ruler. He was known for “his keen sense of historical precedent, statements of dynastic legitimacy and the power of monumental architecture”. He is credited with construction of new monuments (several mosques and palaces) in innovative architectural styles, irrigation works and renovating/restoring old monuments such as the Qutub Minar, Sultan Ghari and Suraj Kund, and also erecting two inscribed Ashokan Pillars, which he had transported from Ambala and Meerut in Delhi. At Hauz Khas, he raised several monuments on the southern and eastern banks of the reservoir.

Recent lake restoration efforts

In efforts made in the past by the Delhi Development Authority to develop Hauz Khas village, the inlets to the reservoir were blocked and consequently the lake had gone dry for several years. To rectify the situation, a plan was implemented in 2004 to store storm water generated at the southern ridge of Delhi behind an embankment and then diverting it into the lake. An outside source has also been tapped by feeding the water from the treatment plant at Sanjay Van into the lake. With these efforts initiated by The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the lake has been revived.[10] More recently the Hauz Khas lake and the surrounding park has been actively developed e.g. the pavement area where people walk and jog around is being renovated currently.

The notable structures built by Firuz Shah on the eastern and northern side of the reservoir consisted of the Madrasa (Islamic School of Learning – a theological college), the small Mosque, the Main tomb for himself and six domed pavilions in its precincts, which were all built between 1352 and 1354 A.D.

Madrasa

Established in 1352, the Madrasa was one of the leading institutions of Islamic learning in the Delhi Sultanate. It was also considered the largest and best equipped Islamicseminary anywhere in the world. There were three main Madrasa's in Delhi during Firuz Shah's time. One of them was the Firuz Shahi madrasa at Hauz Khas. After the sack ofBaghdad, Delhi became the most important place in the world for Islamic education. The village surrounding the Madarsa was also called Tarababad (city of joy) in view of its affluent and culturally rich status, which provided the needed supporting sustenance supply system to the Madrasa.

The madrasa structure has an innovative design. It was built in L-Shape as one contiguous structure on the south and east edges of the reservoir complex. One arm of the L-shape structure runs in the North–South direction measuring 76 m (249.3 ft) and the other arm runs in the East–West direction measuring 138 m (452.8 ft). The two arms are pivoted at the large Tomb of Firuz Shah (pictured). At the northern end there is a small mosque. Between the mosque and the tomb two storied pavilions exist now on the northern side and similar pavilions on the eastern side, overlooking the lake, which were used as madrasa. The two arms are interconnected through small domed gateways passing through the tomb at the center. The North–South arm with balconies overlooking the reservoir is a two storied building with three towers of varying sizes. Ornamental brackets cover the upper storied balconies while the lower stories have corbelled support. Roof overhangs or Eaves(chajjas) are seen now only in the upper stories though it is said that they existed on both stories when it was built.

From each floor of the Madrasa, staircases are provided to go down to the lake. Many cenotaphs, in the form of octagonal and squarechhatris are also seen, which are reported to be possibly tombs of teachers of the Madrasa.

It is recorded that the first Director of the Madarasa was

one Jalal al-Din Rumi who knew fourteen sciences, could recite the Quran according to the seven known methods of recitation and had complete mastery over the five standard collections of the Traditions of the Prophet

The madrasa was well tended with liberal donations from the Royalty.[9] Timur, the Mongol ruler, who invaded Delhi, defeated Mohammed Shah Tughlaq in 1398 and plundered Delhi, had camped at this venue. Expressed in his own words, his impressions of the tank and buildings around Hauz Khas were vividly described as:

When I reached [the city’s] gates, I carefully reconnoitered its towers and walls, and then returned to the side of the Hauz Khas. This is a reservoir, which was constructed by Sultan Feruz Shah, and is faced all round with stone and stucco. Each side of the reservoir is more than a bows–shot long, and there are buildings placed around it. This tank is filled by rains in the rainy season, and it supports the people of the city with water throughout the year. The tomb of Sultan Firuz Shah stands on its bank

While his description of the place is correct but his ascribing construction of the tank to Firuz Shah was a misconception.

Pavilions

The madrasa is flanked by the reservoir in the northern front and by a garden on its southern side at the second floor level. The entry to the garden is from the eastern gate which paases through the Hauz Khas village. The garden houses six impressive pavilions. The pavilions with domes are in different shapes and sizes (rectangular, octagonal and hexagonal) and on the basis of inscriptions are inferred to be graves. A cluster of three hemispherical domes, a large one of 5.5 m (18.0 ft) diameter and two smaller ones of 4.5 m (14.8 ft) diameter, portray exquisite architectural features of foliated motifs on the drums with kalasa motifs on top of the domes. Each pavilion is raised on a plinth of about 0.8 m (2.6 ft) and is supported by square shaped wide columns with entablature which have decorative capitals that support beams with projecting canopies. Ruins of a courtyard with a rectangular plan, are seen to the west of the three pavilions which are built of double columns. The pavilions and the courtyard are conjectured to have been used as part of the madrasa in the past.[7][8] Another striking structure in the garden, opposite to the Feruz Shah’s tomb on the southern side, is a small eight pillared Chatri seen in the garden which has large cantilevered beams that supported flat eaves all round the small dome.

Mosque

The northern end of the madrasa is secured to a small mosque. The qibla of the Mosque projects towards the reservoir by about 9.5 m (31.2 ft). A domed gateway from the south east provides entry into three rooms of size5.3 m (17.4 ft) x2.4 m (7.9 ft) whose utility is not traced. A “C"-shaped layout of a double row of pillars on a raised podium forms the prayer hall, which is open to the sky. The qibla wall seen clearly from the reservoir side has five mihrabs. The avant–garde setting of the central mihrab with a domed chhatri (cupola) with open sides is seen in the form of a pavilion projecting into the reservoir. The other mihrabs are set, on either side of the main mihrab, in the walls with grilled windows.

Firoz Shah's Tomb

Firuz Shah, who established the tomb, ascended the throne in 1351 (inherited from his cousin Muhammad) when he was middle aged, as the third ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty and ruled till 1388. He was considered a well–liked ruler. His wife was a Hindu lady and his trusted Prime Minister, Khan-i-Jahan Junana Shah was a Hindu convert. Firuz Shah assisted by his Prime Minister was responsible for building several unique monuments (mosques, tombs, pavilions), hunting lodges and irrigationprojects (reservoirs) in his domains, apart from establishing and constructing a new Citadel (palace) in his new city of Firuzabad.[14] Feruz died at the age of ninety due to infirmities caused by three years of illness between 1385 and 1388. On his death, his grandson Ghiya Suddin was proclaimed as his successor to the throne. During his enlightened rule he abolished many vexatious taxes, brought in changes in the laws on capital punishment, introduced regulations in administration and discouraged lavish living styles. But the most important credit that is bestowed on him is for the large number of public works executed during his reign namely, 50 dams for irrigation across rivers, 40 mosques, 30 colleges, 100caravanserais, 100 hospitals, 100 public baths, 150 bridges, apart from many other monuments of aesthetic beauty and entertainment.

Among the notable buildings of historical importance that he built within Hauz Khas precincts is the domed tomb for himself. The tomb which is very austere in appearance, is located at the intersection of the two arms of the L–shaped building which constitutes the madrasa. Entry to the tomb is through a passage in the south leading to the doorway. The passage wall is raised on a plinth which depicts the shape of a fourteen phased polyhedron built in stones. Three horizontal units laid over eight vertical posts that are chamfered constitute the plinth. Squinches and muqarnas are seen in the solid interior walls of the tomb and these provide the basic support to the octagonal spherical dome of the tomb. The dome with a square plan – 14.8 m (48.6 ft) in length and height – has a diameter of 8.8 m (28.9 ft). The maximum height of the tomb is on its face overlooking the reservoir. The domed gateway on the north has an opening which has height equal to two–thirds the height of the tomb. The width of the gate is equal to one-third of tombs' width. The entrance hall has fifteen bays and terminates in another doorway which is identical to the gateway at the entrance. This second doorway leads to the tomb chamber and cenotaph, which are accessed from the gateway through the L–shaped corridor. Similar arrangement is replicated on the western doorway of the tomb leading to the open pavilion on the west. The ceiling in the dome depicts a circular gold medallion with Quranicinscriptions in Naksh characters. Foliated crenellations are seen on the outer faces of the base of the tomb. Interesting features seen on the northern and southern sides of the tomb, considered typical of the Tuglaq period layout, are the ceremonial steps provided at the ground level that connect to the larger steps leading into the reservoir.

The tomb, a square chamber, is made of local quartzite rubble with a surface plaster finish that sparkled in white colour when completed. The door, pillars and lintels were made of grey quartzites while red sandstone was used for carvings of the battlements. The door way depicts a blend of Indian and Islamic architecture. Another new feature not seen at any other monument in Delhi, built at the entrance to the tomb from the south, is the stone railings (see picture). There are four gravesinside the tomb, one is of Feruz Shah and two others are of his son and grand son.

The tomb was repaired during the reign of Sikandar Lodhi in 1507 AD, as is evidenced from an inscription on the entrance. The main impression is one of solidity and lack of decoration(typical of Tuglaq style).

The village

The Hauz Khas village which was known in the medieval period for the amazing buildings built around the reservoir drew a large congregation of Islamic scholars and students to the Madrasa for Islamic education. A very well researched essay titled “A Medieval Center of Learning in India: The Hauz Khas Madrasa in Delhi” authored by Anthony Welch of the University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, refers to this site as “far and away the finest spot in Delhi not in the ingenuity of its construction and the academic purpose to which it was put but also in the real magic of the place”. The present status of the village also retains not only the old charm of the place but has enhanced its aesthetic appeal through the well manicured green parks planted with ornamental trees all around with walk ways, and the sophisticated “gentrified” market and residential complexes which have sprung up around the old village. The tank itself has been reduced in size and well landscaped with water fountains. Welch, elaborating on the present status of the place, has said:”A centre of Musical culture in the 14th century, the village at the Hauz Khas had regained this erstwhile role in an unexpected guise." The village structure that gloriously existed in the medieval period was modernized in mid 1980’s presenting an upscale ambience attracting tourists from all parts of the world.[8][9] The village complex is surrounded by Safdarjung Enclave, Green Park, South Extension, Greater Kailash. There are some of the India's most prestigious institutes situated in the neighbourhood including Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, National Institute of Fashion Technology, and All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Visitor information

Hauz Khas is close to Green Park and Safdarjung Development Area and is well connected by road and Metro rail to all city centers. A light and sound show narrating the historicity of the complex is organized by the Tourism Department in the evenings. The complex is open for visitors all days of the week from 10 AM to 6 PM and there is no entry fee. The Deer Park at the entry to the tank is a beautifully landscaped lush green park where spotted Deers, peacocks, rabbits, guinea pigs and variety of birds around the tank could be seen.[16] The Ministry of Tourism of Government of India is in the process of setting up India's first night bazaar at Hauz Khas to be called the "Eco Night Bazaar". The objective is to provide organically grown foodgrains, seeds of rare plants, handmade paper products and a safe place to watch cultural festivals. Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTDC) has also proposed setting up an open air theatre to present cultural fests, folk dances and plays. Eco–friendly shopping kiosk made in bamboo with a bamboobridge to cross the lake are also planned.[17][18] Heritage walks are organized regularly by The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a non–profit organization set up in 1984, to highlight the heritage status of the places visited and actions taken to protect and conserve India’s natural and cultural heritage. These walks are organized every year during the week end as per a well publicized schedule. Participants have to register in advance with a small fee to participate in such walks. In February 2009, one such walk was organized to highlight the tank and the monuments (categorized as Grade B in archeological value in INTACH documents) in the Hauz Khas complex.

Agrasen ki Baoli (also known as Agar Sain ki Baoli or Ugrasen ki Baoli), designated a protected monument by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) under the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958, is a 60-meter long and 15-meter wide historical step well on Hailey Road near Connaught Place, a short walk from Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, India. Although there are no known historical records to prove who built Agrasen ki Baoli, it is believed that it was originally built by the legendary king Agrasen during the Mahabharat epic era and rebuilt in the 14th century by the Agrawal community which traces its origin to Maharaja Agrasen.

Baoli or bawdi, also referred to as baori or bauri, is a Hindi word (from Sanskrit wapi or vapi, vapika). In Rajasthan andGujarat the words for step well include baoli, bavadi, vav, vavdi and vavadi. Water temples and temple step wells were built in ancient India and the earliest forms of step well and reservoir were also built in India in places like Dholavira as far back as the Indus Valley Civilisation.

It is among a few of its kind in Delhi. Some parts of the well, with 103 steps, are permanently immersed in water. The visible parts of this historical step well consist of three levels. Each level is lined with arched niches on both sides. From an architectural perspective this step well was probably rebuilt during the Tughlaq period. However, the oldest existing Baoli in Delhi, the Anangtal Baoli located in Mehrauli which was also known as Yoginipura, was built in the 10th century by the Rajput King Anang Pal II of Tomar Dynasty.Anang Tal literally means reservoir provided by Anang Pal of the House of Tomar.

Regarding the name Agrasen Ki Baoli it should be stated that in 1132 AD an Agrawal poet named Vibudh Shridhar mentions, in his work Pasanahacariu, a wealthy and influential Agrawal merchant of Dhilli named Nattal Sahu who was also a minister in the court of King Anang Pal III. Rebuilding the old Baoli would have been within the means of a wealthy Agrawal community.

Since its inauguration to public worship and visits in December 1986, the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, India has drawn to its portals more than 70 million visitors, making it one of the most visited edifices in the world. On an average, 8,000 to 10,000 people visit the Bahá’í House of Worship each day. These visitors have admired its universal design in the form of a lotus and have been fascinated by the Teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, especially its tenets of the Oneness of God, the Oneness of Religions, and the Oneness of Mankind.

This Bahá’í House of Worship of the Indian subcontinent joins six other Bahá’í Houses of Worship around the world: Apia, Western Samoa; Sydney, Australia; Kampala, Uganda; Panama City, Panama; Frankfurt, Germany; Wilmette, USA. Each of these Houses of Worship, while sharing some basic design concepts, has its own distinct cultural identity embodying the principle of unity in diversity.

The Bahá'í Faith is a world religion whose purpose is to unite all races and peoples in one universal Cause and one common Faith. Bahá’is are the followers of Bahá’u’lláh, Who they believe is the Promised One of all Ages.

The traditions of almost every people include the promise of a future when peace and harmony will be established on earth and humankind will live in prosperity. We believe that the promised hour has come and that Bahá’u’lláh is the great Personage whose teachings will enable humanity to build a new world.

 

6 September 2012, Hindu

Beyond all borders

The people outside the palace gates felt disowned: They were once Malayalis, but when the Kanyakumari district shifted states, they came to be called Tamilians. Perhaps on the days they wanted to belong to Kerala, they’d step inside the Padmanabhapuram Palace and the six-and-a-half acres it stands on. For the palace complex still belonged to Kerala, holding within it the tales of the centuries of kings who once lived there, prominent among them Marthanda Varma.

It was in 1550 AD that the first of the palace buildings was built, says my guide Rajeshwari as she takes me on a tour of the palace. Extensions were made on all sides over the years until the rooms numbered 127. Like most ancestral homes in Kerala, the palace opens with a poomukham (reception area). The importance of the number nine in architecture is seen at the poomukham itself, with the roof bearing 90 flower designs. The councillors’ chamber upstairs bears nine lotus flowers on its ceiling; another room has 63. The most popular ruler to take up residence in the palace was Marthanda Varma, and legends say that he fought several attempts on his life to ascend the throne. A hall full of paintings attests to the king’s story: From his early days of hiding from the Ettuveetil Pillamar (an opposing group of nobles) to his becoming the king and killing them all. It was his nephew, the next ruler - Dharma Raja Karthika Thirunal Varma - who last ruled from the Padmanabhapuram Palace. He shifted the capital of Thiruvithamkoor, then a princely state, from Padmanabha-puram to Thiruvanantha-puram. Numerous they might have been, but every room in the palace had a purpose. The councillors’ chamber was where the king and his ministers would discuss important decisions. Two large halls, called oottupura, were built for annadaanam - the serving of lunch to 2,000 poor Brahmins every day. The upparika malika that housed the king’s room had the treasury on its lower level, and the meditation and puja rooms on the floor above. “The idea was that money always comes last, and God first,” Rajeshwari says. Today visitors from near and far enter, and leave, the palace. The centuries have changed the old borders and brought new ones. What was once 186 acres of Travancore rule has been reduced to 6.5 acres of tourism.

 

15 September 2012, Asian Age

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A city the earth needs

Auroville is an experiment that works, says Mark Tully

As the Capital hosts the first ever Auroville Festival, Sir Mark Tully, well known writer and Chairman, International Advisory Council, Auroville Foundation speaks to The Hindu about the unique character of the city near Pondicherry and its importance. Excerpts:

What is the reason for holding the Auroville festival in New Delhi?

Delhi is a hub for international diplomats and audiences. The Auroville Festival is aimed at showcasing the city’s achievements so far. We want to draw people’s attention to Auroville’s role in the world, so our first step is a series of talks on the city: its experiments in urban design and architecture, afforestation and environmental concerns. Auroville’s approach to the economy is unique. The seminar we are holding will throw light on the city’s education, art, literature and crafts as well as collaboration with the local bio-region.

We have also brought several artists from Auroville and abroad, their products that include paintings, sculptures, pottery and photographs will reflect their lifestyles, skills, and innovations in different fields.

You are projecting Auroville as a model city, especially in terms of urban development and environment. How is it different from other cities?

Yes. Innovative architecture and environment-friendly building technology are two hallmarks of Auroville. We are developing the city in seven steps. When Auroville was founded 40 years ago, it was barren land… Now it is green with over two million trees and shrubs.

The people there make and use half-baked bricks for buildings. These are compressed earth blocks, made with soil mixed with a small amount of cement.

The people there make and use half-baked bricks for buildings. These are compressed earth blocks, made with soil mixed with a small amount of cement.

These are cured and baked in the sun reducing the use of large amount of fired wood, thereby saving forests… The citizens have developed a hand-operated machine to make these bricks. These are used to construct buildings faster and create local employment too.

Auroville houses are uniquely shaped. They play with space and serene designs beautifully. Now our focus is on the building of the city itself. India’s foremost architect B. V Doshi is involved in the infrastructure of Auroville.

To be more environment-friendly, the city is also experimenting with solar pumps, and solar energy. It’s a home to the largest concentration of renewable energy technologies in India. Remarkable contribution from Auroville is a solar boat - one of the biggest in the world.

Auroville’s lifestyle is idealistic. Could you elaborate a bit on the philosophy of the people who live there?

Idealistic, yet it is working fine. The reason is that the city is habitated with just 2,300 people. And it has 50 different nationalities, including a large number of Indians. So, there is no domination of any one religion or country. We aim at making it 50,000 inhabitants’ city for now. The USP of the city is that it is a bridge between rationality and superamental consciousness. The mother coined this term and Aurobindo was a bridge between Mother’s thought of superamental consciousness and his own teachings. Auroville aims at becoming a model city of the future.

The Matra Mandir is our biggest divine centre. It can be a great tourist attraction. At Matru Mandir, soil of 124 nations and all the states of India was put in an urn in the centre of the planned township four decades ago. It marked a beginning of the collective adventure in human unity.

With such idealistic living, what role does money play?

It may be interesting to note that Auroville believes in a cashless economy. This is another experiment based on the city’s spiritual aspirations. Auroville collects together the resources produced by the community and makes them available to all as per their need without any exchange of money. So far it seems to be working, but visitors/tourists in the city need to open an account.

I see people fighting for landed property across the world, but in Auroville the land has no private ownership. The entire land belongs to the Auroville Foundation which holds it in trust with humanity as a whole. One can build a house but ownership will remain with the Foundation.

You say Auroville is self sustainable….

Largely yes. Auroville has the only Indian made mud-brick press which sells bricks all over India and exports to Africa, Sri Lanka, USA and Europe as well. Auroville also boasts of several farms and 150 commercial units ranging from architectural services to handicrafts, handmade stationery, incense candles, essential oils, food processing, garment manufacturing, metal working etc. It employs some 5000 people. These units contribute to the economy of Auroville.But the best part is that members of the community are supposed to contribute one-third of their earnings in running the economy, which they religiously do.

 

15 September 2012, Hindu

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Spiritual realty

The Khirki mosque in the Capital is yet another monument on government land that is being encroached upon

Some weeks ago, on July 28 to be precise, this column carried a story about a daring attempt to encroach upon an archaeological find that had been revealed because the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) had begun digging in the Daryaganj area despite Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protests that the DMRC tunneling was likely to damage the foundations of the Akbarabadi mosque. The mosque was known to be located beneath the Subhash Park and plans to reveal and conserve them had already been discussed among conservationists. The DMRC paid no heed to the protests and only after conservationists had raised Cain and after a communally surcharged situation had begun to develop that the Delhi High Court ordered the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to vacate the encroachment and hand over the land to the ASI.

The MCD shows no signs of removing the encroachments but that is not surprising as it has not taken any action on another order of the Delhi High Court that had directed the MCD to remove all encroachments from Jama Masjid. This order had come in 2010 and a deadline had been set by the Supreme Court for September 15, 2010. Today is the second anniversary of the expiry of the deadline and there is no sign of any action from the MCD that could suggest that they have any intention of following orders.

These two are not the only instances of encroachments on historically and archaeologically important mosques. All kinds of people are in the process of encroaching or have successfully encroached upon all manner of places of worship. The places encroached and those encroaching do not necessarily belong to the same side of the denominational divide. In fact encroachment on places of worship, especially archaeologically and historically important structures, is an extremely secular and universally followed practice in India.

Another blatant encroachment that has been going on for years, slowly, systematically and to a fairly well laid out plan that is even now being implemented can be seen in operation at the Khirki mosque opposite the swanky and utterly incongruous Select City Walk and other malls near Saket. The mosque was built in the second half of the 14 century by Khan-e-Jahan Juna Shah Telangani, the prime minister of Firozeshah Tughlaq.

The monument is in the process of being so enclosed from all sides that soon no one will ever know that a beautiful mosque, architecturally probably the only one of its kind, ever existed in Delhi.

The mosque is a two storey building. There used to be a tehkhana or a cellar on the ground floor, probably built to escape the summer heat and the floor above was for prayers. The mosque is roofed over with four openings to let in light and has 89 domes. This feature and the fact that it is perhaps the only mosque that is fully roofed over, gives it its unique architectural value.

Though the entire mosque is built with Delhi quartz stone, held together with crushed brick and lime stone mortar and then plastered over, its walls are broken with perforated windows carved out of Sandstone. It is this attribute that gave the mosque its name Khirki mosque and the village that subsequently developed near the mosque came to be called Khirki as well.

