The Aam Khas Bagh here, which bears the stamp of three Mughal emperors, is under threat as the Punjab government has decided to convert a portion of it into a circuit house.
Ironically, it was the state government which had declared it a "protected monument of considerable historical importance and architectural significance" on June 7, 1976, under the Punjab Ancient and Historical Monuments and Remains Act, 1964. As per norms, no fresh construction can be carried out on the premises.
The government wants to use about 2 acres of the 42-acre heritage site for building the circuit house. The portion chosen for the purpose used to house the tourism department-run hotel 'Maulsari', which was shut down in 2010 on the orders of the district administration.
As per the plans of the public works department, a building having about 20 rooms for various categories of guests (up to the rank of chief minister) would be constructed. The proposal is awaiting the chief minister's nod.
In March 2010, the Centre had sanctioned Rs 1.75 crore for preservation of the monument. Sources said the state government had sought an additional grant during the current fiscal for the bagh's maintenance.
As per documents available with HT, the state government has promised the Centre to convert the hotel site into a tourism information and interpretation centre so as to attract more tourists.
Fatehgarh Sahib deputy commissioner Yashbir Mahajan said the circuit house would come up on land belonging to the tourism department, adding that the spot was located at a distance from the bagh's medieval structures. Sources, however, said there was no clarity over possession of land in the bagh.
A secretary-level officer of the state government admitted that erecting a building on the premises of a protected monument was illegal.
"The construction of any building or even converting a building into a circuit house is against the national theme of saving our national monuments and ancient structures. The government must withdraw this proposal," said Dr Subhash Parihar, a noted historian from Faridkot, who presented the first international research paper of his career on Aam Khas Bagh in England in 1962.
"Any incongruous activity within a site of this stature would be extremely bad publicity for the Punjab government, which has also sought funding for the same monument from the union government under the 13th Finance Commission," said Gurmeet S Rai, director of the New Delhi-based Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI).
The World Monument Watch, an international organisation working to protect ancient and heritage buildings, has kept Aam Khas Bagh on the list of World Monuments Fund List of 2012 and has listed it among 67 most endangered sites in the world. The WMF is raising funds for saving the site.
Steeped in history
Hafiz Sultan Muhammad Rakhna of Herat, then shiqdar (revenue collector) of Sirhind, laid out the garden in the 16th century. It was then known as Bagh-i-Hafiz Rakhna. In 1581, Emperor Akbar, in pursuit of the governor of Kabul, encamped at Sirhind and rested in this walled garden. Emperor Jahangir also used to stay in the bagh. In 1634, the next Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, ordered the construction of a building named Daulat Khana-i-Khas, to be used as his residence.
The garden also lies along the Grand Trunk Road, the imperial highway of the Mughals.