Ilegal buildings mushroom around protected monuments

Violet, a 68-year-old resident of St John’s village near Qutub Minar has been living in the area for over 30 years now. Her husband, a former state government employee, moved to the locality after he retired. Today, their four-storeyed building houses eight family members and is a source of income as well.

St John’s Village is barely 100 yards from the boundary of the Qutub Complex, which houses the 12th century Qutub Minar. In fact, if one stands on the terrace of Violet’s house, one can see the Qutub Minar separated from the building only by a small parking lot.

Violet’s house and hundreds like hers in the area are unauthorised, as per a report tabled in this Parliament session. Yet, new houses in the area keep coming up with alarming regularity.

Qutub Complex and Zafar Mahal, the 18th century summer palace, are some of the last relics of the Mughal era. The prohibited areas around them have over 93 and 139 unauthorised structures, respectively. According to the findings of the parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture, unless serious efforts are taken, the historic monuments will be taken over by the encroachers.

The committee has also recommended that the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, must be amended to empower the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). “Although the committee is not against the view that the ASI can effectively fulfill its mandate of removing and preventing encroachments if it has adequate statutory backing, it is, however, of the considered opinion that it would not help to a great extent until we are able to strike at the nexus between the unscrupulous elements and local authorities, including the police,” read the report submitted by the committee, chaired by AITC MP Mukul Roy, to the Rajya Sabha last week.

Zafar Mahal is a national heritage site as per the ASI and is also listed by INTACH as a conservation area. The Qutub Complex is a UNESCO world heritage site. Early last year, the Delhi High Court had directed the ASI and the DDA to free the Mehrauli Archaeological Park of encroachments, fearing that the encroachers would soon take over the Qutub Minar as well.

Historian Sohail Hashmi, however, said that initially the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1902, decreed that any construction within 50 yards of these was not permissible. It was later amended to extend the prohibited area to 100 yards. “Overnight, several people living within the 100 yards of protected monuments became encroachers. Rehabilitation is usually not a part of the government mandate. There is never any discussion of either relocating these people or helping them with jobs.”

Meanwhile, the parliamentary committee also rapped the ASI for violating norms and indulging in anti-labour practices. “This committee recommends that the ASI and the Ministry of Culture should take all possible steps to ensure that its contractual employees are paid decent wages,” the report stated.

In its reply, the ASI said that contractual employees were paid as per the Minimum Wages Act, to which the committee said the ASI must extend adequate social security schemes, such as health coverage, to contractual employees, “especially in view of the recent Supreme Court judgment on the subject”.

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