In the aftermath of partition, this village, inhabited then by Muslim Jats, lost most of its population to riots and migration and was subsequently settled by those who had been able to escape to Delhi from what was now Pakistan. The new arrivals began to build all around the mosque and by the time we got around to passing the 1948 law for protection of monuments, much land had been encroached upon to the east, west and north of the mosque. The south face of the mosque that overlooked the road somehow escaped this building frenzy.

It is now the east face that is under assault. The open ground has sprouted little make-shift temples on all four corners of the ground and recently an Indian Academy of Judo and Yoga (Registered) has fixed its board on the ground. It will not be surprising if one finds a local real estate agent with his grubby finger in this spiritual pie.

The ASI lodged a complaint with the police, but nothing happened. Nothing normally happens in cases like this, the standard police response is lack of staff and other responsibilities. The fact is that police does not want to take sides with the ASI and antagonize the local elements that they have to deal with on a daily basis. The fact that many of the encroachers are either politically active or have political patrons also helps to de-motivate the police. The status as of now is that ASI has begun proceedings to acquire this land, except that they do not have the ready cash and meanwhile, the builders of the pracheen temple and future judokas and yogis continue to flex their muscles.

The fact that despite all the efforts of ASI nothing much is being done against the encroachers has emboldened those who live on the other three sides and hectic building activity in the last two months has seen, with most houses adding a floor or two. And this has happened after the restriction on renovation, alteration and additions to any existing building within 300 meters of a protected monument has come into force.

One wonders if those capable of initiating action against encroachment actually care a whit. Why does the police have to wait for a complaint, can’t they see that government land is being encroached upon?

 

15 September 2012, Hindu

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The loss of Loktak

In Manipur, an indigenous people and their way of life faces threat in the name of development

The stillness of the waters is compelling. A few stray boats glide across the surface in the distance but the waters remain unbroken by the passage. The silence of the present is in stark contrast to the dynamism of the lake in the past. Not many months ago, thousands of fisher folk used to manoeuvre their narrow boats through the phumdis or floating biomass, but are now being evicted from the lake.

The Loktak Lake in the heart of Manipur, is the largest freshwater lake in north-eastern India and touted as the only floating lake in the world due to the phumdis. The wetland, spread over 286 sq km area in three districts of Imphal west, Thoubal and Bishnupur, is designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. For centuries, the local human populace has coexisted with the lake in harmony. But today, it bears an eerie quietude that is evocative of the destruction of the indigenous tribe and culture that is taking place.

Salaam Mani Masa, wife of Salaam Tomba, from the Sendra settlement around the lake in Moirang is afraid of what awaits them. “We have been fishing for generations. I go fishing, my husband goes fishing, my daughter also goes fishing. If we are not allowed to fish anymore, how will we survive?”

A typical day for people in the area begins early in the morning with a member from each family taking a boat out to the lake for fishing. Once into the water, the communities meet and fish till late evening, and sometimes even well into the night. There was a time when they were able to earn Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 from selling their catch in the market in one season alone, but the trade has been suffering of late, not helped by security personnel swooping down on the lake to flush out insurgents. The population of migratory birds was reportedly affected and the ecosystem of the place disturbed by hovercrafts making their way into the region.

Once upon a time agriculture used to be one of the main occupations in the region, but a hydro electric project raised the water levels leading to flooding of the farmlands.. It was then that people took to fishing, but now are being stopped from pursuing that too.

Many families have already been evicted from the lake settlement and the Salaam family knows that there isn’t much time before its turn to go will also come. The police have been dismantling homes and though the evicted have been promised compensation, not much has reached them yet.

“The government may have announced Rs 50,000 but by the time all the officials and people in between take their cuts, the amount that reached us residents was Rs 5,000. How is a family supposed to start life afresh with that amount?” asks a resident who has been evicted and is temporarily taking shelter in his brother’s house.

Before the phase-wise eviction of the concrete houses started, the Loktak Development Authority had burnt down temporary bamboo shelters built by fisher folk on the lake waters. The fisher folk used to stay on the bamboo structure for days and even a week sometimes to catch fish in the phums (ponds). To disable the few who continue to fish in the lake, the government is trying to remove the phumdis that forms on the lake surface. The fisher folk create cage farms from these naturally floating water plants to catch fish. “So much money is being wasted for removing the phums. But they will keep coming back. Because it is nature,” asserts Laishram Macha, a fisherman.

He rattles off the names of around 15 varieties of fish that thrive in the lake. The Keibul Lamjao National Park on the lake is the only remaining natural habitat of the endangered brow-antlered deer or the dancing deer, locally known as Sangai. A few years ago, around 2,000 cattle egrets were said to be sighted near the village, but now their numbers have dropped to below 70.

The fisher folk fear eviction any time now but want a clear cut plan for their rehabilitation. “What we really want is that even if we are evicted, we should be allowed to fish in a designated area of the lake. We hear that they want to number the boats to be able to collect tax. Our livelihood has become difficult by the day but it should not be taken away from us,” says Laishram. It is being said that the lake, which is already reeling under pressure from the hydro electric project and filth that flows in from the rivers, is being made people-free for developing tourism around the lake.

Yet again, a way of life is being brought to an end to make way for so-called development.

 

16 September 2012, Hindu

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100 species at risk of extinction

The spoon-billed sandpiper , three-toed sloth and a long-beaked echidna named after Sir David Attenborough are among the 100 most endangered species in the world, according to a new study.

The list of at-risk species has been published as conservationists warn that rare mammals, plants and fungi are being sacrificed as their habitats are appropriated for human use.

More than 8,000 scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) helped compile the list of species closest to extinction, which was published by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Conservationists fear the species in 48 countries may die out because they don't offer obvious benefits to humans. The list is headed by the "weird and wonderful" spoon-billed sandpiper which breeds in Russia and migrates to Bangladesh and Myanmar . There are just 100 breeding pairs of the birds left in the wild with that number declining by a quarter annually.

There are also just 500 pygmy three-toed sloths left on the uninhabited Isla Escudo de Veraguas , 10 miles off the coast of Panama. They are half the size of sloths found on the mainland and are the smallest and slowest sloths in the world. But their numbers are declining with fishermen and lobster divers "opportunistically" hunting the small animals, the report said.

Zaglossus attenboroughi, or Attenborough's echidna, named after the eminent naturalist and BBC wildlife expert, is one of just five surviving species of monotreme, ancient egg-laying mammals found in Australia and New Guinea 160 million years ago. Today the mammal's home is the Cyclops Mountains of the Papua Province of Indonesia but it has been listed as in danger due to the destruction of its habitat by loggers, agricultural encroachment and hunting.

Professor Jonathan Baillie, the ZSL's director of conservation, said: "The donor community and conservation movement are leaning increasingly towards a 'what can nature do for us' approach, where species and wild habitats are valued and prioritised according to the services they provide for people.

"This has made it increasingly difficult for conservationists to protect the most threatened species on the plant. While the utilitarian value of nature is important , conservation goes beyond this. Do these species have a right to survive or do we have a right to drive them to extinction ?"

The ZSL's Ellen Butcher, who co-wrote the report, said: "All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable . If we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist."

Most Endangered | facts and figures
Araripe Manakin, Antilophia Bokermanni Found in: Brazil Numbers left: 779

Sumatran Rhinoceros
Dicerorhinus sumatrensis Found in: Malaysia, Indonesia Numbers left: 250 individuals

Pygmy three-toed sloth
Bradypus pygmaeus Found in: Panama Numbers left: 500

Spoon-billed sandpiper
Eurynorhynchus pygmeus Found in: Russia, Bangladesh & Burma Numbers left: 100 breeding pairs

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey
Rhinopithecus avunculus Found in: Vietnam Numbers left: 200

 

16 September 2012, Times of India

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Urban water system: a tale of inefficiency

While India is preparing to launch the $40-billion second phase of Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) with a significant focus on water and sanitation, a lot of ground needs to be covered before every Indian city can boast of non-stop water supply.

Considering that a majority of urban population still does not have easy access to water, it is time that the second phase of JNNURM tackled this problem successfully.

Urban planning experts say that water supply is one of the most glaring urban problems and is available for less than three hours in a day on an average across Indian cities and towns. According to the 54th National Sample Survey, 70 per cent of urban homes have access to taps, while 21 per cent are dependent on tube well or hand pump for their water needs.

Experts are of the opinion that waste water recycling and reusing the same for various purposes does not figure in our water management system. This is happening when almost 50 per cent water is wasted due to the lack of efficient water management. In almost all Indian cities, both the water supply system and the waste water system or sewerage is in a bad shape.

Experts emphasise that we need managerial and policy changes to handle the water issues. The policymakers seem to be oblivious of the fact that there is a considerable gap between the amount of water put into the distribution system and the amount of water billed to the consumer. Experts say that technically, this is non-revenue water (NRW).

A large amount of non-revenue water reflects the poor management of water utilities in our cities which lack governance, autonomy, accountability and managerial skills. The total cost of NRW worldwide is pegged at $14billion per year, with a third of this accounted for by the developing world.

While availability of water is a persistent problem, most Indian cities also face the problem of disposal of waste waters. During the rains the cities get flooded, hampering the economic activity and causing substantial loss to the nation.

Usually, the focus of improvement in water supply and sewerage is on creation of new assets, rather than management of existing ones. India ‘s water sector is long overdue for appropriate reforms, better management and accountability and a prioritised as well as focused strategy.

In the second phase of the JNNURM, it is important that the policymakers insist on time-bound action by all the states so that water is saved and managed better. As a developing nation we cannot afford to waste an important and depletable resource like water because of inefficient and obsolete water management system.

 

16 September 2012, Indian Express

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Not just a river, but a heritage

In the 2014 electoral battle, the plight of the Ganga should become the trigger for change, cutting across regional and religious lines. Associating the name of this sacred river will lend a moral high to the poll campaign

If there is one national symbol close to the heart of every Indian, or at least a majority of them, it is the river Ganga. The river has been the cradle of civilisations and has sustained generations of Indians not only with life giving aqua but also instilled in them a hope for the life after. While there may be divergence of opinion in different parts of the country on other aspects associated with Hinduism including the consumption of beef, inhabitants in no part of the country have any dispute whatsoever on the sanctity of Ganga.

In fact, the great grandchildren of indentured labour who were taken by the British as far as Mauritius and West Indies still revere the river, building replicas and even naming their children after the mighty Ganga.

A majority of the people in the country, including the highly educated ones, believe that bathing in the river causes not only the remission of sins but also facilitates eternal liberation from the cycle of life and death. From the kin of politicians to businessmen, film stars and the aam aadmi, all traverse long distances to immerse the ashes of their beloved ones in the holy waters of the Ganges, bringing their spirits closer to mukti or nirvana. There may hardly be a Hindu household, poor or rich, which does not keep a jar containing waters from the ‘holy river’. These waters are family treasures which are used from birth to death and for worship on special occasions. Ganga is thus a great social leveller as well.

Several centres of pilgrimage sacred to Hindus lie along the banks of the river Ganga, including Gangotri, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Allahabad and Varanasi. It is known by different names in different cities and even countries. Thus, the river also serves as a great leveller.

Ganga is not just sacred for Hindus. It is equally sacred for the adherents of other Indian origin religions. During the Loy Krathong festival in distant Thailand, candlelit floats are released into waterways to honour Buddha and the goddess Ganga for good fortune and washing away sins.

Ganga has nurtured the much talked about Ganga-Jamni culture and hence has over the centuries become a bridge between the country’s two prominent communities.

This was reflected recently when Muslim religious leaders came forward to extend a helping hand to sadhus and seers who are campaigning for conservation of river Ganga. According to Maulana Saeedur Rehman, principal of Centre of Islamic studies, while it is well known that Ganga is associated with the faith of Hindus it is no less important for Muslims. Terming the drive to clean the river as a “holy campaign”, Mr Rehman said he would not only extend support to it but would do whatever was required in achieving it. In the words of Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangimahli, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Ganga is a national river and it is not just the Hindus but also the Muslims who live on its banks and earn livelihood. Hence, it is the duty of all to protect and save it.

Over the centuries, the river has thus become a great symbol of national unity.

However, the miserable condition of the river, the ever increasing pollution and the massive corruption involved in cleaning it has also come to symbolise the decadence in national polity, ethics and character.

Unfortunately, while many Hindu organisations have attempted to make it an emotional issue, no political party, including those who have governed States through which the river passes, has shown any sincerity whatsoever in preserving and saving the river. On the contrary, they have been active partners in colluding with vested interests and the mafia to exploit the river to the hilt.

The Ganga Action Plan has over the years become the den of rampant corruption. In the past four years alone, over `10,000 crore have been spent on Save Ganga works, but the condition of the river has gone from bad to worse. According to the National Evironmental Engineering Research Institute, oxygen and other vital contents in the Ganga are getting destroyed gradually but surely.

It is in this context that the proposed Ganga Samagra Yatra of the BJP assumes significance. Beginning from Ganga Sagar on September 20, it will pass through five States, with special emphasis on Uttar Pradesh where party leaders would offer prayers and hold public meetings at 54 places along the river to appeal to the people to save Ganga from pollution and highlight the Centre’s neglect of the river.

However, as is being widely speculated, the yatra should not become just a cosmetic exercise to project any particular leader (Ms Uma Bharti’s name is being widely discussed) or woo a couple of backward castes such as the Lodhs and the Nishads.

The river with all its past and present symbolisms has the potential to serve as a catalyst for change at the national level.

Here, one would recall that the 1857 uprising against the British was, literally, triggered by a gun, the Pattern 1853 Enfield rifled usket. To load the new rifle, soldiers had to bite the cartridge, open and pour the gunpowder into the rifle’s muzzle, then stuff the cartridge case, which was coated with some kind of grease to make it waterproof, into the musket as wadding, before loading it with a ball.

Whether by design or coincidence, the cartridges were allegedly greased with lard (pork fat) which was regarded as unclean by Muslims, or tallow (beef fat), regarded as sacred to Hindus.

Roti, symbolising the basic need of the common man and lotus flowers, reflecting the eternal values of Indian culture, began to circulate in large parts of India, motivating people to rise against the alien rulers.

A striking feature of the War of 1857 was that both Hindu and Muslims assiduously organised the front against the foreign rulers. Hindu-Muslim unity was visible among soldiers, people as well as among leaders. “Sanjhi Virasat and Sanjhi Shahadat” (Common Legacy and Common Martyrdom) became the mantra.

Significantly, the Nauchandi mela of Meerut, the birthplace of the uprising, is a rare symbol of communal harmony with Hindu and Muslim shrines - Nauchandi temple and the dargah (shrine) of Muslim saint, Bala Mian - lying close by. Visitors pay obeisance at both the shrines irrespective of the religion they belong to.

In the 2014 electoral battle, the plight of the Ganga should become the trigger for change, cutting across regional and religious lines. Associating the name would lend that much needed credibility and moral high to the campaign.

Powerful symbolisms have been agents of change world wide. If the BJP hopes to herald a change, it would have to sincerely take up the cause of Ganga, to appeal both to its core and wider constituency. The trinity symbol of lotus, bread and Ganga has the potential to change the socio-political character of the nation.

But then, it would require a Bhagiratha Prayatna (Herculean effort) and not just another yatra. (The author is a Delhi-based senior journalist)

 

17 September 2012, Pioneer

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Exhibition explores art of calligraphy

Simply speaking, calligraphymeans beautiful writing. But an exhibition that just opened in the city explores the art form in all its dimensions, and takes it far beyond common perception. Akshara, the exhibition at the Indian Habitat Centre, will continue till September 21 and includes over 140 diverse exhibits ranging from calligraphy engraved on stones to that weaved in fabric.

The project, which involved 58 artists from 16 states and highlights 21 art forms, took three years to complete. By bringing together calligraphy and craftsmanship, it aims to give literacy a new meaning. "It's liberating to be able to read and write, and many rural artisans feel inadequate without the knowledge of English or the computer," says Jaya Jaitly, president, Dastkari Haat Samiti, which organized the exhibition.

For people to understand the concept behind calligraphy and its application, they conducted a six day workshop last year, where senior graphic designers and craft designers helped translate regional scripts into contemporary design. The results are on display now. As you step into the Visual Arts Gallery, there is an array of calligraphic art work - Jharna Patachitra paintings and terracotta lamps from West Bengal, papier mache wall clocks from Jammu and Kashmir, inscribed stoneware from Tamil Nadu, leather work from Andhra Pradesh, and Tagore's poems weaved on cloth, among others.

Some artists have created special items for retail at the exhibition, so visitors can take a bit of their experience back home. There are shawls, jewellery, cushion covers, miniature kavad art pieces, dupattas, clipboards, files, and notebooks for sale at the Experimental Art Gallery.

"I made dupattas with zari motifs of Kabir's dohas," says Maqbool Hasan, an artist from Varanasi, whose family has been practicing the art for around 200 years. Artist Abdulrazak Mohmed Khatri from Gujarat has put up calligraphy printed with natural colours on cotton sheets. Vijendra Bharti from Jaipur has made miniature paintings with stone colours and gold foil, some on old post cards as well. For the exhibition, however, he created an ambitious wooden divider with Kabir's couplets, "I worked 10 hours a day for a month and a half," he says.

The interactive aspect of the exhibition at Open Palm Court Gallery is a film combining calligraphy and choreography. They have also released a book, written by Jaya Jaitly and Subrata Bhowmick, which not only catalogues the exhibition, but also shows calligraphy in open spaces - painted on walls as advertisements or on film posters.

 

17 September 2012, Times of India

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Delhi: ASI to examine antiquity factor of Quran copy worth R 1cr

Pulled up by a court here, the Delhi Police has requested the Archaeological Survey of India to determine the antiquity factor of a copy of the Quran seized from a man who tried to sell it for Rs 1 crore.

In a report filed before the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Manish Yaduvanshi said, Delhi Police said it has requested ASI to determine how old was the Quran.

"Investigation officer informs that request has been made to ASI to re-examine the seized holy Quran regarding its age," the court noted.

The judge, however, pointed out that the report does not mention how much time will it take for further probe to ascertain if the book has been in existence for more than 75 years and if it has any literary or aesthetic value.

The report was filed by Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime, in pursuance of the court's earlier order by which it had pulled up the cops for first seizing the scripture and getting it deposited with the National Archives of India (NAI) on court's order saying it was an antique piece, and later seeking its release saying it is not an antique as it is not more than 100 years old.

"The Investigating Officer (IO) seems to have hastily arrived at the conclusion that since the holy Quran is not more than 100 years old, it is not covered under the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972, and therefore, no offence (is made out)," the court had then said.

The case involving the holy book dated back to July 6, 2011, when the Crime Branch got a tip off that old Delhi resident Azaz Ahmed Shakil would be selling his antique piece of Quran for Rs 1 crore to a person at Rajghat.

 

17 September 2012, Pioneer

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Heritage bylaws for city in a year

The Intach Delhi Chapter has sent a proposal to Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that it will prepare all heritage bylaws for the 174 centrally-protected monuments in the city within a year. National Monuments Authority (NMA) can't decide on applications for no-objection certificates for many projects till these bylaws are ready, sources said.

ASI is yet to respond to the proposal, but sources in India National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) said they had unofficially begun the work for monuments like Agrasen ki Baoli and Humayun's Tomb.

"First, ASI has to approve the bylaws prepared by Intach for 13 typologies of ASI monuments across the country. These cover about 50 monuments in total across all types of situations like urban/rurual settings, living monuments etc. Once approved, these will serve as case studies while preparing bylaws for all other monuments," said an official. Intach is likely to submit its report for the 13 typologies to ASI by the end of this month.

Many projects in the city, especially large public projects like Delhi Metro's heritage line or the K G Marg parking, are waiting for an NOC from NMA. Sources said a final decision on these projects would largely depend on the bylaws. "An entire process has to be followed. First, ASI has to sign an agreement with Intach to make bylaws for all 174 monuments. Then the bylaws prepared by Intach have to approved by ASI and sent to NMA for notification," said an official. While NMA has given clearances to few projects on a case-to-case basis, officials said larger projects would require more time to be cleared and could largely depend on the heritage bylaws.

In Delhi, the bylaws for Sher Shah Gate and Khairul Manzil have been prepared on a priority basis and are pending notification. The bylaws for monuments like Begumpuri Masjid and Bijai Mandal have also been drafted and are part of the 13 typologies identified by ASI and Intach. These are yet to get ASI's clearance.

 

17 September 2012, Times of India

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For coal blocks, Chhattisgarh dropped elephant reserve plan

On June 4, 2008, Arvind Jain, chairman of CII Chhattisgarh, wrote a letter to the divisional forest officer, Korba, saying that since coal blocks of a few companies fell in the area of a proposed elephant reserve in the district, “the reserve should be shifted to some other location”. The companies, Jain mentioned, included JLD Yavatmal Energy Ltd of Nagpur-based Dardas, now named in a CBI FIR in coal block allocations. Subsequently, the state government decided to drop the 450 sq km proposed reserve in Lemru, Korba district, without informing the Centre even though it had already received clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests for the reserve on October 5, 2007.

North Chhattisgarh has a substantial elephant population in Jashpur, Surguja, Raigarh and Korba districts, which also have rich coal blocks. Leaders from both the BJP government and Congress have been seeking protection of elephants in the region. The then CII chairman’s letter said that the since proposed elephant reserve will “block at least 40 million tonnes of coal production per annum in future”, it may be shifted to some other location.

Defending the move to drop the Lemru reserve, the Chhattisgarh government says it hadn’t notified setting it up till Jain sent the letter and hence there was no question of scrapping it. “An elephant reserve in Lemru was just an initial concept. The state government had already proposed to strengthen three traditional elephant habitats in the state — Badalkhol, Tamarpingla, Semarsot. These had to be declared as elephant reserves and the area in between as habitat management corridor. The government did not find a reserve in Lemru feasible as then the total area under elephant reserves would have become too big and unmanageable, affecting hundreds of villages,” government spokesperson N Baijendra Kumar told The Indian Express.

Asked whether the government had given in to CII demands, he said: “Anybody has the right to make demands. We decided against Lemru as it was found non-feasible. It had nothing to do with coal blocks or companies.”

Arvind Jain’s letter to the divisional forest officer, Korba, said four blocks - Nakia, Seyang, Fatehpur and Fatehpur East - fell within the 10 km radius of the proposed sanctuary. Of these Syang block had been allotted to AES Chhattisgarh Energy Pvt Ltd, Nakia to Chhattisgarh Captive Coal Mines Pvt Ltd, a consortium of five companies, Fatehpur to SKS Ispat and Power Ltd and Prakash Industries Ltd, and Fatehpur East to Visa Power Ltd, JLD Yavatmal Energy Ltd, Green Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, RKM Powergen Ltd and Vandana Vidyut Energy Ltd.

