THE NAME of Ram has whipped up yet another controversy in Delhi. This one is among heritage lovers. But this time it is not over the Ram Setu but the Ram Lila that will mark the beginning of the festive season from mid-October.
The permission given by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to two groups to stage the annual Ram Lila at the Red
Fort, which is a World Heritage Site, has irked not just by heritage lovers but also ASI officials, who are unwilling to speak on record.
For many years, Ram Lila was held in front of the Red Fort facing Chandni Chowk. This annual event was discontinued in 2002. The ASI took over the heritage site in 2003, after which permission for Ram Lila was denied, fearing destruction of the emerald green lawns developed around the fortress built by Shah Jahan.
This year, two groups have been allowed to stage a Ram Lila on the well-manicured lawns.
According to the Society for Culture and Heritage, the permission given this year will damage the very lawns which have served as a facelift for the Red Fort. The ASI and the Union Ministry of Culture have given permission (to stage the Ram Lila) under immense political pressure, it claims.
Says a member of the Society, Sanjay Bhargava, “They will pitch tents and erect stages, not to mention open defecation by scores of people visiting the place for 10 days. If this is allowed, think of the damage it will cause to the monument inscribed as a World Heritage Site this year.”
Calling it an encroachment on the two green lungs — August 15 Park and Chalo Delhi Park — former Union minister Jagmohan, who was instrumental in getting the army to vacate the Red Fort precincts and giving it a facelift, asks, “Why can’t they ask the Ram Lila organisers to either use the Ram Lila Ground or the Parade Ground in front. There are other alternatives too.”
“It is our misfortune. These people will destroy our heritage,” Jagmohan told the Hindustan Times.
Sources in the ASI said officials responsible for maintaining the sanctity of the monument did draw attention of the ministry officials towards the possible damage. But “social constraints (on the central government) have forced the ASI to give permission.”
Anticipating a repeat next year, the ASI has, however, included a clause that permission is being granted as an exception only for this year. It has also asked for Rs 50,000 as a security deposit and Rs 25,000 per day as maintenance charges from the two groups.
“With the permission have come problems,” claims senior Delhi Congress leader and Ram Lila Committee patron J.P. Agrawal. He pointed out that earlier, the two Ram Lila committees were permitted to stage their events on either sides of the Red Fort. “This year, the ASI has allotted two acres on the left side itself,” Agrawal said. “How is it possible to stage two Ram Lilas within such a short distance?” he asks.
Adds Bhargava, “Today, they have allowed Ram Lilas, tomorrow they will allow the annual Urs to be held on the lawns. And God forbid, next would be marriage parties at the Red Fort for a hefty fee.”