A heritage site which bears the stamp of three Mughal emperors may lose its sheen now that the Punjab government has decided to convert a part of it into a circuit house.
The government plans to use around two acres on the 42-acre Aam Khas Bagh here for building the circuit house in the area in the last enclosure of the site where the tourism department was running a hotel, Maulsari, until two years ago.
The hotel was shut down on the recommendations of the district administration in 2010 after controversies erupted over its functioning. Since then, the building stands abandoned.
According to the public works department's plan, a building having at least 20 rooms will be built for guests of different capacities, extending to the level of Chief Minister.
Aam Khas Bagh was declared a protected monument by the state government on June 7, 1976 and, under the Punjab Ancient and Historical Monuments and Remains Act, 1964, no fresh construction can be carried out on its premises.
Interestingly, in March 2010, the Centre had sanctioned Rs 1.75 crore for restoration of the dilapidated site. The state government has sought another grant from the Centre in the 13th Finance Commission in the current year to maintain the historically important site, said sources.
Documents available with HT show that the government has promised the Centre that it will convert the hotel complex into a tourism information and interpretation centre to attract more tourists to Aam Khas Bagh.
While confirming the proposal to build the circuit house inb the garden complex, Fatehgarh Sahib deputy commissioner Yashbir Mahajan said it would come up on the land that belonged to the tourism department. "It is away from the ancient structures of the Bagh," he said. Sources added there was no clarity over the possession of the land in the entire Bagh.
HERITAGE AT RISK
Historians and heritage experts said any modern use such as a circuit house within the garden complex would compromise its historical value.
"Construction of any building or even converting any present building into the circuit house is against the theme of protecting our national monuments," said Subhash Parihar, a historian from Faridkot, who presented the first international research paper of his career on Aam Khas Bagh in 1962 in England. "Government must withdraw this proposal," he added.
World Monument Watch, an international organisation that works for protection of ancient and heritage buildings, has included Aam Khas Bagh in the Monuments Fund List of 2012 and termed it the 67th most endangered site in the world. Only three other sites in India found a place on the list. The group would raise funds to protect the Bagh.
"Any incongruous activity would be bad publicity for the state government which has also sought funding for the same monument from the Centre in the 13th Finance Commission," said Gurmeet S Rai, director of a New Delhi-based organisation Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative.
The proposal is now before the chief minister's office for final approval.
Hafiz Sultan Muhammad Rakhna of Herat, the then shiqdar (revenue collector) of Sirhind, built Aam Khas Bagh in the 16th century; it was then known as Bagh-i-Hafiz Rakhna. In 1581, Mughal emperor Akbar, on his journey in pursuit of the governor of Kabul, camped in Sirhind and rested in this walled garden. Jahangir too used to stay in the Bagh. In 1634, the next Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, ordered that a building, Daulat Khana-i-Khas, be erected for his personal residence in the garden. The garden lies along the Grand Trunk Road, the imperial highway of the Mughal era.
Don't risk the old for the new
Most experts agree that any new construction will imperil Aam Khas Bagh and have asked the government to scrap such a plan
No civilised nation puts its heritage willfully at risk like the Punjab government is doing by planning to erect the circuit house in Aam Khas Bagh. It should, rather, declare a special package to restore the dilapidated buildings in the Bagh.