Incidentally, when Nakia coal block was allotted to Chhattisgarh Captive Coal Mines Pvt Ltd, K K Shrivastava was director (Personnel) of South Eastern Coal Fields Ltd, a subsidiary of Coal India Limited under Ministry of Coal. He would have sat in for a meeting of the screening committee at the Centre on the allocation. After retirement, Srivastava took over as CEO in Chhattisgarh Captive Coal Mines Ltd.

Contrary to its claims now of Lemru having been “non-feasible”, the Chhattisgarh government had laid out its benefits while seeking the reserve a few years earlier. In April 2005, then principal secretary (Forest) P Joy Ommen had written to the Centre for creation of an elephant reserve saying Chhattisgarh had around 100 elephants and in the absence of a proper zone, man-animal conflicts were on the rise. He had also mentioned “a resolution passed by the state Assembly” seeking a reserve in Korba.

In October 2007, Chhattisgarh received a letter from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests approving Lemru for the reserve. Subsequently, on November 6, the principal chief conservator of forests wrote to the forest conservator, Bilaspur/Surguja circle, to take necessary steps for notification of the reserves. The letter read “Lemru (Korba), Badalkhol (Jashpur), Tamorpingla (Surguja) are under elephant reserves” and unless the elephant corridor links all these areas, “it will not be effective”. Lemru was clearly considered an integral part of the elephant corridor. “We talk of sustainable development, but do nothing. Lemru was part of a no-go area in Korba, still given to companies,” said noted activist Sudeip Srivastava.

Interestingly, the state did not inform the Centre about its Lemru reserve move. So on July 29, 2009, replying to a question in the Lok Sabha, Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said the Centre had granted permission to create two elephant reserves in Lemru and Badalkhol Manora-Tamarpingla in Chhattisgarh - nine days after the former had been scrapped.

 

18 September 2012, Indian Express

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Scapes that time forgot

A lovely exhibition at Delhi Art Gallery takes us through the pre and post-colonial history of this country through paints. By Shana Maria Verghis

There’s a considerably large body of work on landscape art by Indians, dating back as early as the latter part of the 18th century. Though he better known names only emerged in the latter part of the 19th century.

Some of its been shown at the ongoing Indian Landscapes, The Changing Horizon, exhibition in Dehi Art Gallery. This will be on till September 29. Nightscapes, costumes, architecture, flora and fauna from another age, have all been captured for posterity.‘ From times when Indians have few visual records to imagine their past, through the eyes of one of their own kind.

People might be familiar with early colonial artists like William Hodges. And the Danielles, after whom the Tavern at the Imperial Hotel is named.

Or a Robert Grindlayz, a soldier, who went on to found Grindlays Bank.

But there are many Indians who painted landscapes in that age.

Like Sujatha Kejriwal. Sen was hugely influenced by Nicholas Roerich. (DAG had some Roerichs, but Kishore Singh, who curated this show rued the fact that they were all sold).

AndKejirwal was one of the few women landscape artists. The reason being, Singh hazards a guess, “that because of social norms like purdah, they were rarely allowed outside the four walls of their home or courtyard.”

Till the Company School of Artists came to the country, Indian artists were mainly doing miniatures.

The British (pre-dating them were some Dutch artists, but the gallery did not have much information on them), were initially painting for their leiges. Or the local British rich people. And when the East India Company came into the picture, the Company School became their propoganda tool to advertise the might of Empire.

As local artists faced competition from the foreigners, it is suggested that they quickly adapted to new techniques like watercolour and oil, and even the topics they chose were similar, though somewhat bizarre. As one perspective of steps beside a river bank by a nameless Indian artist suggests. And some of the landscapes by Indians “had no source of light,” Singh pointed out. Moreover they were also usually painting for rich rulers, who would have been, in turn aping the colonisers.

The exhibition is also a historical chronicle, because landscape art fell out of favour over a century ago.

Mainly because of the development of photography.

The Gallery, which usually brings out extensive research material to accompany their shows, has done the same this time. There are examples of works of the modernists, and people like Kishore Khan who later migrated to Lahore in Pakistan.

The earlier Indian landscapes, (we’re talking late 19th and early 20th century), belonged to groups like the Bombay Art Society, and the tradition them was to give medals to those who did particular kinds of work. Initially these were influenced by the colonisers. So if landscapes were the ‘thing’ if them, such was the case with Indian artists. There was a lot of sucking up going on, but in the post-landscape period, cronyism continues to dog the politics of art.

The contemporary Indian artists, include Manu Parekh, known for his Banaras series. A subject that engrossed him for years. Ram Kumar, Raza, Souza, Akbar Padamsee and others also fit in with occasional images of rural and urban scenes, like Bikash Bhattacharya’s Kolkata scapes.

“Landscapes are not fashionable any longer, so you don’t find most of the major artists doing them today,”explained Singh, adding that, “Paramjit Singh is one of the rare few who still does.”

Some of the artists specialised in seascapes. But the show does not have too many. Apart from aquatints by a handful of British artists, made available through a slide show, the other special treat is a 70mt something scroll.

Some of the artists specialised in seascapes. But the show does not have too many. Apart from aquatints by a handful of British artists, made available through a slide show, the other special treat is a 70mt something scroll.

It’s by an Indian artists and is a long story on people that begins with nature, forests and animals, then winds up with festivals and people. Community life is beautifully conveyed, and after this, there is more nature.

Several of the Indian canvases depict pilgrimage spots. And perspectives of historical monuments. The earlier work is cruder, and imitationary.

But the latter is stronger, and even has a sense of pride. This might have to do with the sense of nationalism that was sweeping the country, pre-Independence.

And with that the landscape artists from Indian could reclaim their land from the people who had tried to stamp their own impression on it. However these are readings that one does between the line. As some art student, or follower of art schools might.

But if nothing else, the exhibition does hold a candle to an important period. And its captured in some kind of chronological order in the books. Though the randomness of the show, might make the history behind it more confusing to understand.

However its worth it just to wade through the books, which they have kept nearby on a table. And believe us it won’t be the least waste of time at all. This is a must see.

 

18 September 2012, Pioneer

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Of Mughals, masjids and MLAs

A politician’s demand to revive the Akbarabadi Mosque is the latest in a series of instances of using Islamic historical sites to assert religion in public space. For instance, Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays to facilitate namaaz

Do not be surprised if Shoaib Iqbal, the Lok Janashakti Party MLA from Matia Mahal, soon asks for the revival of Masjid Kashmiri Katra, sufi shrine of Sheikh Kalimullah Jahanabadi, the imambara built by Maulavi Muhammed Baqar etc. in addition to persisting on his demand about reviving Akbarabadi Mosque.

Mr Iqbal just needs to go through the letters of poet Mirza Ghalib, who rued the post-1857 restructuring of Delhi’s walled city by the British. The restructuring included the demolition of not merely religious building but residential edifices and urban landmarks as well. These included Sadat Khan ka katra, the haveli of Mubarak Begum and the haveli of Sahib Ram.

The magnificent palaces of the nawabs of Jhajjar, Bahadurgarh and Farrukhnagar as well as that of the Raja of Ballabhgarh, who was hanged for his role in the uprising, were also grounded. The caravanserai of Shah Jahan’s daughter, Jehan Ara was demolished and the Town Hall was built in its place. William Dalrymple mentions these demolitions in his critically acclaimed book, The Last Mughal - The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 (page 257)

I was about to dismiss the Akbarabadi Mosque as a myth, when the Dalrymple reference made me revise my opinion. I immediately e-mailed the author asking for his opinion on Shoaib Iqbal’s demand.

Prompt as ever, Mr Dalrymple replied that he was not aware of the chanced discovery of alleged ruins of Akbarabadi Mosque (by Delhi Metro Railway Corporation Limited). But with the mosque being clearly marked in pre-Mutiny maps of Delhi, it would not be difficult to test Mr Iqbal’s claim. He referred to the ‘Map of 19th century Shahjahanabad’ published by Ehlers & Krafft.

I found Ehler & Krafft distinctively mention about the Akbarabadi mosque built by Nawab Akbarabadi Begum. It lay to the west of a square (chowk) in Faiz Bazar (possibly now called Faiz Bazaar Nukkad).

Shahjahanabad rested on two boulevards, which were the two axis of the city. The larger one was Chandni Chowk running from Lahore Gate to Fatehpuri Mosque. The other was Faiz Bazar running north-south from Akbarabadi Gate of the fort to Delhi Gate. The square (chowk) at the northern end of Faiz Bazaar was 160 yards long and 60 yards wide and had a pool and fountain in the centre.

Whether the discovered ruins belong to that of the Akbarabadi Mosque, remains to be established. The Archaeological Survey of India is the best agency to handle the task. It may consult both pro-mosque and anti-mosque parties. But the studied silence of Imams of Jama Masjid and Fatehpuri Masjid show that Akbarabadi Mosque is a personal agenda of the Lok Janashakti Party MLA from Matia Mahal.

Hardly have any Muslim scholars joined the issue. In the case, now sub judice in the Delhi High Court, the Hindu Mahasabha has produced an authenticated map of the Walled City prepared by the British Military Intelligence after the recapture of Delhi in September, 1857. The highly detailed map reportedly shows no mosque at the place corresponding to where DMRC made the discovery.

Mr Iqbal’s theory that Akbarabadi Mosque was destroyed as a punitive measure for being the hub of 1857 uprising need to be taken with a pinch of salt. By all accounts of the Mutiny, the historic Jama Masjid was the hub of the anti-British mujahideen consolidation.

As per Munshi Jiwan Lall’s diary, a vital document on the Mutiny, it was in Delhi on May 19, 1857, that the banner of jihad was raised by the Muslims in the Jama Masjid. On May 20, 1857, Maulvi Mohamed Said met the king Bahadur Shah-II ‘Zafar’ and informed that the standard of jihad had been unfurled to inflame the minds of Muslims. Zafar opined that jihad was impossible, besides being impractical, because a bulk of the Purbeah rebel soldiers were Hindus and fully armed.

At any rate, it was patently illegal for the Matia Mahal MLA to impose an unauthorised structure near the site. It might at best be called the Shoaib Iqbal mosque and not Akbarabadi Mosque — a compliment the sitting MLA may not publicly prefer. The move apparently stems, not from any love of history of Shahjahanabad, but from an agenda to strew India more and more with Islamic sites.

This is reflected in the growing trend of performing namaaz at ASI-protected monuments. It’s an oddity to perform namaaz before a mausoleum like Taj Mahal and Safdarjung’s Tomb. But for the last one decade the ritual Friday prayers are being performed in front of the Taj Mahal.

While until 1990s, entry used to be free on Friday, it now remains closed on that date to accommodate the namaazis. In 2005, there was a strong demand to declare the Taj as a Wakf property. It has less to do with history and more to do with Islamic assertiveness.

It will be interesting to know if Mr Iqbal applies the same standard to scores of Hindu temples demolished by the Muslim invaders.

 

18 September 2012, Hindustan Times

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Clean river bed, green tribunal tells UP

Six months after it directed Delhi and UP governments to stop dumping solid waste on the Yamuna river bed, the National Green Tribunal on Monday issued fresh instructions to the UP irrigation department to immediately remove all the debris from the river bank.

The order, issued by a bench of expert member Dr G K Pandey and acting chairperson Justice AS Naidu, has asked the irrigation department to "remove all the debris lying in the banks of Yamuna, within their jurisdiction, irrespective of the fact as to who has dumped it, more so because presence of debris in the locality not only causes pollution but is also hazardous to river eco-system and flow of water".

The NGT order has given seven days to the ministry of environment and forest, Delhi government, DDA, DPCC, and Yamuna River Development Authority (YRDA) and the irrigation department to stop encroachment and dumping of solid waste on the riverbed.

"Dumping of debris has more or less stopped after the order, but authorities were not clearing the mess. In fact, UP irrigation department said that the debris has not been removed so far due to the monsoon," said Manoj Misra, the petitioner.

The land in question, where tonnes of construction debris have been lying for the past several months, falls within the geographical boundary of Delhi but is owned by the UP irrigation department.

"We saw massive debris deposition along the Yamuna Pushta near Geeta Colony in the latter part of 2011. We wrote to the LG and YRDA to take action. The LG also wrote to agencies concerned and issued orders to DDA, PWD, irrigation and flood control and other civic agencies to ensure that no waste was dumped on the river bed but the agencies failed to react. Some measures to prevent trucks from entering the area were taken, but they were inadequate," said Misra.

While DDA had said that it would not be able to clean the area since the land belonged to the UP irrigation department. The latter had said that it would wait for the UP elections to get over. Now, it is waiting for the monsoon to end.

 

18 September 2012, Times of India

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DIAL, Govt lock horns on Nilgais straying

The issue of blue bulls straying on the Delhi airport premises has become a ‘sticking point’ between Delhi Government and the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL).

While the airport operator has claimed that the straying of these protected animals on the roads connecting the airport has posed hazards to the commuters, the Government has sought detailed explanations as the operator was unable to establish its claims.

Sources informed that the matter was discussed at a high level meeting chaired by the Secretary of the Environment Department, Delhi Government on September 18, in which the private operator of IGI was asked to furnish details establishing their claim. “The DIAL had asserted that the blue bulls trespassing in the airport premises are a cause of concern and can lead to mishaps. However, the company was unable to furnish details on the incidents resulted due to the supposed straying of these animal on the roads connecting the airport. To validate the claims, the Forest Department has been asked to conduct its own survey on the airport’s premises,” said a senior Delhi Government official.

“They claim that due to Nilgai starying on the roads leading to the IGI Airport, they had no records of any mishaps caused due to wandering of these animals. The meeting was unable to reach a conclusion and the decision in the matter can be taken once the survey of the area is completed,” added the official.

Sources inform that the airport operator has sought assistance from the Delhi Government as it has no experience in tackling the problem. Blue bulls, which are in plenty in the adjacent ridge areas, somehow gain entry to the peripheral areas of the airport.

However when contacted, DIAL denied any instance of hampering of operations due to straying of these animals. “IGIA is equipped with the best in Class 4 level PIDS which includes eight feet walls made of reinforced cement concrete topped with 1.5 feet of razor type barb wire. Thanks to this impenetrable boundary wall, no Nilgai (or for that matter any other large animal) has ever been sighted or apprehended in any of the operational areas,” said a DIAL spokesperson. Blue bull is a protected animal under the wild life Act, so shooting it is prohibited.

 

20 September 2012, Pioneer

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Papyrus claim is exciting, says scholar

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife ...’” The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side — in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple”.

The finding was made public in Rome at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by the historian Karen L. King, who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.

The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, Ms. King had shown the fragment to only a small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics, who concluded that it is most likely not a forgery. But she and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions.

Ms. King gave an interview and showed the papyrus fragment, encased in glass, to reporters from The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Harvard Magazine in her garret office in the tower at Harvard Divinity School last Thursday.

She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

But the discovery is exciting, said Ms. King, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.

“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” Ms. King said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”

Ms. King first learnt about what she calls “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” when she received an email in 2010 from a private collector who asked her to translate it. Ms. King (58) specialises in Coptic literature, and has written books on “the Gospel of Judas”, “the Gospel of Mary of Magdala”, “Gnosticism and women in antiquity”.

The owner took the fragment to the Divinity School in December 2011 and left it with Ms. King. In March, she carried the fragment in her red handbag to New York to show it to two colleagues, both papyrologists: Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, at New York University, and AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University.

They examined the scrap under sharp magnification. It was very small - only four by eight centimetres. The lettering was splotchy and uneven, the hand of an amateur, but not unusual for the time period, when many Christians were poor and persecuted.

It was written in Coptic — an Egyptian language that uses Greek characters — and more precisely, in Sahidic Coptic - a dialect from southern Egypt, Ms. Luijendijk said in an interview.

What convinced them it was probably genuine was the fading of the ink on thepapyrus fibres, and traces of ink adhered to the bent fibres at the torn edges. The back side is so faint that only five words are visible, one only partly: “my moth [[er]]”, “three”, “forth which”.

“It would be impossible to forge,” said Ms. Luijendijk, who contributed to Ms. King’s paper. Mr. Bagnall reasoned that a forger would have had to be expert in Coptic grammar, handwriting and ideas. — New York Times News Service

 

20 September 2012, Hindu

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Whose heritage

The historical remains that one comes across in Delhi can broadly be divided into two categories -- those that figure on some kind of conservation list and those that do not. Some of those that are not protected, are in use traditionally as places of worship or veneration, like the temples of Jogmaya and Kalkaji, the Kalan Masjid, the Jama Masjid of Basti Hazrat Nizam-ud-Din, the Dargah of Shah Turkman Byabani and the Jama Masjid of Shahjahanabad among others. Except for the Jama Masjid, all the others in the list above have been renovated out of recognition.

One could argue that those using monuments of historical, architectural or archaeological importance should not be allowed to interfere with the appearance of these structures. But to actually put this into practice would need a protracted period of educating and sensitizing those who are in possession of these buildings. Unfortunately, it is thought that any attempt to educate those involved would be met with resistance and so things are allowed to continue as they are.

Aside from these two sets of structures, we also have structures that are not on any list. There are several lists in Delhi - official, quasi official and non official; there is an ASI list, another list prepared by the State archaeology department and a list that the MCD has been preparing for as long as one can remember. Now with MCD trifurcated, this list too will be trifurcated, when will it ever be completed is anyone’s guess. Each one of these bodies is expected to look after the monuments that appear on its list and God takes care of those left over. There is a comprehensive list of the built heritage of Delhi brought out by INTACH, but that unfortunately has no legal status because it has not been prepared by an official body and so the list is treated more as a point of reference and not as an actionable list.

The result is that there is enough to go around for all potential encroachers. A stone pillar, covered with Quranic verses in incised plaster in a beautiful calligraphic style prevalent during the sultanate period, that had been standing guard near Andhria Mor for centuries was threatened with imminent oblivion as the DMRC began to drive its pillars close by. Here was an opportunity not to be missed, overnight a mosque sprung up around the pillar.

A sultanate period tomb was cannibalized and converted into a temple during early 1981. This did not take place in some remote corner of the city but on a very busy road -on Africa Avenue located in an open field between Mohammadpur Village and St. Thomas Church and now the dome is a full-fledged temple with its own gate and a high enclosing wall.

Opposite Qutub Minar, behind the newly sprung up Crescent Mall, in Lado Sarai, there is a largish structure, probably belonging to the Mughal period, it now houses a car garage.

A building known as Lal Mahal located within Basti Nizam-ud-Din is believed to be the former residence of Ibn-e-Batuta, who stayed here during 1330s when he was appointed Qazi of Delhi by Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq. That building, though damaged, stood its ground till a couple of years ago, it was supposed to be on either the state list or the MCD heritage list, no one knew which, meanwhile someone sold the building to people who began to demolish the structure to build a mosque instead. The new owner was eventually stopped when conservationists created a big campaign but by that time more than half the structure had been pulled down, meanwhile someone had made a lot of money by selling property that did not belong to him, but that is something that no longer troubles anyone’s conscience.

On a prominence inside a park opposite W block in Greater Kailash Part I there is a mediaeval dome.

The dome is sealed with crude steel doors with swastika marks soldered on each door and a large swastika and ‘OM’ stuck atop the dome, this combines with other additional detailing to make the structure look like a temple. A few kilometers away another mediaeval dome enclosed from all sides with a couple of air-conditioners fixed in its bricked up arches now houses the offices of the Defence Colony Welfare Association.

One could perhaps explain away the transgressions of those who live in Mohammadpur, Lado Sarai and Andheria more as acts committed by people who perhaps are unaware of the laws of the land or perhaps have no understanding of the value of heritage and its preservation. One could argue that this was an attempt to create a source of income and ensure survival. But how does one explain the conduct of the residents of GK I and Defence colony. They can surely afford not to encroach on heritage structures; they can surely afford to build their own temples or offices. These are people who set the parameters of civilized behavior for others, should they not take the lead in protecting the heritage of this city. It is their heritage as well.

Encroachments at heritage buildings continue unabated in Delhi, even in posh colonies where people are well aware of the law of the land

 

22 September 2012, Hindu

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Elegant tombs, unkempt greens

While Allahabad’s sprawling Khusrau Bagh stands as a shadow of its eventful past, there is an attempt being made to convert it into a National Eco-Knowledge Park

To prove that their amazing escapade in Kafiristan was true, Peachey shows Rudyard Kipling, who was seated in his Pioneer newspaper office in Allahabad, his friend Dravot’s head, still wearing the golden crown.

This epic scene based on Kipling’s audacious novella The Man Who Would Be King fairly evokes the tragedy of Khusrau Mirza.

Like Dravot, Khusrau, the eldest son of Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) and the grandson of Emperor Akbar was the man who would be the king. However, fate meant that he died young, isolated to an insignificant corner of history.

Distraught over Salim’s indulgence in wine and opium, Akbar had considered the unlikely option of entrusting the amiable Khusrau with his throne. And when Prince Salim revolted and started holding court in Allahabad in 1599, Khusrau was driven into an incongruous conflict with his father to be Akbar's successor.

Soon after and shortly before Akbar’s death, Salim was made Emperor and Khusrau was placed under strict surveillance at Agra. He escaped from there with 350 horsemen, eventually to be captured on April 27, 1606.

In his biography, Jahangir notes: “Kingship regards neither son nor son-in-law. No one is a relation to a king.” Following a futile attempt to escape, Khusrau was blinded, consequently disqualifying him from the throne. He was then transferred to the custody of Asaf Khan, brother of Nur Jahan and father-in-law of Prince Khurram (later Emperor Shah Jahan), the third son of Jahangir. In 1622, Khurram had Khusrau killed.

His body was brought to Allahabad and placed in a sandstone tomb, in a large quadrangle garden — Khusrau Bagh, enclosed by a high masonry wall and a labyrinth of evergreens.

Two other tombs were later built — one belonging to his mother Shah Begum, while the other was made at the instructions of his sister Nithar Begum, but never to be used as a cenotaph.

At first sight, the three tombs appear identical. But after readjusting your lenses, you will observe the major and minor differences, and that flawless Mughal symmetry.

A Hindu princess, Shah Begum (originally Man Bai), was the daughter of Raja Bhagvan Das of Amber. Troubled by the bitterness between Salim and Khusrau, she committed suicide by swallowingtiryaq (opium). Her tomb, designed in 1606 by Jahangir’s chief artist Aqa Reza, has a three-storied terrace plinth but is without a main mound. Experts have compared it to the construction in Fatehpur Sikri.

The Begum’s cenotaph stands under a large chahtri , which is surmounted on the plinth. The floral Arabesque inscriptions on the tomb were carved by Jahangir's greatest calligrapher Mir Abdullah Mushkin Qalam.

