Works worth crores of rupees being undertaken by the Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board (PHTPB) at the Summer Palace of the legendary ruler of Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh, at Ram Bagh, also known as Company Gardens lack the sanction of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which looks after the heritage monuments and sites including this one.
The ASI, in this, and other cases across India, took no cognizance of the unauthorised conservation activities carried out on the centrally protected monuments by other agencies. The fact came to the fore during a recent report tabled before the Parliament by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.
The Ram Bagh, sources said, was declared protected in 2004. The Ram Bagh gardens house the summer palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, were named so by the Maharaja to commemorate his devotion to Guru Ram Das, the founder of Amritsar. It was put together on the lines of Shalimar Gardens, Lahore.
According to the ASI officials, Ram Bagh gardens are a notified site and no other agency except the ASI can undertake conservation work here.
As per the CAG report, works worth Rs 2.17 crore were undertaken by the PHTPB in the area of the Summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh though no permission was given by the ASI for the same.
Even as the ASI officials charged the PHTPB with destroying the heritage of the legendary sovereign by lending it a modern look and excavating parts of the site, the ASI hardly took any action to curtail these activities.
This is evident from the fact that the ASI turned a blind eye when the Amritsar Municipal Corporation covered a grassy plot inside the protected Company Gardens with concrete to pave way for a parking lot and a skating rink even as the ASI officials claimed that several notices were sent to the MC in this regard.
Superintending archaeologist, ASI, VC Sharma said as per the Ancient Monuments, Archeological Sites and Remains Act, no construction is allowed within a radius of 100 metres from the protected sites.
"No external agency can undertake any conservation work in the protected sites manned by the ASI,"he said. He charged the PHTPB with altering the character of the site at various places and conducting excavation work.
He also wrote to Municipal Commissioner of Amritsar, "You have constructed a modern pathway in cement tiles within the protected area of the Summer Palace without a permission of ASI there by altered the original character of the monument in gross violation of AMASR Act 1958 Rule 1959 and Amendment and Validation Act 2010."
HT team also visited the ASI's Amritsar office at the Ram Bagh Gate where the team met senior conservation assistant Charan Das who showed several letters written to the local municipal commissioner, the deputy commissioner, and the chief general manager of PHTPB. But nothing could stop the work.
Letters were sent from the ASI's Chandigarh and Delhi office also. All letters highlight the warnings to curb the work and elucidate the violation of Section 19 of AMASR Act 1958 Rule and 1959 Amendment and Validation Act 2010.
Das has also maintained files in which all the letters sent from ASI along with pictures of the work undertaken by them.
"We make regular records of the letters we send. But all efforts go futile,"said Das. "Munshikhana (reading room), Summer Palace and Inner Gate are undertaken for work by PHTPB which is against ASI rules,"he added.
PHTPB fails to promote tourism at the Ram Bagh, besides violating the acts of the ASI. There is no tourist information centre at the palace which can assist the tourists. Hardly any tourist and handful of locals are aware of the three information centers- at Attari Border, Railway station and at the Golden Temple. There are no signs to direct tourists towards the Ram Bagh.