Next to her tomb is Nithar’s tomb, architecturally the most elaborate and vivid among the three. It stands on a high platform, adorned with panels containing a scalloped arch motif. Inside the plinth, there is a small room whose ceiling is painted vividly with stars arranged in concentric circles. This decoration is repeated on the ceiling of the central room while the walls are painted with Persian cypress style plants and flowers.

The third in line and relegated to a corner is the tomb of Khusrau himself. The mausoleum has some high quality fretwork windows. The tomb of his mare gives him company.

Apart from the elegant tombs, the bagh is lacking in the grandeur one would associate with a Mughal garden. The greens outside the tomb area look no better than unkempt hair on an anxious head. The tall palm trees do little to fill that void. This can be attributed, to some extent, to the low footfall as visitors prefer the livelier Chandra Shekhar Azad Park and Anand Bhavan. A spontaneous survey of thebagh revealed five types of visitors; the list is not exhaustive, however.

First are those who consider the tombs just “too pretty to let go” without clicking a portrait. The second is a clan of students, who find solace and good study atmosphere under the palm trees. The third and the least interested in architecture are couples seeking privacy in some corner of the bagh .

The fourth lot are those suffering from indolence; those for whom the large structures provide ample shade for an afternoon nap on a sultry day, especially after a good quantity of litti . The final and the largest category consist of those who confuse Khusrau with the Sufi great Amir Khusro.

And if locals are to be believed, vagabonds make up the sixth category.

Taking view of the neglect and to give the bagh a greener look, district authorities recently announced that it would plant more than 50 bottle palm saplings, among other things to convert the bagh into a National Eco-Knowledge Park.

Drip irrigation system would also be introduced to provide optimum water supply, especially since the famous Allahabadi red guava is cultivated here. While efforts are being made to improve the bagh’sappeal, its relevance in the Indian freedom movement is also not so well-known.

During the First War of Independence or the Revolt of 1857, when several battalions revolted against the British, Maulvi Liyakat Ali took over charge as the Governor of independent Allahabad and made Khusrau Bagh his headquarters. The bagh , however, was recaptured within two weeks.

As for Prince Khusrau, remove the beautiful tomb and the huge garden, and he will be just a man who was blinded by his father and killed by his brother.

 

22 September 2012, Hindu

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To be or not to be

ISSUE A new construction near the centrally protected monument Moth Ki Masjid has ASI in a fix

It’s a classic case of confusion. The developments surrounding Moth Ki Masjid, a Lodi era mosque in New Delhi’s South Extension Part II, have left the Archaeological Survey of India in utter confusion.

The din revolves around a new dining block being constructed by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), which according to the residents, is just 80 metres from the centrally protected monument thus making it an unauthorised construction in a prohibited area. But who will ascertain their claims for ASI is yet to measure the distance.

D.N. Dimri, who heads ASI’s Delhi circle, says though notice has been sent out to AIIMS, they aren’t very clear about the distance. “Vijay Singh of Competent Authority had issued a letter on 15th of March to the concerned authorities at ASI, saying that the new construction is beyond the regulated area of the centrally protected monument. According to their measurement, it doesn’t fall within the regulated area but I think it does. We are in a dilemma. It is very difficult to measure that distance because of a building in between. We are working on it and we have been told that they have permission so we are checking that as well.”

But the residents are quite sure of the distance. “According to the GPRS installed in my car it’s not even 80 metres. We have tried different routes and it all comes to roughly the same,” says Rajesh Bharal, a resident of the area and an executive member of Masjid Moth People’s Voice Association (MMPVA). Rajesh had filed an RTI seeking information whether or not AIIMS has been granted permission to carry on the construction work on the site by the ASI. As per the reply to Rajesh’s RTI, no such permission has been given to any agency. Taking note of digging and boring going on the site, Rajesh had also asked if water boring/electric boring and digging is restricted in the protected area of the monument to which ASI had replied that “No one except the ASI can undertake any kind of digging within the protected area of a centrally protected monument.” The Ancient Monuments And Archaeological Sites And Remains Act, 2010, specifies the beginning from the boundary limit of the protected area or protected monument, a minimum of 100 metres as prohibited area in all directions. Beyond the prohibited area, in all directions a minimum of 200 metres has been specified as regulated area.

“I have also been given a map of the monument but that is a very old map without any demarcations, so it doesn’t help,” informs Rajesh. Meanwhile, the residents of the area face the demolition threat by the MCD for the unauthorised construction taking place near the monument. “More than 25 families have been given notices. Earlier, when they came, people gathered in large numbers and protested, so they went back and now we hear they will be back on 26th September. They are carrying out their duties but why isn’t the law equal for everybody? If this is illegal then so is the AIIMS construction?”

Vinod Saini, treasurer of MMPVA, points out another anomaly. “You call it a monument of national importance and then you have a dustbin, huge dhalav within the zero meter zone. There is no maintenance of the mosque and the monument does get lot of visitors.”

 

22 September 2012, Hindu

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Desert's sinking fort

“Waxed sailors curse the rain, for which poor shepherds have prayed in vain” goes the famous quote by Edmund Waller. While people of Rajasthan’s desert districts desperately pray and wait for rains, the blessed showers from sky do not seem to bring happy tidings to the residents of the historic Sonar Fort in Jaisalmer.

Standing proudly amidst the golden stretches of the vast desert, the fort with its yellow sandstone walls looks beautiful when the sun sets, giving it a lovely honey gold hue. That’s why, perhaps, the locals call it sonar quila . Though enjoying an exquisite place in the architectural grandeur of Rajasthan, it had not carved out a niche in the tourist map until the great filmmaker Satyajit Ray immortalised it in his classic movie Sonar Kella .

Built in 1156 A.D., this is perhaps the only fort in India which can appropriately be called a living fort. But sadly, today it is struggling with the problem of water seepage and inadequate civic facilities, not to speak of the neglected and crumbling old houses. Even, Ray’s child hero Mukul’s house is in shambles now.

The threat to Sonar Fort situated on Trikuta hills, built by Bhati ruler Rao Jaisal, is manifold. It is not seepage alone but safety concerns of the people living inside the fort are equally grave. Seismic studies have also indicated tectonic instability in a section of the fort’s foothill. Vijay Balani, a poet and resident of the fort, says, “The fort foothill is sinking. It is not solid rock like other forts of Rajasthan but weak sedimentary rock; so seepage is affecting its foundation.”

The woes, however, are not new, Mr. Balani says with a sigh. In 1995, one of the most significant parts of the fort — the Queen’s Palace known as Rani Ka Mahal —had collapsed. Sections of the lower pitching walls and some other parts also collapsed in 1999. Last year, a part of the boundary wall had collapsed due to heavy rains and the fort suffered damages.

Tourism activities started in Jaisalmer fort in around 1980s, recalls Chandra Prakash Vyas, secretary, Jaisalmer Vikas Samiti (JVS). Today, the town is one of the most popular tourist destinations of the desert State and approximately five to six lakh tourists throng the Sonar Fort annually. The fort is abuzz with commercial activities as many shops, restaurants and hotels have come up leading to heavy vehicular and human traffic. Sensing its huge potential, locals quickly set up shops diplaying handicrafts, hand-embroidered materials, paintings and what not to attract both domestic and foreign tourists. Residents converted their houses into guest houses, curio shops or coffee shops to accommodate tourists and earn money.

Mr. Vyas says in olden times there was scarcity of water; so there was no question of misuse. The old-style toilets did not require gallons of water like the present day ones. Rainwater used to get cleared in no time through the excellent drainage system, called ghut nali situated in all the four directions of the fort. Construction of roads and development of other civic amenities has disturbed the slope. The level of lanes and basement in houses has come to almost same level. And due to the defective drainage system, water can flow only in one direction so the drains often get chocked.

A population of about 4,000 people is living inside the fort for almost 856 years now, a large section belonging to Brahmin and Daroga communities. Most of them had their ancestors engaged in the workforce of the Bhati rulers of Jaisalmer. And perhaps, were given permission to reside within the walled premises of the fort. Now since it is a famous world monument, no one can buy, renovate or construct a new house without prior permission from the State government and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Lots of agencies are engaged in conservation and maintenance of the fort. The ASI looks after the restoration and conservation of the outer walls, INTACH has been working on restoring palaces and municipality and district administration is responsible for upkeep and maintenance of civic amenities.

There are almost 40 houses in dilapidated condition, he says. Their owners have moved to other cities. The Rajasthan High Court, in an order nearly eight years ago, had ordered to demolish old crumbling houses that pose a threat to the fort. But there remains a lot undone due to reported lack of coordination between local administration and the guidelines of the ASI.

ASI director Hradyesh Kumar Sharma on his visit to Jaisalmer recently, however, clarified that the district administration did not need to wait for clearance from ASI to demolish dilapidated structures.

At a recent meeting held at the district headquarter, Principal Secretary, Art and Culture, Gurujot Kaur also asked the ASI to publicise norms and regulations for conservation of Sonar Fort at prominent places to generate awareness among residents and tourists. The JVS and all well meaning citizens just hope that there will be sincere efforts to keep the grandeur and beauty of the golden fort intact. And it will continue to draw tourists, not just from West Bengal who wish to have a peep at Mukul’s bari but from world over for a virtual charismatic experience!

Seated on an unstable tectonic plate and weak sedimentary rock, Jaisalmer’s Sonar Fort is gradually sinking with water seepage accentuating the situation

 

23 September 2012, Hindu

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Prepare road map to protect sparrows: Dikshit

After declaring sparrow ‘State Bird of Delhi’, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has asked the environment department to prepare a road map to protect sparrows and to save the species.

The move will also aim at enhancement awareness about their life and habitat among Delhiites. This was decided at a high-level meeting chaired by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit recently.

The good old house sparrow, which is becoming rarer day by day, was declared as the “State Bird of Delhi” by Delhi Government last month. Interestingly, the Government is yet to come out with a notification in this regard. The move seems to be a part of a new campaign to save the species and enhance awareness about their life and habitat.

Sources said that the meeting was called to discuss a road map to create environment to attract sparrows to the city. According to sources, the Government decided to involve eco clubs of schools in this project. The NGO which is involved in protecting sparrows will publish a booklet and circulate it in schools. Beside this, green patches of nest box will be created to attract sparrows.

The meeting was attended by secretary (environment), Delhi chief secretary and other senior officials. “The knowledge about the status, population and distribution of common birds will help in timely conservation measures that can save these birds from extinction, and help create conservation interest among the masses,” sources said.

The Delhi Government would now consider incorporating common bird monitoring in the school curriculum to make schools and other organisations sparrow and bird friendly. The Nature Forever Society will be providing all help and resources to the Delhi Government in this regard.

However, bird lovers praised the desperate attempt of the Government to save sparrows. They said the campaign would require sincere efforts to conserve these diminutive birds as sparrows are hardly visible nowadays and are near extinct.

 

23 September 2012, Pioneer

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At Sultanpur, it’s literally a walk on eggshells!

Bird lovers will have to wait for 10 more days to have a look of their favourite birds at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary.

With several birds mainly Sarus Cranes out laying and hatching its eggs on the visitors’ pathways inside the sanctuary, the Gurgaon Wildlife Department has decided not to allow public movement in the area for at least 10 more days. The sanctuary usually opens on September 15 every year but now it is likely to open from October 1.

Cranes had laid the eggs on the visitors’ pathway and had been hatching them there itself. The crane generally lays its eggs in the nest that it makes inside the water. “However this year, the water level in the sanctuary had gone down as a result the bird could not build its nest and so the bird has laid its eggs on the pathway,” said curator of the sanctuary Suresh Kumar.

The bird sanctuary shuts down in the month of May and reopens for public viewing from September 15. However, since the bird was hatching eggs on the visitors’ pathway, the Gurgaon Wildlife Department decided to let the sanctuary remain closed till the eggs were hatched and the young ones could start moving. “If we allow visitors inside the sanctuary, the birds would get disturbed and their eggs would get damaged,” added Kumar.

“The sanctuary is for birds and protection of their interest is our first priority. We have the permission from our senior officials to do so,” said Kulvinder Singh Khattar, Divisional Wildlife Officer.

The official said two young ones of the cranes were already hatched on September 19 and remaining would be done in a week or so. “They are very small and cannot move. It takes about a week for these birds to fly. By the time the sanctuary opens these birds will be on their own,” added Kumar.

Interestingly, besides the cranes, Grey Heron, Egrets, Cattle Egrets and Peafowls are also breeding at the sanctuary. “In a way closing of the sanctuary has come as a blessing in disguise for other birds as well. While the other birds are breeding inside the water islands, absence of human movement in the area will give them the required peaceful zone,” Kumar added.

The bird lovers, too, have welcomed the decision of the sanctuary management. “It is a wise decision. The sanctuary is first for the birds and then the bird watchers. We can wait for a few days,” said Raj Surin, Bird watcher and photographer.

 

23 September 2012, Pioneer

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A September in Patparganj

Home of housing societies was scene of decisive battle for Delhi.

There’s always been more to Patparganj than group housing societies, more group housing societies and, of course, Mother Dairy. Because what happened here more than two hundred years ago, on a dreadful September day, turned the tide of history and changed the face of Delhi forever.

It was here in Patparganj that the Battle of Delhi was fought on September 11, 1803 between British troops led by General Gerard Lake and the Scindia army under French commander Louis Bourquien.

It was this engagement, and the Battle of Assaye 12 days later near Jalna in Maharashtra, which decided the outcome of the Second Anglo-Maratha War — the decline of Maratha power and British ascendancy in north India.

The Battle of Patparganj was the battle for Delhi. The city fell three days after the defeat of the Maratha army. Today, group housing societies stand on what was the battlefield. The only reminder is a memorial pillar amidst the greens of the Noida Golf Course.

Erected in 1916, the pillar records: “Near this spot was fought on September 11,1803, the Battle of Delhi in which forces of the Mahrattas, commanded by M. Louis Bourquien, were defeated by the British Army under General Gerard Lake.”

When the battle was fought, Shah Alam II was on the Mughal throne, a helpless 75-year-old who had been blinded by the renegade Ghulam Qadir. In 1772, Mahadji Shinde and his Maratha army had returned the emperor to Delhi from Allahabad.

After the Marathas withdrew from Delhi, the British, who felt threatened by the growing French influence in the area, went to war with the Marathas who were led by Bourquien. In the Battle of Patparganj, Lord Lake’s troops defeated the Scindia army on the banks of the Yamuna and occupied Delhi.

There are different accounts of the run-up to the Patparganj battle.

Historian M S Navarane says the emperor wanted to free himself and sent a message to Lake, seeking help. As Lake’s forces advanced, the Marathas opened fire which resulted in heavy casualties and Lake’s withdrawal.

Presuming that the British were retreating, the Marathas charged. But the retreating British troops, Navarane says, were screening the main force.The Maratha army was routed and many perished in the Yamuna.

Professor Seema Alavi says Patparganj figures as a military base camp in the late 18th and early 19th century.

“The area remained in the fringes. In the late 18th century, at the time of Najaf Khan, Antoine Polier was employed by Shuja-ud-daula, the Nawab of Awadh. Sources of that period, in the form of letters written by Polier, show he was camped at Patparganj,” says Alavi.

Since ganj means market, the area must have served as an exchange centre. And if the Yamuna was flowing closer to Patparganj at that time, there is reason to believe that Patparganj was a market, supplied with goods ferried by boats.

According to scholar and historian Narayani Gupta, Delhi was “fed from the doab and the grain emporia east of the river in Shahdara, Ghaziabad and Patparganj.”

Other historians also note that wholesale merchants resided in Patparganj and Shahdara, suburbs of Shahjahanabad in the 18th century. Both the areas, however, were completely destroyed in the mid-18th century, writes the noted historian Stephen P Blake.

From a grain market teeming with merchants to a battlefield full of soldiers, and now home to an aspirational middle class. Patparganj has kept its date with history. September 1803 to September 2012 is just a little over 200 years, a blip in history.

 

23 September 2012, Indian Express

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Wetland wonderland

Subjected to plunder and deforestation for years, people are finally waking up to the role mangrove forests play in containing erosion, de-polluting air and maintaining a healthy marine ecology

Just as the Olympics are conducted once in four years, environmentalists across the globe also hold their mega meeting once in four years. While the more dramatic Olympics grab headlines, the ‘green guys’ do not get any publicity on that scale, even though the proceedings on natural science directly impacts all living creatures, including mankind. This year, the World Conservation Congress was held in Korea in the quest to use nature for resolving the growing list of economic and social issues. Conducted by IUCN — International Union for Conservation of Nature, from September 1 to 15, its agenda was to find pragmatic solutions to environmental and developmental challenges in the world.

One of the major decisions taken in the congress was to prepare the Red List of Ecosystems that will harmonise the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and other IUCN knowledge products. When used together, ecosystem and species red lists will provide the most informative indicator of the status of biological diversity at national and global levels. Also in focus are the sensitive mangrove ecosystems which are unique but underrated and one of the least considered of all the ecologically niches until the world shattering tsunamis of 2004 and 2011 happened. Thankfully, mangroves are now credited for taming the tides against tempests and safeguarding valuable wildlife and sensitive shorelines.

Mangroves are unique jungles and one of the most productive wetlands on earth. Yet, these coastal tropical forests are among the most threatened habitats. They may be disappearing faster than tropical rainforests, and so far, with little public notice.

Lavishly growing in the inter-tidal areas and river mouths between land and sea, mangroves provide critical habitat for a diverse marine and terrestrial flora and fauna. Healthy mangrove forests are key to a healthy marine ecology and wildlife that thrives in this breathtaking wonderland. Endowed with 7517 km long coastline, the Indian subcontinent is rich in mangrove forests, but it is being ruthlessly plundered.

However, management of mangroves in India is also slowly picking up, especially in the west coast, on the east coast and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. According to the government in 1987, India lost 40 per cent of its mangrove area in the last century. Rapid industrialisation, pollution and increasing population has resulted in degradation of mangroves. Even though legal protection exists to protect this ecosystem under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, are the people actually aware of this?

Very few citizens are responsive to mangrove forests and even fewer have ever seen them. Even those who have seen them will not appreciate their splendour at face value, until the nuances are explained.

On a visit to Andaman Islands, just before the 2004 tsunami, mangroves skirted the islands but nobody spoke of the greenery. We were only told of the beautiful beaches and blue lagoons. Nevertheless, on my more recent visit to Sundarbans in West Bengal, the forest that lies snugly in the vast delta on the Bay of Bengal, there seems to be more respect for this remarkable jungle of undergrowth. Formed by the confluence of many rivers, the Sundarbans is often flooded with a mixture of freshwater and seawater. The interplay of low tide and high tide is one of the miracles of mangroves where tiny islands are created everyday and vanish the next day. It is rated as the most dynamic and dramatic landscape on earth.

The Sundarbans mangrove covers 10,000 sq km of which about 6,000 sq km is in Bangladesh and rest in India. Due to its vital wealth and statistics, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

This exceptional water world is an amalgamation of creeks, canals and serpentine rivers of varying width from a few meters to several km.

Travelling in a watercraft for two full days from sun up to sundown and gazing at the amazing maze of jungles made me dizzy. The wealth of vegetation was so astounding, that even my two decades of nature watching did not help me recognise even a single species of plant. I was merrily shooting to capture flora and fauna specially adapted to this unique landscape as visual documentary.

Hemant Karkhanis of Godrej Marine Ecology Centre from Bombay says that mangroves not only act as buffer zones between the land and sea but also protect the golden sands from constant erosion.

They are perfect breeding and nursery grounds for a variety of marine animals, good source of timber, fuel and fodder. They also purify the water by absorbing impurities and help us to breathe cleaner air by absorbing the pollutants in the air. In the future, they are a potential source for recreation and tourism.

 

23 September 2012, Hindu

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Poetry in stone

Odisha’s Konark temple may not be even the shadow of what it actually was when it was constructed during the 13th century, but it still is a work where the ‘language of stone surpasses the language of man’, writes Somen Sengupta

Not even a drive of two hours from Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, will take you to the ruins of a sun temple built in 1200 AD. Despite being in a state of dilapidation, it remains a magnum opus of architecture. More than hundred years ago when Rabindranath Tagore visited this site it was still lying in debris beneath wild bush and vegetation. Still its magical composition of stone made him so captivated that Tagore wrote: “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man.”

Myth vs history

Yes we are talking about Konark, which is derived from two words: Kona means corner and Arka stands for Sun. So, the term literally means the corner of Sun beam.

Konark is more about myth than history. Mythology says that more than 5,000 years ago, Shambha was cursed by his father Krishna to suffer from leprosy. His crime was that he once entered into the pleasure chamber of his father while he was enjoying a bath with his consorts.

With Shambha’s entry, young consorts were attracted to him and they all rushed towards him, leaving his aged father alone. This made Krishna angry and he cursed his son. Shambha reached the banks of Chandrabhaga and entered into a 12-year-long penance in a jungle called Mitravana to please the Sun God. Satisfied by his hardship and sacrifice, the God set him free from the curse. A day after he was cured from leprosy, while taking bath in Chandrabhaga, Shambha found an image of the Sun God made by Vishwakarma. This inspired Shambha to set up what is today known as the Konark temple.

If Abul Fazl is to be believed, the temple was built by a king belonging to the Kesri dynasty in the ninth century. Most historical documents, however, support the case of Narshima Dev I of the Ganga dynasty who built this temple between 1243 and1260 AD as mark of his victory over Bengal. At least 12,000 craftsmen worked incessantly for 12 years to give the temple its shape. One Sibai Samantaray’s name is recorded as a chief engineer of this architectural marvel. Another name, Bishu Maharana, too emerges as chief engineer.

Even after 12 years of hard work when the temple work showed no sign of getting over, the king became agitated. He issued a stipulated period of time to complete it. History says that chief architect Bishu Maharana was in deep trouble because placing of the final copping stone atop of the temple was a gargantuan task. At that time his 12-year-old son Dharmapada, who was there by chance, offered a solution. No wonder, people began talking about Dharmapada for his superior engineering skills and Bishu Maharana’s reputation came under cloud. Soon, the dead body of the young boy was found on the banks of Chandrabhaga. It is believed that he committed suicide by jumping from the top of the temple to save his father’s reputation.

The temple, however, was not destined to exist in all its grandeur for long. Soon it was lost into oblivion after a series of Muslim invasions ravaged the region. This remained the case till the beginning of the 20th century when archaeologists, backed by Lord Curzon, salvaged the temple.

REAL WONDER

The present day Konark temple is not even a shadow of its past. The original temple was gigantic. Built in accordance with the Kalinga school of Architecture, it has three parts: The Natmandir or Nritya Mandir was the first complex; the Jagmohan was the middle complex; and, the Biman or garbhagriha was the place where the deity resided. The Jagmohan of Konark, which is the only signature left today, is 120 ft tall. The Biman, which no longer exists, was no less than 227 ft tall. It was taller than the illustrious Jagannath temple in Puri.

Yet Konark remains matchless. First, constructing a gargantuan temple in the shape of a colossal chariot with 24 wheels and pulled by seven horses is a breakthrough idea. We have seen many Sun temples in various places but nowhere such an epoch-making creativity was showcased.

Again, the 24 wheels and seven horses were related to the Sun God. The seven horses are nothing but the seven days of a week while 24 wheels represent 24 hours of a day. Each of the stone wheels has one hub and eight spokes which are eight prahar of a single day. Even on each spoke various human activities are soulfully depicted — from showcasing a royal woman waking up from bed at the break of dawn to her aggressive sexual activity with her lover in the midnight.

There are nearly 2,000 figures of elephants decorating the entire Jagmohan. The incalculable numbers of humans, horses, elephants, birds and geometrical designs reflect the carnival of life. Once no less than 22 subsidiary temples existed around the main temple. Of these, only two are still remaining — Vaishnava temple and Mayadevi temple. Mayadevi is one of the wives of the Sun God as per Hindu mythology.

On the main entrance just before of the Natmandir exist two huge lion statues along with dead elephants. It symbolises the dominance of Hinduism over Buddhism as lion and elephants are the symbols of Hinduism and Buddhism respectively. The entrance gates of the Natmandir was built in such a way that the first ray of Sun at the break of dawn passes through its gate and hits a diamond placed in central complex. This way the idol placed there used to get illuminated every morning. The impact used to last for a few moments.

LOST AND FOUND

In 1806, the Marine Board first suggested salvaging this temple from complete destruction. The suggestion was not taken seriously by the East India Company considering huge cost involved in it. However, the Magistrate of Cuttack put a ban on the removal of stone from the site. But the loot continued. At that point of time the king of Khurda took away many slabs and statues from its wall to decorate his own palace. His laborers used to throw slabs from the top of the temple and many masterpieces were destroyed forever. The stupid king destroyed three gates of this temple.

Historical records tell us that the height of the main tower started reducing with each passing year. The height of the main tower recorded in 1837 by historian James Fergusson is lesser than the one recorded in 1825. It again got reduced by 1838 and a storm in 1848 did an immense harm to it. Except the middle part, known as Jagmohan, the entire temple with its 227-ft Biman was destroyed by 1869.

In 1901, the Bengal circle of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) took a project to salvage Konark. It was none other than Lord Curzon who took personal initiative to save this wonder. By the end of 1905 Mukshashala and Natmandir were repaired. In 1906 plantation of trees towards the sea was completed to minimise the impact of sea wind. By removing sand the Mayadevi temple was unearthed in 1909. Till 1939 the restoration work was done by PWD under the supervision of ASI. From 1939 onwards ASI undertook complete responsibility of the temple.

The temple is now a part of UNESCO’s world heritage site. Although ASI has done an outstanding job to protect this temple, nature is taking its toll on it. Sea winds are gradually causing erosion on its oxidised sandstones. So before it is too late let your eyes witness the wonder called Konark.

 

23 September 2012, Pioneer

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Flourishing art, fading smiles

The famed Madhubani artists of Bihar are facing several challenges and badly need the infrastructure for their survival

The Mithalanchal region in Bihar is known for producing one of the finest folk art forms--Madhubani paintings which have brought glory to the state. The internationally-known paintings even impressed the first lady of the US Michelle Obama during her shopping spree in Delhi during her visit to India in November 2010. Japan was so impressed with the paintings that it even pitched in to dedicate a museum for preserving the art form.

However, nothing can be more ironic than this--there is no museum to preserve or display the folk art form in the Madhubani district, the place of its origin. During his sevayatra in January this year, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar met artists and announced the setting-up of a museum and an institute entirely dedicated to the folk art. But this is one promise which every political party and all local leaders have been making since India’s independence.

Though the paintings have brought recognition to the state at the global level, artists continue to struggle for existence and eke out a decent living. The art form appears to be in danger, close to being slowly disappearing, as artists do not get encouragement and their earnings are not sufficient for sustenance. Upset with the state of affairs, the new generation hardly seems to be interested in taking it up as a profession.

Reasons are many for such a scenario. Due to lack of organised and proper marketing system, artists are compelled to sell their work at throwaway prices to middlemen. They exploit these gullible and helpless artists and make a killing by selling the work at fancy prices at big stores or galleries.

“Many a time, middlemen buy paintings and give us peanuts, that too, after repeated requests. My husband works as a labourer in New Delhi and earns too less to support the family. Hence, I had decided to take up the brush. But unfortunately my fate seems to be not changing at all. Instead, I have incurred huge losses during recent times, and now I am left with no other option but to give up the art,” rues Leela Devi, adding that middlemen only take advantage of their illiteracy and poverty to mint money.

“We do not even have a place to paint. Rainy season only brings more trouble for us. The government gives Rs 11,000 to build a workshed, but with that much money, even the base of a building cannot be completed. The authorities concerned are neglecting the real artists and are promoting those having proximity with the middlemen and officials,” alleges Binda

Mohli Devi, whose husband too works as a labourer, adds: “Only rich artists can afford to visit Saras, Gramshri, Dilli Haat, Surajkund (Haryana), Hyderabad Haat, Orissa Haat, Chandigarh Haat, and other stalls and exhibitions.”

The government albeit pays Rs 100 a day to the artists to participate in the Gram Shri Mela, to showcase the paintings. But how can one survive in metros and big cities with Rs 100 per day, she questions. Banks, too, do not care for the welfare of the artists. Out of more than 5,000 applications submitted by the Department of Handicrafts, Ministry of Textiles, only around 500 artists got “Artisans Credit Card”, reveals Sunil Kumar Choudhary, secretary, Mithila Seva Samiti, an NGO working for the welfare of the artists.

“Mushrooming of fake artists has also made the life of talented and trained artists miserable. ID cards are being distributed without proper inquiry and verification,” Sunil alleges. All the rules are flouted in the distribution of the state awards. Those who grease the palms, walk away with prizes, he alleges.

Original art under threat“Original paintings’ existence is getting marred by excessive use of artificial colours. Instead of using natural colours (which distinguish Madhubani paintings from the rest), the beginners depend on artificial colours to save money and labour. However, this will undoubtedly lead to gradual decrease in the aesthetic appeal of the paintings,” says veteran artist Urmila Devi. In 2008, illiterate Urmila was even invited to teach the budding artists at NIFT, Ahmedabad.

“Entrenchment by fine art has also threatened the real essence of Madhubani paintings in the past one decade. Content is being played with recklessly, and distorted to suit the market needs. The theme-based art earlier included the pictures of god or derived inspirations from nature and mythology. But these days, one can even find a painting with nothing except lines drawn without any proper thought.

Kohber, jaimal, raas, aripan, Arjun-Krishna dialogue, Ramayana, culture of Mithila region and other themes are gradually losing their presence in the paintings, which is a dangerous trend,” warns Kamal Narayan Lal Karn, technical assistant, District office of Handicrafts, Ministry of Textiles.

Narendra Narayan Singh “Nirala”, an art academician and the head of the PG Department of History, RK College, Madhubani, albeit holds an optimistic view. According to him, the popularity of Madhubani paintings is here to stay, though with certain changes and modifications in its themes and forms. However, he sees nothing wrong in it as he feels that tradition must be modified to cater to the demands of changing times. What is wrong if contemporary subjects share the canvas with the history, he asks.

While the whole world looks towards India for its folk-painting, the Madhubani paintings describe the history, culture and tradition of the Mithilanchal region in the best possible manner, he points out.

Sadly very few paintings of the doyens are left to conduct exhibitions, he adds.Courses in Madhubani painting should be introduced at some level, either in the school or college syllabus, he advises. However, when contacted, the officials tried to portray that everything was up to scratch. BK Das, Carpet Training Officer, Marketing and Service Extension Centre, Madhubani district, said: “Workshops are held for people of various age-groups and sex. Plans are also being chalked out to conduct more special camps for schoolchildren in future. Various insurance schemes are available for the artists. Under the Ambedkar and Hasta Shilpa Vikas Yojana, the government was providing Rs 20,000 per artist.”

The beauty of the Madhubani painting might have brought smiles on the face of Michelle Obama, but will the smiles ever be back on the artists’ wrinkled faces? Nitish-led government, politicians and the officials concerned must try to find an answer.

 

23 September 2012, Deccan Herald

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Despite State nod, turnaround in Bihar’s heritage tourism a far cry

Though the State Government has given a positive signal by launching a comprehensive archaeological digitisation programme, Bihar’s huge potential for bringing a turnaround in the cultural heritage tourism has remained largely untapped due to lack of necessary support to the sector, considered as a very robust growth engine for the State.

But now it is already a history as state Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has already recognised the potential of cultural heritage tourism and he has started mentioning about its strength on various occasions.

Museums, considered as a great repositories of cultural heritage have also shown some signs of improvement after Nitish Kumar Government came to the power in the State.

Bihar Museum Director, UC Dwivedi said that the funds have started flowing in for improvement of the State’s museums in the recent past, adding that the state government owns altogether 17 museums.

He said that the State Government has started renovating 29 monuments and rest monuments in Nalanda district by utilizing the grants worth Rs. 10 crore, made available on the recommendation of the 12th Finance Commission.

Though the constraint of funds ceased to affect the functioning of the Museum Directorate, shortage of technical employees continues to haunt it as no appointment has been made on the technical side since 1988, he added.

Patna Museum, located in the heart of the capital is under extensive renovation work and a modern cafeteria is also planned to provide a better ambience to visitors. Other museums in the state also need a similar treatment if the state wants to attract travelers, interested in cultural heritage tourism.

Patna Museum has also planned to set up a stone sculpture park, displaying 45 stone sculptures to attract tourists and encourage cultural heritage tourism in the state.

After Indian Museum in Kolkata, Patna Museum has the largest collection of stone sculptures, numbering 6000. The number of stone sculptures on display in Patna Museum is only 150, again due to constraint of space. Even Patna Museum has vacant posts of Curator, Chemist, Technical Assistants and Librarian while several senior officers are holding additional charge of other museums too in the state.

Though Patna Museum can not afford to be complacent with its achievements as a lot more has to be done if this museum has to play any significant role to rev up cultural heritage tourism in the state.

Patna Museum has more than one lakh antiquities but only 10 per cent of them are on display while the rest objects have been stocked in store houses, again because of lack of the sufficient space.

The situation might change after a proposed new world-class museum on the evolution of the history and civilization of the Indian subcontinent is inaugurated as some antiquities, presently in the Patna Museum, might be shifted there.

The proposed museum, a brainchild of Nitish Kumar will be known as Bihar Museum and it will project the glorious past of Bihar through displays and audio-visuals.

 

24 September 2012, Pioneer

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'Oxford of the East' turns 125

Allahabad University, the fourth-oldest university in the country, turned 125 on Sunday.

The occasion was marked by a cultural event and the showcasing of a 125 feet-long painting canvas. The Central University, once known as the “Oxford of the East,” was established on September 23, 1887. However, Viceroy of India Lord Northbrook, on December 9, 1873 laid the foundation stone of the Muir Central College, named after Sir William Muir, then Lt. Governor of the United Provinces. With the promulgation of the ‘Allahabad University Act of 1921,’ the Muir Central College merged with the university.

The building was designed by eminent architect Sir William Emerson, in a unique mix of Indo-Saracenic, Egyptian and Gothic styles.

Over the following years, the university lost some of its glory, but after a sustained campaign, it regained its Central University status in 2005.

It has had on its rolls a host of distinguished people, including one President and two Vice-Presidents, three Prime Ministers (one, acting), several Chief Ministers, Union and State ministers, and four Chief Justices of India.

The university’s Senate Hall, also a national heritage site, celebrates its centenary this year.

 

24 September 2012, Hindu

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Picking precious stones of legacy

They say that the tomb looks different every time you visit. This time the visit was on a hot and sunny September morning, not the best time for venturing outdoors. The experience, however, was worth the trouble because of the compelling story behind the fading red sandstones, the story of a man who worked and fought hard but died too young - the story of an emperor.

It was at the Humayun’s Tomb that the motley crowd of heritage enthusiasts, history buffs, eager school children armed with notebooks and curious on-lookers gathered on a bright Sunday morning. They were following heritage consultant Navina Jafa on a heritage walk through time and cultures, and trying to see the human story behind the ruins.

The first stop was a small tomb, a little distance away from the western gates. “This is the tomb of a noble from the court of Sher Shah Suri, it was here some 20 years before the greater tomb was built. Sher Shah Suri sat on the seat of Delhi, while Humayun suffered untold misery travelling through Kabul, Lahore, Iran and Persia fighting battles, overcoming betrayals and finally coming back to Delhi to capture his rightful place in history after the death of Sher Shah Suri,” says Dr. Jafa, before telling the story of how his little son was born when the king was a man without a kingdom or a roof over his head.

“When his son was born, he opened the kasturi flower and inhaling the sweet smell emanating from it, blessed his son and hoped that his life would be like the pervading scent of the flower, that goodness would follow him everywhere. That son was later to become the greatest emperor of the Mughul dynasty, Akbar the great, and he would also be responsible for building this final resting place for his father.”

Although, the tomb was done with the money and power of Emperor Akbar, the idea was all Hamida Begum’s, the mother of Akbar and Humayun’s beloved wife. “Hamida wanted to build an enclosed Paradise Garden surrounding the tomb, which would reflect the concept of paradise according to Islamic cosmology. This had never been done in India, although it was a common practice in the Arab world.”

Next on the list was “Arab Sarai” – a housing colony to keep the hoards of artisans brought by Hamida Begum to build the tomb. There are wells and remnants of a horse stable. “Water” played a key role in the fortunes in many an empire and the Mughuls were no different. There are several water channels all over the tomb, some of which appear to be disappearing beneath the tomb and appearing on the other side. Natural water-courses from the Yamuna have been cleverly utilised and water was said to have been flowing throughout the gardens many waterfalls, without the help of modern technology.

“There are four squares or water channels that intersect in the “Paradise Garden” and are meant to reflect the four rivers said to be flowing in the Islamic heaven.”

The entrance-way by the western gates is entrancing. “Look, the last window of Humayun’s tomb can be seen from here,” says Jafa.

The tomb is not meant for Emperor Humayun alone, he is surrounded by at least 100 unnamed souls and only after many chambers are traversed that one can reach the innermost chamber. The ceiling work is still being restored, so one cannot see the stunning inlays and paintings that are said to be there. There are elements of Rajasthani handiwork in the marble canopies that surround the central dome. “See here the latticed windows, a window to heaven perhaps?” says Ms. Jafa, before ending the tour.

The walk was organised by the Delhi Government’s Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation for free. The organisation also takes school children on regular heritage walks and even has a Facebook page.

 

24 September 2012, Hindu

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Catch it, you can

SHIMLA WATER CATCHMENT SANCTUARY This gift of nature is a model for water conservation and a fabulous walk in the wild, notes SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

Surprises show up where you have no hope. Take Shimla for instance. What more can you do as a visitor there…may be take a walk on the Mall Road, or check out an eatery, tour its popular buildings, or do a round of the museum perhaps? Like in several of our popular hill stations, slapdash ugly concrete structures have become a reality in this Capital city of Himachal Pradesh. They now often come in your way of grabbing a clear view of the mountains or the valley below. Add to Shimla’s misery a sizeable floating population of tourists besides the load of its permanent residents, and you know there is no hope for a breather there.

And then, a surprise! Barely 8 kms from the city, on the Hindustan-Tibet Road (National Highway 22), I chance upon this verdant paradise, of 1020.32 hectare, bursting with pines, deodars, oaks and firs and yes, sound of birds twittering away, and sprightly ghorals prancing about. Perched on altitudes of approximately 1915 metre to 2750 metre above the sea level, this is the old water catchment area of Shimla, turned into a wildlife sanctuary by the name of Shimla Water Catchment Sanctuary in 1999. Still, it is a hidden gem of Shimla. The sanctuary, among many interesting things, has the highest reported density of koklass pheasants in India under natural conditions. Steep and precipitous at places, the sanctuary is bifurcated by a host of seasonal streams which form the catchment of the Aswini Khad. The khad drains into Giri river, a tributary of river Yamuna. It also connects the Chail Wildlife Sanctuary through a forest corridor.

On a visit to Shimla on work, I, by sheer luck, become a part of an enthusiastic team — two seasoned academics and a senior forest officer whose penchant for nature is pretty popular locally — all set to walk the 14 km stretch. On a good day, you can drive down the first 7 km stretch. After a bout of rain in the morning, it is not quite a good day. So bundled with biscuits, juices and water, and also an umbrella each, we present ourselves in an SUV at the high iron gate of the sanctuary headquarters, Khalini, 4 km from Shimla Bus Stand on the Pantha Gatti Road. An old forest guard reluctantly gropes his pockets to find the key to the lock that hangs from the gate and drags it open. He prods you to take the car on the first 7 km stretch, assures the road is motorable. We all are somewhat relieved to hear that we have to walk only the last 7 kms.

As the car takes the rutted twisting road — at times gravelly, at times slushy and many times mounded — through the dense forest, the forest officer, Sanjeeva Pandey, tells us about what the sanctuary holds. Though deodar is the dominant species of the area, it has a host of other trees like the ban-oak, moru–oak, kharsu-oak, kail, spruce, silver fir, poplar, rhododendron, taxus, chir, kainth, khanor, acacia mollissima, etc. He explains, “The forest here is two storied. While these trees occupy the top canopy, the middle and the ground area is covered by a variety to grass species, ferns and vascular herbs. It has shrubs like desmodium, indigofera, salix, berberis, rosa, rubus and daphnae. There are large blank spaces serving as grassy meadows which go a long way in increasing the prey base for large mammals.”

So, what kind of animals it has? And before we know it, we spot a few ghorals frolicking about just a few metres away from us. Our cameras go click, click, click, to can them but their movement is faster.

Ghoral is classified as near threatened as per the red data list; the sanctuary serves as an important protection ground for the species. Besides ghorals, there are barking deer, sambars, langurs and also “uncertain record of having leopard cat.” In winter, bears can be spotted in the sanctuary. The main predator here is leopard though it is believed to be locally threatened. So are barking deer and ghoral since the ’80s. Though locals remember spotting musk deer here, its believed to be extinct here. (According to IUCN, a survey in 1980 revealed no signs of its presence.)

The area is infested with birds typical of the Himalayas. Besides the koklass pheasants, there are specked wood-pigeon, Himalayan woodpecker, yellow-billed magpie, black crested tit, green backed tit, kalij, partridge, etc. According to the forest department, a census carried out in 1979 gave an estimate of 17-25 pairs/per 2 kms which is the highest reported density under natural conditions for the bird (Gaston and Garson, 1981). Once, these forests had Chir pheasants. The forest department tried to re-introduce the species in 1968 but none reportedly survived.

Soaking in this information, we head towards a point where the road forks into two: one goes on an ascend to the forest lodge Seog Rest House, and the other to a clearing where stand two dilapidated forest department quarters, one for the Forest Ranger and the other for the caretaker. We take the one that goes to the quarters. The clearing also has the 16 feet water reservoir built by the British in 1901 to tap water from falls all around the forest and supply it to the Viceregal Lodge a few kms away. Surrounded by thick forests all around it, the huge reservoir with the capacity of holding 240,00,000 gallons of water is a wonderful accomplishment of human ability. Today, the water is supplied to the residents of the nearby Dhalli area.

A little off the reservoir starts the narrow lane deep into the sanctuary. As one treads on — at times in the company of multi-hued butterflies, at other, finding one’s way through the shrubs that have grown wild with the monsoons, it is an amazing feeling of being up close with nature. You stop by to note the interesting ferns, shrubs, the trees even as the birds coo. You also stop by to soak in the splendour of many waterfalls (There are 19 of them) whose water reaches the reservoir. The technology employed here is pretty simple. Water that falls down from the height is collected in a storage area a few feet below from where it reaches the reservoir through thick pipes. We marvel at the ingenuity of thought shown and wonder why we do not tap all the water from such natural falls in our hills to supply water to the nearby areas. At the end of the seven km stretch is a huge waterfall. Just before it, we find yet another clearing which has a wooden bench that overlooks the pine filled valley. With blobs of clouds passing by, it is a spellbinding sight. Pandey draws our attention to the fact that the sanctuary has huge potential for research on a variety of subjects of biological importance and ecological monitoring, say, ethno botany, ethno zoology, forestry, wildlife related or ecosystem related studies, etc. “It also has potential for conservation education for local people and tourists,” he underlines.

On returning to the clearing with the forest quarters, we are served elaichi chai in small ceramic cups by the hospitable caretaker. Sitting on the clearing, sipping the delicious tea as the day is preparing to give in to the impending night, we cool our heels. And tell each other what a discovery it has been. Really, there are surprises in nooks; you only need to meet them.

 

24 September 2012, Hindu

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Under fire UPA moves to rein in 'vocal' judiciary

With the UPA Government increasingly facing a number of embarrassing observations from the Supreme Court recently — be it on the issue of black money or 2G spectrum case or even Naxalism — a Parliamentary panel on Tuesday recommended that judges should be restrained from making “unwarranted comments” against other constitutional/ statutory bodies/ institutions/persons in open court while hearing cases.

Expressing concern over the growing instances of judges making “unwarranted and uncalled for remarks” which create “tremendous problems for the legislature, specific individuals and senior leaders”, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, headed by Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi, has recommended that such behaviour of judges should be brought under the purview of Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill.

The Bill, which is aimed to check corruption and bring greater accountability in higher judiciary, states that “judgements should speak for themselves” and judges should not enter into public debate or express their views in public on political matters. Though the Government had promised to bring the legislation in the Monsoon Session of Parliament, it remains to be seen whether it could do so before September 8.

Described as the Judicial Lokpal, the Bill has also made declaration of assets a statutory responsibility for judges as it is in consonance with the peoples’ “right to know” and would facilitate greater transparency. It has suggested that a mechanism for scrutiny of assets be created which is implementable.

Also, at a time when the collegium system of appointments has come under severe criticism from Parliament and various political parties, the panel has asked the government to move beyond the incremental approach and urgently bring a new holistic legislation on the appointment process.

Pointing out that appointment is the main source of corruption in judiciary, Singhvi said that the efficacy of the bill will be seriously affected if this aspect is not tackled properly.

So, the panel has exhorted the government to soon bring a bill to deal with appointments.

Significantly, during the impeachment proceedings against Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court and at the all-party meeting on Gandhian Anna Hazare’s Janlokpal Bill which has provision to deal with corruption in judiciary-political parties, especially the BJP, had pitched for a National Judicial Commission for appointment of judges.

The panel has also recommended inclusion of one MP each from both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in the National Judicial Oversight Committee to ensure that it is a broad-based body with proper representation of executive, judiciary and legislature. Similarly, Complaint Scrutiny Panel should also have non-judicial members to enhance credibility.

Further, such panel in a High Court should have two judges from another high court to ensure impartiality in the inquiry process.

However, Singhvi clarified that it was a “misconception” that only judges being in this body will ensure judicial independence and said it was evident from the fact that impeachment process for judges was done by legislature.

Interestingly, media has been debarred from covering the ‘in camera” proceedings of the Complaint Scrutiny panel so as to prevent besmirching the fair reputation of a judge during the initial phase before it was decided whether the complaint is genuine or frivolous.

It has also recommended accountability of media in relation to “divulging of the information while complaints are under investigation”. “A judge may find his name splashed across media though at a later stage the complaint could be found as baseless,” Singhvi said but clarified that it is not a gag order against media which could cover the investigation process against any judge later on.

The panel has recommended reducing the maximum penal provision for frivolous complaints from five years to one year. And in case it was proved that such a complaint is made in good faith, then there will be no punishment, he said.

 

24 September 2012, Pioneer

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Heritage tower at Hampi damaged for treasure hunt

Hampi (Bellary): Miscreants on Sunday damaged a 15-foot-tall tower atop the Malyavanta Hill in Bellary district’s Hampi under the belief that it had a treasure chest. The miscreants damaged the heritage structure by digging a five-foot diametre in the three-storey Gaali Gopura.

Zonal police inspector Venkateshulu said four pillars of the gopura were found damaged. The miscreants had cut the branches of eucalyptus trees close to thetower to climb the gopura. “We have recovered tools used by them to dig up the gopura,’’ he said.

Tourism minister Anand Singh, who visited the spot, said: “It’s an unfortunateincident. I have asked police to step up the security at the Hampi sites.” The minister said he has directed archaeological department officials to take measures to restore the damaged tower. The incident comes despite heightened security at the Unesco world heritage site of Hampi and neighbouring ancient site of Anegundi on the banks of the Tungabhadra. CCTV cameras were installed after parts of the Varaha temple collapsed due to illegal quarrying in nearby villages in July. At least 33 locations at Hampi and Anegundi are under electronic surveillance.

 

24 September 2012, Times of India

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Parking a pain in festive Walled City

Parade Ground Parking Closed For Dussehra

New Delhi: Seven months after it was inaugurated, the multi-level parking lot at Parade Ground in Chandni Chowk is yet to become operational. The closing down of surface-level parking in view of the upcoming festive season, has not helped matters either.

Dussehra preparations are in full swing at the ground. “Every year, the corporation rents out the Parade Ground for Dussehra celebrations. As the preparations start a month in advance, we have shut the surface parking lot,” said a senior North corporation municipal official.

According to officials, 400-450 cars used to be parked at the surface-level parking every day. “Its closure has triggered chaos in Chandni Chowk. The drive by the corporation and Delhi Police to decongest Chandni Chowk, has also been hit. The road along the main market is chock-a-block. To cap it all, footfall has increased in the past few weeks because of the approaching festive season. What is the point of a multi-level parking, if people can’t use it?” said Sanjay Bhargava, general secretary, Chandi Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal.

BJP had inaugurated the parking lot in February to beat the election code, which came into effect on March 5. At that the ruling party had claimed the car park will be opened in a month. In July, the newly formed corporation started the parking facility at the surface level. However, it was soon closed due to shortage of staff.

North corporation officials admitted the parking lot is still not complete, and tenders would soon be invited for its maintenance and operation. “We are carrying out important tasks, including electrical work,” said a senior corporation official.

The erstwhile MCD had cleared nearly 40 parking projects. But only one of them — stack parking behind Sheila Cinema — has been made operational so far. When asked for the reason for delay, Mahinder Nagpal, leader of the house, North corporation, blamed it on trifurcation of MCD.

“Many projects were held up due to the trifurcation. We have been busy fighting teething troubles. After the split, there has been a massive staff shortage. We have not been able to effectively monitor our projects. But now we have settled down. We will ensure the parking is made operational soon,” said Nagpal.

 

24 September 2012, Times of India

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Jains win right to preserve ancient deity statue in MP

Parade Ground Parking Closed For Dussehra

New Delhi: In what is being widely perceived as a major win for the Jain community, the Madhya Pradesh high court has permitted a Jain trust to preserve an ancient 15-ft statue of deity Lord Adinath.

Situated in Kundalpur near Damoh in MP, the deity, popularly known as ‘Bade Baba’, forms part of a group of temples scattered over an area of nearly 200 acres dating back to the 6th-7th century AD and is revered for religious significance.

A bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Sushil Harkauli and Justice Alok Aradhe recently dismissed the Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) ownership claim over the deity and the temple and concluded that ownership vested with the state government since the ASI had never staked claim after independence.

The HC also took into account the fact highlighted by former solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam, representing the trust, that historical records showed the temple in question was looked after well and preserved by the community and had never been in possession of the ASI.

He further argued that the temples were not accorded the status of national heritage, on the contrary, it has a religious importance.

The ASI filed a petition in 2006, requesting to stop construction of temple on the Kundalpur temple premises and hand over the idols found during construction work. In its plea, the ASI claimed Lord Adinath’s idol and the temple signified archaeological importance and rights should be provided to it for its preservation. It accused the state and the trust of eyeing the area to carry out mining and quarrying activity but failed to substantiate the same.

Rejecting ASI’s claim, the HC granted nod to ‘Bade Baba DigambarJain Temple Trust’ for construction work provided it obtained permission from the state government within two months.

 

24 September 2012, Times of India

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Will not vacate existing memorials, Centre tells SC

New Delhi: The Centre on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it would not be legally possible to evict memorial trusts which have occupied big bungalows in the capital’s posh Lutyen’s zone.

Additional solicitor general P P Malhotra told a bench of Justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi that the Union government had taken a decision and formulated guidelines in 2000 banning conversion of government bungalows in future into memorials for departed political leaders.

“But it will not be possible to evict the existing memorials as the government has entered into agreements with trusts which run the memorials allowing them to occupy the bungalows for a specified period. Evicting the memorials prior to the expiry of the lease period will breach the agreement,” he said.

The bench reserved judgment on the petition, which the court had converted into a public interest litigation given the rampant unauthorized occupation of official accommodation by functionaries in the executive, judiciary and legislature. The bench indicated that it would examine the necessity of framing guidelines on this issue.

Amicus curiae and senior advocate Ranjit Kumar had given several suggestions to the court including eviction of memorials occupying prime government properties as well as allocation of official bungalows to journalists, eminent artists, NGOs and freedom fighters from the discretionary quota.

Malhotra said the government had formulated guidelines based on a 1997 judgment of the apex court and had allotted residential accommodation to these categories from under 5% discretionary quota. “Let these allotments be not disturbed,” he said.

 

26 September 2012, Times of India

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Better planning for floods

Flash floods and landslips that have followed unusually sustained rainfall since September 17 have left a deadly trail in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. In Sikkim, following a cloudburst in the Chungthang region, homes, bridges, and stretches of highways were washed away. Among those hit were personnel of the Border Roads Organisation and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. No less than 70 landslips left whole regions cut off in the mountainous terrain. In Arunachal Pradesh, over two lakh people were affected in a wave of floods in five districts. An unusually heavy spell of rain is also threatening the stability of the famed Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, precariously perched on a cliff-face, not far from the border with China. Meanwhile, more than 17 lakh people have been hit in 16 districts of Assam in a third round of floods this year. Assam’s human tragedy has been aggravated by the fact that in the Kaziranga National Park, some 75 per cent of the rhino habitat was submerged. The animals were forced to take shelter on high platforms or move across to the hills of Karbi Anglong district. The Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary also remains substantially submerged. In the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Tinsukia district, noted for its endangered animal species and wet evergreen forests, elephant calves were swept away by flood waters. Majuli, Asia’s largest inhabited river island in Jorhat district, is almost entirely submerged. It is cut off from the mainland with the ferry service across the Brahmaputra suspended.

Rescue and relief work undertaken by the Army, the Air Force, the National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force have provided some comfort, but the scale of the task remains stupendous. The Brahmaputra and its tributaries are a blessing, but also a bane for the region. The river leaves the region fertile and irrigated, even aids mobility by hosting a thriving water transport system. But in its fury, the mighty and meandering hydraulic system has undone and effaced efforts over a long period of time to check and tame it. Lives and livelihoods, crops and infrastructure come under threat time and again. There is, of course, no telling how and when nature will vent its fury. Nevertheless, a clear plan of action based on the science of water management needs to be rolled out for the long term to mitigate damage and help people through what has effectively become an annual round of trouble for the region with the least possible discomfort. Working with the State governments concerned, the Centre should step in to ensure this.

 

26 September 2012, Hindu

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City’s vertical growth will stress resources

Basic Services Already Stretched, Master Plan Must Consider Population Growth: Experts

New Delhi: Even as Union urban development minister Kamal Nath continues to push for vertical growth in Delhi, urban planners and experts say the city’s most basic infrastructure - power, water and parking - is already stretched, and could collapse under the pressure of high density housing.

The city’s planners estimate future infrastructure needs keeping population projections in mind, but the experience of the last two master plans shows population projections are not reliable. In 2001, for instance, the population was 1.38 crore against a master plan projection of 1.28 crore.

Over the years, such unforeseen population growth has resulted in severe shortage of power and water. Although a mid-term review of Master Plan 2021 is intended to address the present shortages, experts fear a shift to the highrise, high-density urban model will again upset the balance. TOI does a reality check on three essentials:

POWER

With an average annual increase of 25% in electricity demand, discoms are gearing up to meet a peak demand of 6,400MW next summer. This year, the May-July period saw new demand records set every other day. “In the last year or two, the demand has surpassed all expectations. More and more consumers are using air conditioners all day. However, growth of Delhi’s own power generation has failed to keep pace. Apart from Pragati power station that was commissioned in 2002, the only additions generation capacity are the Bawana plant and Tata’s Rithala plant - both suffering due to gas shortage,’’ said a power sector expert.

Delhi’s dependence on power from outside led to a severe crisis this year after the Northern Grid collapsed on two occasions. “If you promote high-rise development, power demand is also going to increase and discoms may not be prepared to meet the surging demand. Demand is set to surge after almost 900 unauthorized colonies are regularized and discom infrastructure is far from ready to support the enhanced load,’’ said as enior official.

BSES Rajdhani CEO Gopal Saxena added: “The moment you encourage high-rises, power demand goes up. Earlier, we had planned for a load of 5kW per house but it has already gone up to 11 kW per house. To feed high-rises, we also have to identify places for right of way and allocate space for laying equipment like distribution transformers and sub-stations.’’

WATER

Delhi also sources much of its water from neighbouring states. Its only internal source - groundwater - is in short supply, and highly contaminated at many places. Already, there is a shortage of more than 200 million gallons per day, and this does not even take into account people surviving on unregistered tube wells or illegal supply.

“Delhi’s water supply infrastructure is old and was not planned for the extensive population growth of the last few decades. DJB is constructing underground reservoirs for a more equitable distribution but the fact is that our water supply is limited. To add to the problem, people use online boosters that considerably reduce pressure in supply lines, leading to poor supply at tailend areas. Yet, new housing schemes are being launched,” said a senior DJB official.

Unable to cope with the stress on its system due to existing multi-storey buildings, DJB CEO Debashree Mukherjee wrote to DDA recently, asking for a change in building by-laws so that buildings more than two storeys high are required to have underground tanks, and the board’s responsibility is limited to feeding these tanks. Although it has been criticized by civic agencies for the “unrealistic” plan, DJB says it has no choice if it is to ensure equitable supply across the city.

PARKING

Shortage of parking space has already reached crisis levels due to a massive increase in personal vehicles. Brawls over parking space have become common as vehicles eat up space on roads, sidewalks and open grounds. In Delhi, cars require about 11% of the urbanised area for parking when 80% of the population still does not own cars.

The government is trying hard to work out a suitable policy. Advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment says providing for regulated and organized parking of vehicles and putting restraints on the use of public spaces for parking should be the key to a good policy.

A Central Road Research Institute study found an average car spends only 400 hours a year in traffic. The remaining 8,360 hours are spent parked.

 

26 September 2012, Times of India

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Precious treasures at a height

The Great Himalayan National Park is a hotspot for biodiversity and is home to some of the most vulnerable and endangered species. In all, there are 375 recorded faunal species within the park. We must protect them

It was only a few years ago when I literally stumbled into the Tirthan Valley in Himachal Pradesh and found myself at a gateway leading to one of India’s ‘youngest’ national parks — The Great Himalayan National Park. A pair of White Capped Red Starts flitted along the banks of the Tirthan river which kept me company as I walked the 10 km stretch to the park entrance from where all the treks begin.

The park was officially declared in 1999, and has over the years expanded by incorporating adjoining ‘protected areas’ and wildlife parks into its fold, bringing the total area under administration to 1,171 sq km.

More recently, in 2010, both the Sainj and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuaries were also added to the GHNP, but will only be formally incorporated once the process known as ‘settlement of rights’ is completed. Covering a large area, the GHNP is contiguous with the Pin Valley National Park (675 sq km) in Trans-Himalaya, the Rupi Bhabha Wildlife Sanctuary (503 sq km) in Sutlej watershed and the Kanawar Wildlife Sanctuary (61 sq km).

Such a large, unbroken and protected expanse of wilderness is like an Eden for flora and fauna to flourish. Geographically speaking, the park seems to encompass almost everything from dense oak and walnut forests, alpine valleys and meadows to patches of high altitude pink rhododendrons which finally give way to a treeless rocky and glacial terrain at 6,100 metres at it’s highest point.

The GHNP is a hotspot for biodiversity and is home to some of the most vulnerable and endangered species. In all, there are 375 recorded faunal species

Within the park, a number which is likely to increase, as research and studies indicate. These include the Snow Leopard, the Himalayan Black and Brown Bear, the Royle’s Vole, the Himalayan Tahr, the leopard, the Himalayan Pit Viper, the Musk deer, the Monal and the Western Tragopan, to name just a few.

The Western Tragopan, which is also on the logo of the GHNP, is considered to be the rarest of pheasants in the world. Juju Rana, as it is locally known, literally translates as the king of birds. According to local legend, when the creator was making the world she decided to make something special. So she asked all the birds to give one feather each and from that she created the Juju Rana. It is this biodiversity and its uniqueness that has got the GHNP nominated to the status of a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Unesco will be evaluating the national park this coming month and consider awarding it the status of a World Heritage Site - a status which earlier this year the Western Ghats was awarded, but was declined by the Goa and the Karnataka Governments, presumably owing to the gigantic mining mafia that exists in the region. It is ironic that the very minerals and metals the human race is after are below the most pristine and ancient forests. To open up a forest to be scraped and gouged for mining is to seal not only the fate of the forest, but also everything around it and connected with it.

The GHNP has been nominated specifically under two criteria. The first criterion is that the site should contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

The second condition is that it should contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. The nomination itself is testimony to the fact that GHNP is amongst the top most biologically diverse and vital natural habitats on our planet.

Unfortunately, it is this very fact which is also one of the reasons why the GHNP is threatened. The forests with their diversity in both flora and fauna, have long been used by the communities that have lived in and around them. Local village communities used the meadows and wild lands to graze domestic cattle and sheep, collect forest produce, especially medicinal plants, and to hunt for wild meat in a sustainable manner.

The second half of this story is not new. Commercial gain comes sweeping in and turns everything inside out. Accelerating development, including mining, tourism, hydro-electric dams, timber/forest encroachment and even military use, are taking a toll on this protected habitat. One other activity which began small but has grown disturbingly fast to a vast scale is the illegal collection of medicinal plants.

During my time at the GHNP, I was told about how the demand for these medicinal plants comes from the cities and how then these plants are exported out of the country. The locals are shown photographs of the plant, fungus or root that is in demand, given a rate and sent out in hordes. The entire pipeline is extremely organised and run by a mafia.

The biggest demand these days is for a plant locally called Naag Chhatri. It is the root of the plant that is sought after. Needless to say, to harvest it the entire plant is killed. The plant itself is extremely medicinal in nature and is apparently used as a cure for everything — from fever to high blood pressure. The exact number of people involved is not known, but the quantities extracted from the forest are reportedly huge. So huge that it poses a very real threat to actually cause a local extinction of the species.

The GHNP is also a major source of water for the rural and the urban centres of the region. Four major rivers originate from its glaciers: Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa Nal and Parvati flow through and out of the park. Not too long ago, a hydro-electric project was planned in the Tirthan Valley. The impact of the dam would have devastated the area. It was the initiative of a few and the support of the people that led to protests. Thankfully, the project has been abandoned.

The biggest challenge here, like for any other forested area, is that of protection. The Government and forest department appear geared up to meet it, though they need to do a lot more than they have so far.

Many efforts and initiatives have been made, and made most successfully, to create opportunity and livelihood for the communities around the GHNP. With options given to neighbouring residents to earn extra income legally, and those options exercised, pressures on the forest have reduced.

What will continue to protect the GHNP is the sheer inaccessibility to many areas of the national park. There are no motorable roads that closely approach the national park, and it requires at least a half-day trek to reach the entrance.

Many peaks and high altitude meadows have never had a human footprint. In a crowded world bursting at the seams this is perhaps hard to imagine, but a hotspot like the GHNP is still slowly revealing its secrets. Medicinal plants, insects and even previously undocumented mammals lie hidden. Earlier this year, after two years’ worth of efforts in collaboration with the forest department, we managed to get the first video documentation of the Western Tragopan in the wild in India. There are now reports of the existence of the Himalayan Serow, an extremely shy creature that is more of a mix between a goat and antelope. Giant flying squirrels, martins, leopards and bears roam freely through these great forests, a safe haven for now.

In a fast changing world where the true value of a single tree may have been lost along the way, we need to build a brave new world to hold on to these treasures before they are lost forever.

 

26 September 2012, Pioneer

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The Textile Movement

Using textiles, an exhibition explores questions of labour, colonialism, capital, trade and politics

Many years ago, the areas in central Mumbai - now called Parel, Byculla and those around them - were collectively known as Girangaon and housed more than 100 textile mills, primarily cotton. In Marathi, the word 'Girangaon' literally translates to 'the village of mills'. Workers came from various parts of the state around Mumbai and lived in one-room tenements while they worked in these mills. After the Great Bombay Textile Strike of 1982, however, the number of mills dwindled rapidly and not very long after, became the malls and restaurants we know them as today.

Located not many feet away from the erstwhile Girangaon, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Byculla East, presents an exhibition titled Social Fabric which, among other things, explores the impact the international textile trade had on our local mills and workers. The show centres around two works – a 2001 painting by the Mumbai-based artist Sudhir Patwardhan titled Lower Parel and an installation by the German artist Alice Creischer titled Apparatus for the Osmotic Compensation of the Pressure of Wealth during the Contemplation of Poverty – while UK-based Celine Condorelli features alongside. Mumbai-based Archana Hande's paintings on scrolls, which are also part of the exhibition, show the progression (and simultaneous degradation) of India over the years as it has developed.

For many years, Patwardhan has been closely associated with the plight of the mill workers, having lived in the Lower Parel area when he first moved to Mumbai from Pune, a time when the mills were still flourishing. While little continues to be said about the mills, the artist believes the exhibition has great relevance. “There are lots of struggling groups of people and their work (or lack of it) needs to be highlighted. That is one of the things the exhibition is doing.”

That his work on display, Lower Parel , was done in 2001 means it depicts the area from that day, which is a stark contrast to what it has become today. It shows people mulling about on the streets, standing before a large building and a bridge, appearing lost, so to speak. “When I first moved to Mumbai, I used to depict the working class,” he remembers. “After the strike (of 1982) my interest has been to depict what happened to these people, and the painting shows what they were doing then (in 2001).”

While Patwardhan's work draws from his personal experiences, Creischer's is a global look at the economy and colonialism. The former's painting is accompanied by a number of newspaper cut-outs and images of the strike, mill workers, the mills of yesteryear and Lower Parel of today while the latter's installation includes sheets explaining the relevance of the work – which viewers are recommended to read so as to not be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information the work puts forth.

Before progressing into the rooms of the museum that house these exhibits, however, viewers would do well to first take a look at the exhibit on the ground floor – samples from the Collections of the Textiles Manufactures of India by Forbes Watson, from the museum's collection. In the second half of the 19 th century, Watson was Reporter on the Products of India at the India Museum in London, which meant his job was to catalogue Indian products. Comprising 18 volumes, the Collection documents perhaps every sort of textile that was available in India at the time. In 1855, samples of these various textiles were collected and put on display in Paris at the Paris International Exhibition to create awareness about Indian textiles. It was after this that the British began bringing industrially manufactured, and thereby cheaper, fabric into India, severely hampering the efforts of the Indian workers. They did so in other colonies, too, similarly affecting the efforts of locals workers.

 

26 September 2012, Indian Express

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Raj remains get Delhi makeover

More than half the work in the multi-crore, ambitious project to give Coronation Park a makeover is complete. The site, in North Delhi’s Burari area, is where King George V announced the shifting of imperial India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi in December 1911.

Spread over 56 acres adjacent to a forest, the park has been teeming with construction workers, stone-carvers, artisans and heavy machinery ever since the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) took up the project in 2011 to give this historical site a modern makeover.

Cleared in 2009 with an initial budget of Rs 20 crore, the redevelopment plan includes intricately built “chhatris” at specific places, statues of historical figures, a heritage interpretation centre, a restaurant, a flagpost, an amphitheatre and a lake. Besides, landscaping will add to the aesthetics.

Chhatris are dome-shaped canopies widely used in palaces and forts. These were originally attributed to Rajasthani architecture and later adapted as a standard feature in Mughal architecture.

Red and white sandstone and marble have been brought from Rajasthan and Agra for the chattris, walls around the statues and the meandering footpaths.

The park will have two entry points, one of which will be reserved for VIPs.

The path from the VIP gate will have the flagpost and the amphitheatre to its right. Leading to an obelisk at the centre, this pathway will be flanked by four chattris on each side.

The entrance for the masses will be close to an heritage interpretation centre.

“Almost 90 per cent of work on the pathway is complete. A small portion of the forest was cleared to build a jungle trail. A rose garden is coming up near the heritage interpretation centre. Craftsmen are working on the walls around the statues. These will be engraved with information on the history of the place,” an official said.

The park has the tallest statue of King George V on a pedestal. It was brought to the site in 1960 from its earlier location at India Gate. “Conservation of the statue is being done by INTACH,” the official said.

A highlight of the park will be the heritage interpretation centre, which is essentially a museum. Siddhartha Chatterjee, consultant at INTACH, said the centre will showcase the key moments of the past 150 years in the area around Kingsway Camp, apart from providing information and anecdotes on the Coronation Durbar of 1911.

“Events from the past will be viewed through the perspective of India in, say, 2012. This will reflect our diverse past and heritage, including the present-day legacies. We intend to provide an opportunity to the people to recognise and think about the many influences that have come to shape Delhi and our lives,” he said.

Tracing the growth of the city, the exhibition at the centre will cover events since the 1857 Mutiny, the three imperial durbars held at the park, the building of New Delhi, post-Partition history and the changing ecology of North Delhi and the Ridge.

Developments during Mughal-era Delhi will also be part of the exhibition.

All these events will be linked to the larger story of colonialism, nationalism, Independence and the aftermath, Chatterjee said.

Visual material is collected in the form of government accounts, records, maps, archival photographs and illustrations, quotations from historical accounts and reports, newspapers and journals published in Hindi, English and Urdu to showcase the city’s rollercoaster ride through history.

Though work hasn’t stopped ever since “the first bunch of workers moved in with tools in hand”, officials said small, niggling problems have delayed the project. It has already overshot its deadline of March this year and could, probably, run beyond the revised December date.

Officials at the site said the low-lying parkland was flooded with rainwater in the monsoon. “As a result, pumping out water has taken more time than digging and putting pipes to build an underground water-disposal system. To deal with the flooding, four water tanks had to be constructed in the park. Around 75 per cent of the underground drainage system is ready and the remaining, weather permitting, will be completed soon,” an official said.

This is good news for the ground crew doing the landscaping at the site.

But, the official said the floodwater — pumped out and stored — cannot be used on the plants because of high salinity. “Water for the gardens will come from the Delhi Jal Board’s treatment plant located nearby,” he said.
Slice Of History
King George V announced the shifting of imperial India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi in December 1911 at this site in Burari, North Delhi

3 coronation durbars — 1877, 1903 and 1911 — held
A plaque at the gate proclaims:
“This memorial was erected to commemorate the Coronation Durbar of King George V and Queen Mary held in December 1911. On this occasion the King announced the transfer of the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi.”

What to look for
30-metre-long iron flagpost, towering above the 20-metre obelisk
Chhatris, or dome-shaped canopies with intricate Mughal jaali work or fine trellis work, at specific places

Statues of King George V and historical figures. The 49-foot marble statue of King George V, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is opposite to the obelisk commemorating the durbar. This statue was at India Gate until 1960

 

27 September 2012, Indian Express

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Vandals of heritage

‘Treasure hunters’ must be hunted down

The shocking destruction of a part of the historic Hampi ruins by a group of vandals must not only be condemned in unequivocal terms but equally importantly the incident must also serve as an opportunity to ask how much India, as a country truly respects its much-touted ancient heritage.

Sure, it is easy to gloat about one's rich legacy and diverse civilisational history and how it all goes back several thousands of years, but what about putting in the effort and the resources necessary to protect and preserve that glorious past? Take the incident at Hampi as an example. ‘The Group of Monuments at Hampi’ is a Unesco- designated World Heritage Site. It is an integral part not only of Indian history but also of world history — and its conservation, therefore, is not just a national responsibility but also of interest to the global community. And yet, there were not enough security procedures in place to prevent a group of miscreants seeking ‘treasures’ from doing something as outrageous as blowing up with dynamite a three-storey watch-tower located at the entrance of the 16th century temple atop the Malayavantha Hill. That there will always be anti-social elements, driven by an insatiable desire for material wealth, willing to plunder thousands of years of heritage to make a quick buck and further narrow personal goals, is a given, which is why they have to be checked.

Think of the likes of Subhash Chandra Kapoor, the antique smuggler who was arrested in October 2011 for selling idols, including one from the Chola period, to well-known museums across the world. Or even the politicians who blatantly violate building norms around the historical structures. For instance, constructions by the Delhi Government around Jantar Mantar have rendered the famous sun dial defunct while the West Bengal Government's plan to build a new administrative building in Dalhousie Square threatens the architectural harmony of the area. Or even for that matter consider the non-descript tourist who thinks nothing about defacing several centuries old structure. They are all guilty of damaging national heritage. And they exist not just in India but all over the world — from the Guatemalan city of Mirador where looting of Mayan artefacts is a huge threat to preserving the cradle of that ancient civilisation to the little known Turkish city of Ani that tells the tale of the once-powerful Armenian empire but now lies in ruins, endangered by vandals and encroaching settlers. The focus here then must be on how to protect national heritage. There are already laws in this regard, but are unfortunately too rarely implemented. This needs to change and now. International smuggling rackets must be clamped down upon; extensive security measures must be put in place; misbehaving tourists must be fined; politicians who believe they are above the law must be reined in. If not, we shall lose forever the symbols of our rich culture.

 

27 September 2012, Pioneer

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Ecotourism, UPA style!

With tourism season set to begin next month and Supreme Court hearing scheduled on ecotourism on Thursday, the ultimate outcome is being eagerly awaited.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest has on Tuesday once again submitted its affidavit to the court outlining the revised guidelines prior to hearing. It has stated that tourism must be allowed in 20 per cent core areas as a complete ban would result in loss of local livelihood. This revised guideline had been framed by the 10-member special committee set up by MoEF earlier this month.

The revised guidelines on ecotourism also seek for phasing out of permanent tourist facilities located inside the core areas of the reserve in a specified time frame. The states have been asked to evolve guidelines to regulate tourism such that tourist facilities and tour operators do not disturb the forest and wild life.

Certain members of National Board For Wildlife have expressed surprise over the entire move of MoEF in this regard and how the standing committee of the board that is the overarching body to decide on wild life issues had been ignored in this issue.

“These guidelines are crucial in the management of more than 600 protected areas and 41 tiger reserves across the country”, how can the Standing committee be left out in this important decision making”, shot back a member who did not wish to be named.

They have further questioned the ultimate necessity of setting up of the new committee by the Ministry to come out with revised guidelines for a number of reasons. Firstly .the new guidelines were framed by MoEF after detailed discussion with the concerned stakeholders, after spending almost a year in consultative process.

Secondly, if further opinion was necessary on the issue, it should have been discussed with the experts from the standing committee but far from it, the Ministry went ahead to set up the new committee. And worse still two members of this committee are from tourism background and their inclusion in the committee expressed conflict of interests. “Are they representing tourism group or wildlife conservation?” they questioned.

Meanwhile, in its last hearing on August, the Supreme Court had rapped the Centre for taking a U-turn on its earlier stand on eco tourism of making care areas inviolable. Instead, facing pressure from the states it urged the court to review its July 24 interim order banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserves.

This order had been passed by the apex court only after going thorough the guidelines on eco tourism framed by National Tiger Conservation Authority and the MoEF.

 

27 September 2012, Pioneer

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Centre submits new guidelines on core areas of tiger reserves to SC

Two months after the Supreme Court banned tourism in core areas of tiger reserves after relying on the existing guidelines, the Centre Wednesday submitted revised guidelines, permitting up to 20 per cent of core tiger habitats as delineated tourism zone.

“Current tourism zones where only tourist activities are permitted and there are no consumptive uses, tiger density and recruitment does not seem to be impacted. For this reason, permitting up to 20 per cent of core tiger habitat as a tourism zone should not have an adverse effect on the tiger biology needs, which is subject to adherence to all the prescriptions made in the guidelines,” read the guidelines by the Environment and Forest Ministry.

Saying regulated tourism results in enhanced awareness, the guidelines favoured permission for “non-consumptive, regulated, low-impact” tourism within the core areas without compromising the spirit of tiger conservation.

“With this importance of tourism in tiger conservation in mind, it is recommended that a maximum of 20 per cent of the core tiger habitat usage not exceeding the present usage for regulated, low-impact tourist visitation may be permitted,” said the guidelines which will be taken up by the Supreme Court Thursday as it resumes hearing a PIL by conservationist Ajay Dubey.

The guidelines contradict the Centre’s previous stand of gradual phase-out of tourism-related activities in tiger reserves. Based on that stance, the Supreme Court had on July 24 ordered that core areas in the 41 tigers reserves be kept out of bounds for tourists till it finalises guidelines for such areas. The core area is the central part of a reserve and should have minimal human disturbance. The buffer zone usually constitutes fringe areas upto 10 km around the core.

Some time after the ban, the Centre sought the court’s permission to “further review” the guidelines, citing concerns that the ban would result in loss of livelihood to local populations and endanger wildlife and forests. The court allowed the Centre to revise its guidelines.

The new guidelines say that no new tourism infrastructure should be created in core areas while existing residential infrastructure should be strictly regulated. “Permanent tourist facilities inside core areas being used for wildlife tourism should be phased out in a time frame decided by the Local Advisory Committee,” it said.

The LAC comprises the divisional commissioner, local MLA and district collector.

The ministry has also said tourism plans for each tiger reserve will be site-specific and ratified by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state.

Steps For states
The Environment Ministry has recommended that states enact their own legislation in sync with these guidelines. Besides, states should charge a “conservation fee” from the tourism industry and use the money to conserve wild life and provide livelihood to local inhabitants. It also wants 10 per cent of the revenue generated from pilgrim centres located in tiger reserves to be used for development of local communities.

 

27 September 2012, Indian Express

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City’s oldest ISBT is ready with new look

Kashmere Gate Phase-I of renovation almost complete, will be ready for ops next month

After putting scores of passengers through hardship, the Maharana Pratap ISBT at Kashmere Gate is all set to greet passengers with an air-conditioned waiting lounge, food court, glass elevators and escalators from next month.

According to Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) officials, the Phase-I of the renovation project — after missing the deadline thrice, since it began in June 2011— is finally complete and the operations will resume from next month.

“The interior area is being be given an international look. Keeping in mind passenger facilities, we have already put in place the escalators, lifts, an enquiry booth and improved ticket counters. The toilets, which were in a dilapidated condition before, have been renovated to match international standards. The work on the escalators, lifts, ticket booths, apart from the granite flooring, have been completed,” a DIMTS official said. The passengers will now be greeted with a spacious enquiry counter, occupying a central space at the terminal. LED display boards, showing the arrival and departure time of buses, have also been put up.

As part of the project, structural strengthening and retrofitting of the existing building against earthquake have also been carried out.

“We have taken all steps to ensure maximum security of passengers, since enhanced security was a major part of the renovation project,” the official said.

A door-frame metal detector, which will be manned by two security guards round the clock, has been installed at the entry point.

“We have installed high-resolution CCTV cameras across the terminus. These are rotating cameras and can be controlled by police personnel stationed in the control room.

Other security equipment such as boom-barriers and an access-controlled system for buses have also been put in place,” the official said.

The DIMTS official said the work on the building management system and the public information system was yet to be completed.

The building management system monitors and controls all machinery in the building such as the ACs, pumps and seweage treatment plant.

“Though the LED display boards have been set up, work on installing the machinery to announce arrivals and departure of buses and public help desks is still going on.

“The monsoon led to a delay in the work that requires wiring. We are now laying electrical wires by using trench-less technology. Since extra power is required to run sophisticated machinery, including the escalators and lifts, we have contacted discoms for extra power supply. Once this is done, the terminal will be fully functional,” the official said.

The installation of a rainwater harvesting system and a fire-security system is also underway. “Currently, the cleaning and polishing work is on.

 

28 September 2012, Indian Express

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Digging their heels in tiger land

With bauxite mining operations breathing down its neck and the possibility of a deep drilling project, Maharashtra’s Sahyadri Tiger Reserve is under threat

While the Maharashtra government says it is the first in the country to notify core and buffer areas in all its four tiger reserves in the State, in a recent affidavit to the Supreme Court naturalists have pointed out that the tiger habitats are under pressure from poaching and bauxite mining. They are also concerned about a deep drilling project to study seismicity in the Koyna region falling in the core area of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve (STR).

The STR, notified in 2010, is beset by bauxite mining within one km of the boundary of the Chandoli National Park in Kolhapur district which forms part of the reserve, in violation of existing norms. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) gave environmental clearance for two mines in December 2006. One of them is located on 254.52 hectares of private land with a capacity of 60,000 tonnes per annum (tpa).The other mine was permitted to extract 3.37 lakh tpa and mine lease area was 776.78 hectares — 586.76 hectares of which was forest land.

In the clearance letter to both the companies, namely M/S Prakash Anandrao Gaikwad and Swati Minerals, it was stated that the Chandoli National Park is located at a distance of 10 km from the mine just outside the buffer zone.

However, Nana Khamkhar and Rohan Bhate of Creative Nature Friends toldThe Hindu that the issue was taken up with the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court, saying that the two bauxite mines were located within one km of the park and the MoEF’s environmental clearance was based on incorrect facts. Mr. Khamkhar said there was a Supreme Court order of 2006 which clearly says mining was not permissible within one km of the boundary of national parks. The National Board for Wildlife has to clear proposals for mining within 10 km of national parks.

The other concern for wildlife conservationists is the proposal for deep drilling in the Warna reservoir, which is part of the core area of the STR. Located in Chandoli National Park, this area is acknowledged by the Forest Department to be a breeding area for tigers and cubs have been sighted here, Mr Khamkhar said.

Dr. Purnachandra Rao, senior principal scientist from the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, however, said, “The proposal for the deep drilling project will take us right to the spot where earthquakes are happening. Drilling will have to be done for six to seven km and the 10-year study could help answer a lot of questions remaining on earthquakes.” The Koyna region experienced a massive quake in 1967. The proposal will study intraplate earthquake mechanism in the region which is prone to tremors. There is a two-fold interest for the NGRI since there are two reservoirs — Warna and Koyna — in the vicinity, Dr. Rao said

This was an internationally important programme spearheaded by the NGRI which had approached the Maharashtra Forest Department two months ago. “We are sensitive to issues and there is no cause for panic,” Dr. Rao added.

Principal Secretary (Forests), Praveen Pardeshi, said that the bauxite mines were given permission before the restriction of the 10 km limit came into being. They had the required clearances, he said.

However, Assistant Conservator of Forests, Chandoli National Park, Sitaram Zure said that after complaints of mining, the Forest Department had informed the MoEF in February about the permission for two mines being given on false information that they were located 10 km away from the National Park boundary. Mr. Zure said the National Tiger Conservation Authority had also examined the matter and sent a report. He said that notices have been issued to the two companies by the Mining Department.

Regarding the deep drilling project, Mr. Pardeshi said the proposal was to drill in the Warna reservoir, which fell in the core area of the STR. The NGRI had only sent a letter, there was no formal proposal as yet and it would be first considered by the State Wildlife Board before approval by the National Board for Wildlife. He was of the opinion that the study should be permitted in the interest of science.

Mr. Bhate opposed the study saying it would require new roads and places to stay in the reserve and the noise levels due to drilling would be very high.

The four tiger reserves in Maharashtra are Melghat Tiger Reserve in Amravati district, Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Chandrapur district, Pench Tiger Reserve in Nagpur district and Sahyadri Tiger Reserve spread over Ratnagiri, Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur districts. The State government approved the inclusion of Chandoli National Park and the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary to the Sahyadri in 2010 to create a tiger reserve spread over 741.22 sq km. Later, the STR’s area was expanded to 1165.56 sq km by providing 424.34 sq km as additional buffer area, in the interest of tiger conservation.

Melghat is the oldest of them, having been declared a tiger reserve in 1974. The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve was notified in 1995, Pench in 1999 and Sahyadri Tiger Reserve in 2010.

 

28 September 2012, Hindu

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CBI probe ordered into attacks on rhinos

Army to be deployed in Karbi Anglong hills; Centre takes serious view of situation

Two more rhinoceroses were shot at by poachers in the Kaziranga National Park on Thursday in two separate incidents. These took place in Karbi Anglong district, one near Kuthori around 4.15 a.m. and the other around 12.30 p.m. in the Jagadamba tea estate. The poachers took away the horns of the rhinos.

In the first incident the rhino was found dead, while in the second, the victim was found battling for life, bleeding and writhing in pain. Both mammals had strayed out of flooded areas of the national park, which is also a World Heritage Site, and were moving in the foothills outside the notified area of the park.

Following these two incidents, which occurred a day after poachers shot at a female rhino and made off with its horn, the Assam government ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into all incidents of rhino poaching in the State in the last three years. The government has also decided to deploy the Army in the hills of Karbi Anglong adjacent to the Kaziranga National Park areas, as it suspects militants could also be involved in poaching.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi ordered the CBI probe and announced a cash award of Rs. 5-lakh to anyone who gave information on poachers.

Environment and Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said a team of veterinary and wildlife experts was attending on the two injured rhinos.

Among other measures aimed at curbing poaching were elevation of the post of director of the Kaziranga National Park to Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) rank from the existing rank of Conservator. N.K. Vasu, an IFS officer, was appointed new director of the park. He earlier served as director of the park when he was a conservator.

The Minister said the strength of the front line staff in the park had now increased to 562; 11 sections of the Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) are now deployed there. Besides, 34 new appointments in Forester grade I and 64 forest guards will take place soon. The Environment and Forests Department is also procuring 200 SLRs as part of its plans to equip the AFPF personnel with modern and sophisticated weapons.

Since January, 15 poachers have been apprehended. In 2011, three poachers were killed in an encounter with forest guards, while nine others were arrested and five weapons seized. In 2010, nine poachers were killed and 15 arrested.

Meanwhile, a protest rally was taken up by activists and supporters of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and several other organisations in Kaziranga and other places. They demanded the resignation of Mr. Hussain for failing to protect the rhinos.

Priscilla Jebaraj reports from New Delhi:

Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan has ordered an immediate investigation by a team of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau into the incidents of poaching of rhinos which are fleeing the flooded areas of Kaziranga. She said the investigation should be completed in a week, and the perpetrators brought to justice. Ms. Natarajan has also written to Mr. Gogoi seeking all assistance in this regard and to prevent future incidents. The team comprises C. Behra, Regional Deputy Director, Eastern Region, Kolkata; A.K. Jha, Assistant Director (Intelligence), BHO, Delhi; L. Kuruvilla, Assistant Director, Southern Region, Chennai; and K.K. Sarma, Wildlife Inspector, Northern Region, Delhi.

 

28 September 2012, Hindu

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Endangered even more

Rhinos in Kaziranga are becoming soft targets

From being an abode to the famed one-horned rhino, the Kaziranga National Park is fast turning into a killing field for these rare and endangered species. The high-security Kaziranga, a Unesco World Heritage Park, is Assam's pride, playing host to two-thirds of the world's Great One-horned Rhinos. Indeed, the wildlife reserve has been touted as one of the greatest success stories in the country's conservation efforts. But of late, that reputation has been sorely tested. The reasons have varied from natural calamity to man-engineered catastrophes. Currently, the national park is in the throes of severe floods. The surging waters have inundated more than 80 per cent of the park killing nearly 22 animals, including four rhinos. Assam's worst-ever floods in June this year saw over 600 animals of the park including rhinos and elephants perish.

But the more disquieting news and cause for greater alarm is the rising incidence of poaching. Poachers constantly on the prowl, inside and outside parks, have taken advantage of Kaziranga's inundation to go on a rampage on Wednesday. Two rhinos, which had strayed out of the park to escape the floodwaters, fell prey to the poachers. The killings were as gruesome as they were ruthless. The poachers mindful only of their own pelf and security, sawed off the rhino's horn even as the animal lay bleeding and alive, before making good their escape. It was easy, because along with the animals, the floodwaters had reportedly washed away more than 100 anti-poaching camps of the forest guards inside the park. The incident was a re-run of a similar poaching of a female rhino in January 2008 and happened barely 48 hours after the recovery of a rhino carcass without its horn in the park. Although, forest officials claimed that the carcass was an old one, the missing horn points to poaching. The park has lost four rhinos within a span of a week. The death toll due to poaching has reached 14 this year alone.

While it is frustrating that poachers could so easily kill rhinos in the high-security park, the incident also points to the flourishing of — despite many crackdowns by the authorities — organised poaching syndicates. Although the rhino’s horn has no proven medicinal effect on humans, myths about its aphrodisiac qualities and medicinal worth in curing cancer thrive, especially in many South-East Asian countries, making the sale of horns a highly profitable trade. The incident also highlights the loopholes in the existing security mechanism and the failure of the State Government to plug them. Furthermore, a strong intelligence network with the locals is necessary to keep tabs on the movement of poachers. Had there been a stronger security in the peripheral areas of the park, such deaths could have been at least preventable.

 

28 September 2012, Times of India

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Delhi’s first royal tomb lost to shrubs and goats

It may have been identified as anarchaeological park under Master Plan of Delhi 2021, but the area surrounding the early 13th-century Sultangarhi tomb — the first royal tomb in Delhi — is far from being a tourist attraction. Lack of proper signage and pathways, and the obscure location of the approach road have made it difficult for visitors to access the site in the city's southwest. The only people who pay the occasional visit to the ASI-protected tomb are locals.

The master plan defines an archaeological park as "an area distinguishable by heritage resources which has the potential to become an interpretative educational reserve for the public in addition to being a tourist attraction". However, the definition on paper only remains a vision. A reality check showed that the park is nothing but a neglected green area which could have become a major tourist destination had the Archaeological Survey of India and Delhi Development Authority paid some attention to its upkeep. The other two archaeological parks identified under the master plan are at Tughlaqabad and Mehrauli.

Located in the midst of the green area, Sultangarhi tomb is on ASI's list of 10 ticketed monuments but statistics reveal that the body earns no revenue from the tomb. A lone ASIguard sits at the gate clutching a bundle of tickets, ready to welcome the rare visitor. The ticket counter was burnt down by locals a few years ago.

"The only people who visit the spot are local villagers who come to offer prayers. For others, it is impossible to get here from the main road as the approach road is difficult to locate," said the guard. While the tomb itself is in a good condition, the ruins surrounding it are marred by moss-covered walls. A Tughlaq-era well located a stone's throw away has also been neglected for decades.

"Some years ago, Intach had undertaken conservation work on the ruins and put up information boards. But over the years, the ruins have been vandalized and encroached upon," said an official.

Sources add that the lack of proper pathways and presence of anti-social elements in the vicinity act as a deterrent for visitors. More importantly, awareness on the park's historical significance is missing. Also, there are no security personnel to safeguard the premises.

Inky portions of the green area were identified as the archaeological park but boundaries have not been carved yet, said a DDA official. Urban experts say that outlining boundaries is crucial for the park's maintenance otherwise encroachments are bound to crop up.

"What DDA needs to do is place on record what is the significance of defining a green area as an archaeological park and implement a proper management plan to preserve the park's historical character as well as to keep the green belt alive. Facilities have to be created so that the park is ready to receive visitors," said an expert.

 

28 September 2012, Times of India

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Courting the cotton culture

The Capital will inaugurate an exhibition on traditional handloom khadi and malkha to coincide with Gandhi Jayanti

From the villages of India to the prêt collections of international designers, Malkha, a mix of malmal and khadi has travelled a long distance. Paying a tribute to this wonderful fabric, the National Archives of India is hosting a Khadi & Malkha exhibition from October 2 to 11 in the Capital.

India has had an interesting journey with cotton -- it has grown, spun, woven and worn cotton and clothed other nations in it for over 200 years now. The looms run on in the 21 century, with almost no industrial pollution and depredation of the earth’s resources.

“The Indian cotton textile industry has outlasted the industrial revolution’s challenge, and today provides an environmental, ecological alternative to energy-intensive mechanical production, providing employment to millions of people in the different processes of cloth production from the carding, spinning, warp laying, sizing of the warp, the weaver and the maker of tools for all these. Making cotton cloth entirely in rural areas links the small and marginal farmers of cotton to the cloth that is made from their harvest,” say the organisers of the exhibition.

Not to forget the patronage khadi received from M K Gandhi, who used it symbolically in the fight against the colonisers.

The interest in khadi has never faded in India and has even reached foreign shores. What makes khadi and malkha popular are its slubbed texture and draping qualities.

 

29 September 2012, Hindu

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Walk through the pages

Navina Jafa's book elaborates on the art of preserving and presenting heritage. She spoke to Ektaa Malik

With a megaphone in hand, she is a familiar fixture on the city’s historical and cultural circuit.She often makes people wake up at early hours and enlightens them on Delhi’s monuments. Navina Jafa knows their stories like the back of her hand. Her mother was worried she would grow up to be angrez, because Jafa was brought up in the West Indies. But there was nothing to be afraid of.

Navina took her Indian heritage seriously. She is a Fullbright Scholar with a PHD in history and trained in Kathak. The heritage walks she organises are well attended. She elaborates, “I wanted to balance my western education with Indian culture, visualising Bharat versus India. I attended lectures by Kapila Vatsyayan. Did art history and art appreciation courses at NGMA and elsewhere. But I wondered why I felt asleep at lectures, when I loved history. That’s why I’ve organised the walks.”

She continues, “I remember attending Dussehra celebrations on the lawns of Red Fort and circuses being hosted there. Look at it now. The monument has become isolated, inaccessible by the general public. I am trying to bring people closer to that aspect of our cultural heritage. I maintain, that higher the Taj Mahal goes in its stature internationally, the more people will get alienated.”

Jafa has produced a book, Performing Heritage, Art of Exhibit Walks (Sage Publications).

It required the impossible task of sitting in one place and facing the computer. “I am a performer and have always been active. To sit still constantly and labour over words was tough.”

Jafa’s is in her element during walks, dramatically pausing to elaborate on stories humanising characters.

She doesn’t bore attendees with just dates and architectural information.

“A performance dies when it is over. But when you write, its immortal. I tried to make the legacy of these monuments live through the book. And I tried to highlight that presenting monuments is an art.”

When she takes people to Humayun’s Tomb she speaks about a caretaker of Afsar ki Sarai. “I speak of him as Romeo Caretaker who would come to his work, teasing and eyeing women on the way.People might forget Humayun, but they relate to Romeo. To her the monuments are not just stone. She talks as if of a favourite child. “They are living entities. I involve the local economy and experts. They might not have a degree but they know the place like their home.” The book is written in simple language, sans academic jargon. Its similar to her walks.

 

29 September 2012, Pioneer

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Sparrow all set to get official bird tag

The Delhi government is ready to notify the sparrow as the Capital’s first official bird.

On August 15, chief minister Sheila Dikshit had made a declaration and launched a “rise of the sparrows” campaign. “We’re working on an action plan. Efforts are being made to sensitise people, especially children. The notification may be issued next week,” government sources said.

“The chief minister, who heads the environment ministry, is keen on protecting sparrows and bringing them back, besides raising awareness about their life and habitat,” said a senior official.

Mohammad Dilawar, founder of Nature Forever Society, has set up an online portal, Common Bird Monitoring of India (CBMI), where people can register and monitor the birds.

“We have tied up with the government in this conservation project. We’re drafting guidelines for the creation of more habitats and getting these birds back to Delhi,” Dilawar said.

“In our food chain, this bird, like many others, is a bio-indicator. We’re saving this bird because it means we have made our environment better,” he said.

A forest department official said, “In Lutyens’ Delhi, we have not spotted these birds in the last two-three years. Methyl nitrate, emitted by vehicles, is one reason why these birds are becoming extinct. Vegetable production along the river, which used to attract sparrows, is also becoming a thing of the past.”

 

29 September 2012, Hindustan Times

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Green the dirty drains

Rather than turning their faces away from ganda nalas that happen to be essential to Delhi’s drainage system, authorities and residents should try protecting and greening them

There is hardly any town in the country that does not have its ganda (dirty)nala (drain). In many places the ganda nala has become a part of the city’s psyche and even the city’s directional landmark. Delhi today boasts of 22 such major drains and both Meerut and Saharanpur have at least one each.

Look closely and you will find that each one of them is the combined output of a network of many such smaller nalas, some of which might even be originating from your own house, housing complex or the locality. Ever given a thought to these nalas, their origin and if they were always ganda?

The fact is that most, if not all, are the creation of the natural topography of the place in question and originated as storm water drains that carried the high flows during monsoon rains to either yet another drain or to a nearby water body or a river. In case of Delhi, it is the river Yamuna that has acted as the end destination of the city’s high flows. Thus these nalas were essential features of the natural drainage system of a town or city. Also in olden times, most of them acted as the town’s greenways and sites of recreation. It was much later and mostly during the last and the present century that we as part of our ‘development’ process converted them into ganda nalas.

Anything that is ganda abhors us and we have a tendency to wish or shoo it out of sight. It is also a fact that many of these ganda nalas exhale nauseating stench and become a source of vector borne diseases, especially when water in them tends to stagnate. No wonder there is a frequent clamour from affected people to seek their covering and concretisation.

But is it the ganda nala which is at fault deserving to be ‘fixed’ by the municipal authorities? Travel to a ‘developed’ western nation, and one is hard put to locate such ganda nalas? Surely they exist there, too, but have mostly been ‘fixed’ either under a road, a culvert, a parking site or into pipes. But if that was the correct ‘solution’, then why is there now, a growing clamour to “daylight” such infrastructure?

“Day lighting” or a ‘greening of grey (concrete) infrastructure’ is the process by which cities like Philadelphia in the U.S. endeavour to ‘green’ themselves, by rediscovering their lost or hidden streams and storm water drains and then expose them back to the elements. This is taken up even when the costs for such reversal prove prohibitive as a lot of effort, including enabling science, technology and legislation is required to re-nature such sites.

Not many might recall that in the year 1996, a dissertation by researcher Pallavi Kalia at the TVB School of Habitat Studies, New Delhi looked at the drainage system in the city of Delhi and then tested successfully the following hypothesis:“ The natural drainage channels, existing as a part of a city’s fabric, if developed through capitalising on their inherent characteristics, can be transformed from being corridors of filth and squalor, into means of reinforcing the imageability of the city, apart from making it functionally more efficient and ecologically more sustainable.”

While the referred study had focussed primarily on the Barapula drainage sub-system in Delhi, its applicability to the rest of the city was found to be obvious.

Now as Delhi bids for a heritage city and a world class city status, it would be best advised to not limit its ‘green city’ claim to just the tree cover that it has justifiably achieved. How it protects and suitably develops its natural drainage channels and reclaim those that it has already lost shall be the litmus test of its claim to a world class city. And since the tentacles of its natural drainage system spreads to every nook and corner of the city, it shall as much be the responsibility of the State authorities as of every resident of this city to work towards protection, preservation and improvement of its natural drains.

The role of the city’s residents and their associations (RWAs) in transforming every filthy drain in the city into a welcome greenway is immense. For where does the ‘filth’ that clogs the drains actually emanate from? Secondly, does it not make much better sense to appreciate, value and work together to clean and green our drains now, rather then spend a fortune at a later date to “daylight” them, a la many cities in the West?

(The writer is the Convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)

 

29 September 2012, Hindu

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Green the dirty drains

Rather than turning their faces away from ganda nalas that happen to be essential to Delhi’s drainage system, authorities and residents should try protecting and greening them

There is hardly any town in the country that does not have its ganda (dirty)nala (drain). In many places the ganda nala has become a part of the city’s psyche and even the city’s directional landmark. Delhi today boasts of 22 such major drains and both Meerut and Saharanpur have at least one each.

Look closely and you will find that each one of them is the combined output of a network of many such smaller nalas, some of which might even be originating from your own house, housing complex or the locality. Ever given a thought to these nalas, their origin and if they were always ganda?

The fact is that most, if not all, are the creation of the natural topography of the place in question and originated as storm water drains that carried the high flows during monsoon rains to either yet another drain or to a nearby water body or a river. In case of Delhi, it is the river Yamuna that has acted as the end destination of the city’s high flows. Thus these nalas were essential features of the natural drainage system of a town or city. Also in olden times, most of them acted as the town’s greenways and sites of recreation. It was much later and mostly during the last and the present century that we as part of our ‘development’ process converted them into ganda nalas.

Anything that is ganda abhors us and we have a tendency to wish or shoo it out of sight. It is also a fact that many of these ganda nalas exhale nauseating stench and become a source of vector borne diseases, especially when water in them tends to stagnate. No wonder there is a frequent clamour from affected people to seek their covering and concretisation.

But is it the ganda nala which is at fault deserving to be ‘fixed’ by the municipal authorities? Travel to a ‘developed’ western nation, and one is hard put to locate such ganda nalas? Surely they exist there, too, but have mostly been ‘fixed’ either under a road, a culvert, a parking site or into pipes. But if that was the correct ‘solution’, then why is there now, a growing clamour to “daylight” such infrastructure?

“Day lighting” or a ‘greening of grey (concrete) infrastructure’ is the process by which cities like Philadelphia in the U.S. endeavour to ‘green’ themselves, by rediscovering their lost or hidden streams and storm water drains and then expose them back to the elements. This is taken up even when the costs for such reversal prove prohibitive as a lot of effort, including enabling science, technology and legislation is required to re-nature such sites.

Not many might recall that in the year 1996, a dissertation by researcher Pallavi Kalia at the TVB School of Habitat Studies, New Delhi looked at the drainage system in the city of Delhi and then tested successfully the following hypothesis:“ The natural drainage channels, existing as a part of a city’s fabric, if developed through capitalising on their inherent characteristics, can be transformed from being corridors of filth and squalor, into means of reinforcing the imageability of the city, apart from making it functionally more efficient and ecologically more sustainable.”

While the referred study had focussed primarily on the Barapula drainage sub-system in Delhi, its applicability to the rest of the city was found to be obvious.

Now as Delhi bids for a heritage city and a world class city status, it would be best advised to not limit its ‘green city’ claim to just the tree cover that it has justifiably achieved. How it protects and suitably develops its natural drainage channels and reclaim those that it has already lost shall be the litmus test of its claim to a world class city. And since the tentacles of its natural drainage system spreads to every nook and corner of the city, it shall as much be the responsibility of the State authorities as of every resident of this city to work towards protection, preservation and improvement of its natural drains.

The role of the city’s residents and their associations (RWAs) in transforming every filthy drain in the city into a welcome greenway is immense. For where does the ‘filth’ that clogs the drains actually emanate from? Secondly, does it not make much better sense to appreciate, value and work together to clean and green our drains now, rather then spend a fortune at a later date to “daylight” them, a la many cities in the West?

(The writer is the Convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)

 

29 September 2012, Hindu

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Another Monument of Neglect

The number of monuments being used as public conveniences is too large to enumerate. Masjid Moth is one such

The question of how do we in India relate to our heritage is very easy to answer. By and large we do not relate to our heritage in any way, unless what we do to them can be construed to mean that we treat them as our own. This is especially true of the built heritage scattered all around us whether in metropolitan agglomerates, million plus cities, small towns or in remote villages. Our attitude is the same - - supreme disdain and callousness.

Whether this attitude is the product of a people who have become inured to heritage because they have had a surfeit of it or because they only have a distorted sense of a Hindu past and a Muslim past is difficult to say. Unless we can turn a building either into a mosque or a temple we do not seem to care much for it, the moment we can convert a heritage structure into a place of worship we begin to repair and refurbish it and keep at it till we remove all vestiges of history and antiquity from it.

Those structures that cannot be so converted into places of worship seem to leave us cold and untouched and we treat them as a ‘no man’s land’ and therefore easy pickings for all comers. Some of the uses that we put heritage monuments to include driving nails in the walls to hang kitschy calendars, to attach wires to dry our daily wash and to stretch cables to our houses. We use the courtyards for playing cricket, for sleeping in, for drying our grains. We paint the walls in hideous shades of green or saffron to erect shrines along the periphery. We encroach upon entire structures and convert them into extensions of our houses, or to conduct our businesses from. Using the niches under monumental structures for starting bicycle or auto repair shops, for storing construction material or using them for rearing poultry or pigs etc are all part of our daily routine. The number of monuments that have been used as public conveniences is too large to be enumerated.

Except for downright encroachment, one can witness many of these activities in and around Masjid Moth, located inside the Masjid Moth village that derives its name from the sultanate period mosque that is now a protected monument. One corner next to the exterior of the west wall of the mosque has been converted into a reserved parking lot for some elected representative, there are two cars with the Delhi Assembly stickers parked in this reserved lot, the sticker on one of them at least expired on December 31, 2011. The owner must be someone powerful with scant respect for the law, considering the expired sticker and the land grabbed for parking.

The mosque has been in the news recently ( To be or not to be, Metroplus, The Hindu, September 22, 2012) because the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is building a hostel for its staff within the prohibited 100 metre limit for construction next to a protected monument. One wonders how were the builders given the NOC by the competent authority appointed by the National Monuments Authority.

Vikramjeet Singh, an IT professional and enthusiastic photographer of historical monuments, and I went to Masjid Moth to do our own investigation. The hostel under dispute is certainly within the 100 metre prohibited limit. We measured it through Vikramjeet’s Tablet that has GPS on it. Measuring distances has never been easier, you do not even have to be on site, open Google Map, identify the two points, tap them and the actual linear distance between them is displayed.

Open and shut case, one would be inclined to say, but things are not so easy on the ground, the hostel is coming up behind another AIIMS hostel built earlier than the mid 1990s. This structure is five storey high and is less than 50 meters from Masjid Moth. A Sai Mandir has come up between the monument and the older hostel building. The temple was certainly not there, not in its present dimensions in any case, when I used to work with BiTV that operated from Uday Park close by.

Now even if this new hostel comes up and even if it is a couple of floors higher than the earlier hostel, it will not be a visual hindrance because the line of vision is already obstructed by the earlier structure. To my mind, the AIIMS hostel issue is actually a red herring that is being dragged through the debate of violation of the 100 metre prohibition in order to divert attention from the large scale constructions going on within 10 to 15 meters of the monument and it is these that the ASI has to do something about.

One learns that complaints have been lodged about recently concluded or ongoing construction in house nos. 108, 137 and 139 aside from two dozen others. MCD staff did arrive for a survey but they were obstructed by those involved in breaking the law and their supporters. We were also told that the local MCD councilor arrived and convinced the MCD staff to go back. Work goes on at frantic speed and would be a fait accompli before anyone can take cognizance of the offence.

We need to accept that heritage preservation cannot be done without involving and educating the population that lives in the neighbourhood, it cannot be done through laws that are sought to be applied mechanically and it cannot be done if we continue to treat the people as adversaries and enemies.

 

29 September 2012, Hindu

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A chirpy haven

Since 2002, birds started abandoning the once-attractive marshlands of theKeoladeo National Park. So did regular visitors. Thankfully, revival efforts have once again made it a birdwatchers’ paradise.A Wildlife Week special....

The best restaurant for birds in Asia has just started reviving after a seven-year subjected sabbatical. Known as the Keoladeo National Park (KNP), its expanse is merely 29 sq km, one of the smallest in India, yet it contains the richest feed for birds. Copious rains and a 100-km pipeline bringing water from the Chambal River to Bharatpur this year has brought back fortune. As India celebrates Wildlife Week in the first seven days of October, KNP in Bharatpur, too, has woken up to a bright new era after desperate days, mourning months and years of despair.

Often called Bharatpur bird sanctuary, KNP has numerous degrees to its credit. The first one was acquired almost 290 years ago when the then Maharaja of Bharatpur qualified it to build a bund at the confluence of rivers Ghambhir and Banganga. Thereafter, the combined flood waters and lush vegetation attracted thousands of wild waterfowl. As nature and history were conniving to create vistas of wilderness, KNP got its second degree as the most magical marshland. The third incident was its formal inauguration by the then Viceroy of India as the best duck shooting reserve in 1902. Droves of ducks were ruthlessly shot dead by trigger-happy British and Indian royalty every winter as pastime. It was murder most foul; killing hapless fowl and today a row of stone slabs graphically depict the potshots. One etching blatantly illustrates that on a balmy November of 1938, an unbelievable 4273 birds were shot on a single sortie!

Thankfully, between 1977 and 1980 a protective masonry wall came up encompassing the entire sanctuary, a first of its kind in the country. The KNP was declared a Ramsar site, a criterion given only to select marshlands in the world. Thereafter, it was upgraded to a national park in 1981 and finally declared a World Heritage site in 1985.

The deserving degrees did help the park flourish as millions of migratory birds from across the world descended in dollops desperate for food and fortitude. Local Indian birds also congregated after monsoons creating a breeding and feeding frenzy. An assortment of babblers to warblers, peacocks to pelicans, pigeons to wigeons, barbets to buzzards all thrive in their own preferred plots and slots. Hence KNP is also called a ‘bird paradise’ by wildlife enthusiasts.

Known the world over as a sanctuary for a bevy of birds, nearly 400 species have been recorded so far. KNP also has mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Over 400 species of flora have also been researched by botanists. Many Indians and foreigners make yearly pilgrimages to KNP, not merely as bird watchers, but to capture beautiful birds with cameras. On my numerous trips to KNP, I have noticed foreigners armed with portable parabolic antennas and zealously encapsulating melodious birdcalls.

Though it is endowed with a matrix of grasslands, scrublands, woodlands and marshlands, KNP heavily depends not only on abundant water but also on human interventions. The splendours of seasons fabricate monsoons, winters and scorching summers by changing the demeanour of the landscape ever so often. Sometimes it is slush with lush vegetation or bone dry with shrinking pools and puddles.

KNP in the past did have its quota of conflicts and challenges. Forest fires ravaged the park in the late 70s and in early 80s as villagers went on rampage when cattle’s grazing was banned. Plenty of problems cropped up and suitable solutions were found but the vital ingredient — water — the real nectar of life was missing. Since 2002, birds started abandoning the once-attractive marshlands, so did regular visitors, tourists from abroad and even diehard fans like me were looking elsewhere. Local wildlife also vanished and there was the danger of KNP losing its World Heritage tag.

This year as Wildlife Week celebrations begin across the nation from October 1-7, KNP is overflowing with millions of fish fingerlings. On my visit last week, I met Kailash Navrang, a journalist at Bharatpur, who has been taking bird pictures for over three decades. He said, “We are pleased that the park has rejuvenated after many years and we are certain of an excellent season ahead. Presently, 2000 pairs of cormorants, herons, storks, etc. are busy making nests to bring up their progeny as they have assured water and food. Winters will bring in more migratory birds and we are back in business.”
 

30 September 2012 , Hindu

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A gate in the city wall

For scores of Delhiites, especially the Generation Next, the name Kashmere Gate has come to represent one of the busiest Metro stations. Several others associate the name with the inter-state bus terminus (ISBT). Unfortunately, not many know about the origins of the name.

Kashmere Gate was one of the 14 gates of the city wall of Shahjahanabad. Needless to add, the name is derived from the fact that it opened north and started a road through it leading towards Kashmir.

Incidentally, it was a September many monsoons ago that changed the face of Delhi.

"On the 14th September 1857, the British force stormed Delhi. It was after sunrise on that day that the undermentioned party advancing from Ludlow Castle in the face of a heavy fire and crossing this bridge, which had been almost totally destroyed loaded powder bags against and blew in the right leaf of this gate thus opening a way for the assault column," reads the memorial plaque at the gate. Soon after, the Mughal rule gave way to the British Raj.

With increasing population, change was inevitable. But after Independence, it was far more rapid.

"Earlier, traffic passed through the arches of the Kashmere Gate. Gokhale Marg started from opposite Ritz cinema and went right up to Mori Gate roundabout. There was no ISBT, it was St Stephen's cricket ground then," said Sameer Anand, whose family is in the area since the early 1970s.
 

30 September 2012, Hindustan Times

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Heritage project loses direction

The Delhi government's initiative to protect heritage buildings by installing metal signage on the main thoroughfare of Chandni Chowk has come a cropper. About 30 metal signboards, which were put up by Intach in Chandni Chowk area in 2003, are conspicuous by their absence. The few signboards which can still be seen are either coated with bills or advertisements, or are used by traders to hang clothes and slippers.

While some of the boards are broken, others have been uprooted and filched, according to the traders and residents. The remaining boards serve as hangers. "It was a good initiative marred by lack of maintenance. The government comes up with so many initiatives for protecting heritage buildings, but they are still crumbling," said Sanjay Bhargava, general secretary, Chandni Chowk Sarv Vypar Mandal. "The State Bank of India building, which has been declared a heritage building, was revamped, though it is not allowed. As no civic agency took action, the face of the building has changed," said an exasperated Bhargava.

The broken pavements and unclean surroundings speak volumes about the neglect. "Nobody cares about the signage. Why should they, when the buildings themselves have fallen into disrepair. For instance, the waste dumped in front of Chunnamal ki Haveli, another heritage building, has not been picked up for almost five months," said Rashid Rehman, a trader.

Intach officials said responsibility of maintaining the signboards did not lie with them. "We were entrusted with one-time installation by Delhi Tourism, but maintenance was not our responsibility. The idea behind these boards was to make the public aware of the value and significance of heritage buildings. In 10 years, many boards have been damaged and some civic agency needs to maintain these boards. Since these boards have been uprooted or broken, we will replace them. Many people object to the boards in areas they call private property. However, our main problem is funds, as we don't get money for maintenance," said an Intach official.

Interestingly, during Commonwealth Games, Archaeological Survey of India put up red sandstone boards in front of heritage sites, as it believed they would last longer than metal signboards. North Delhi Municipal Corporation has been apprised of the issue but to date no action has been taken. "These roads were with Public Works Department till Wednesday. It's been only three days since we got a copy of the order giving us back the roads. This thoroughfare is one of them. We will make arrangements and maintain the boards properly," said P K Gupta, commissioner, North corporation. In April this year, about 499 roads with width of 60 feet and more were transferred to PWD from the municipal corporations. But due to this transfer, the Chandni Chowk redevelopment plan of the corporation took a hit.
 

30 September 2012, Times of India

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