Red Fort to be cleared of decades of ‘unwanted’ additions by year end

This is the third major clean-up drive of Red Fort over the last 160 years. The first conservation drive was carried out in the 1900s following British viceroy Lord Curzon’s intervention. The second drive began in 2003 when former Delhi lieutenant governor Jagmohan was the Union tourism and culture minister.

delhi Updated: Aug 06, 2018 13:36 IST
Parvez Sultan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Red Fort,ASI,demolition drive in Red Fort
A view of one of the structures inside the Red Fort that is set to be demolished. (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is set to wrap up a seven-year demolition drive by the year-end to rid the Red Fort of the structures that have come up inside its ramparts since the British occupied the 17th-century Mughal monument following the 1857 revolt. The land retrieved after the drive will be used to more than double the open green space inside the fort complex, an ASI official said on Sunday.

The British built the barracks, bungalows and houses inside the fort after demolishing its major portions in retaliation to the anti-Colonial rebellion. The Indian army took over the monument after independence and vacated it in 2003. As many as 400 barracks, residential quarters, shops, store rooms, toilet blocks, canteens, washing units and workshops were constructed inside the ramparts during this period.

“About 400 structures were notified, out which 300 have already been demolished. The remaining 100 buildings will be soon razed. The demolition drive will resume after Independence Day celebrations,” said ASI’s superintending archaeologist (Delhi circle) NK Pathak. “There are 15 acres which make up the green space and we have added two acres. Once the entire area is cleaned up, the total green space available in the fort complex will be 32 acres,” Pathak said.

Arched structures the British army had built, including 10 barracks, will be retained considering their heritage value because they were built over 100 years ago, said another official associated with the restoration.

This is the third major clean-up drive over the last 160 years. The first conservation drive was carried out in the 1900s following British viceroy Lord Curzon’s intervention. The second drive began in 2003 when former Delhi lieutenant governor Jagmohan was the Union tourism and culture minister.

Officials said that the British-era barracks and other blocks were out of the bounds for common visitors. They were mostly locked. An archaeology institute was being run from one of them.

Pathak said four of them are now being converted into museums. “Three-storey barracks made of stone, with wide corridors, high arches and wooden flooring are being retained and converted into museums. Demolition and restoration work will be stopped temporarily in view of Independence Day celebrations,” said another ASI official.

Author Shama Mitra Chenoy said there were 360 buildings, including small palaces, residential quarters, mosques, and space for royal administrative staff, when the British occupied the fort.

In numbers
April 29, 1639: Foundation for the fort was marked on the banks of Yamuna
May 12, 1639: The foundation stone was laid in the presence of royal astrologers and retinue
Ustad Hamid and Ustad Ahmad: Architects in-charge of construction. Ustad Ahmad was also the architect of Taj Mahal
900x550 metres approximate area of the fort (almost double than the Red Fort in Agra)
2.41 km Length of the fort’s ramparts
1.7 km Length of the moat that surrounded the fort on three sides. On the east, it was protected by the Yamuna
21,219 metres (approx): Area of wall surface
9 years Time taken to finish construction
Rs 6 million The cost of construction
April 6, 1648 Inauguration date
Two main doorways (Lahore and Dilli Darwaza), plus four openings leading to Salimgarh Fort and three having access to the river
The Mughal fort had around 360 small and big buildings, which were razed down by the British Army.
Currently, it has 44 components of Mughal period (including 22 major buildings, which are open to the public)
Till 1840-50s, 85 former kings and their living sons and grandsons with around 2,000 salatin (distant relatives of the royal family) were residing in the fort
At one point of time, the number was 5,000 including troops, royal staff, and servants
Indian Army vacated the fort on December 22, 2003
At least 400 structures, of which 300 have already been demolished, were built by the Indian Army after it took over the fort complex from the British forces. The ASI is hopeful that by end of this year it will pull down the remaining 100 such buildings
BRITISH STRUCTURES (BARRACKS) The ASI will retain all ‘arched’ structures raised by the British Army between 1857 and 1947. They constructed 50 structures including barracks, hospital, cottages, and residential dwellings after knocking down palaces, royal kitchens, godowns, gardens
CHHATTA BAZAAR The vaulted aisle, lined with shops on both sides, was built for women of the court. There were 32 arched cells on both levels — ground and first floor — selling the best of jewellery, utensils, brocades, and wares brought from across the world
DIWAN-I-AAM The hall of public audience is three-baydeep structures, which is an arcade of nine engrailed arches supported on pillars. The king would organise royal assemblies and celebrations, such as the emperor’s birthday, Eid, and Navroz, here
MOTI MASJID The ‘Pearl Mosque’ made of white marble was an addition to the main fort during Aurangzeb’s reign. Women of the royal family would also pray here. Shahjahan did not commission any mosque inside as he used to go to the Jama Masjid for prayers
RANG MAHAL It was one of largest apartments in the fort for women members of the royal family. The ASI guidebook says Gordon Sanderson, an official of ASI, had recorded that it was known as Imtiyaz Mahal (palace of distinction) during Shahjahan’s reign
MUMTAZ MAHAL It originally served as an apartment for the princess, but was made into a detention centre by the British. It was later used as a sergeant’s mess. It was severely damaged during British occupation. It was later restored and redeveloped as a museum

“The British army demolished a number of buildings — palaces, pavilions, gateways, and gardens, and courtyards – to facilitate the construction of barracks and only handful of Mughal period structures have survived,” said Chenoy, who teaches history at Delhi University’s Shivaji College.

Chenoy said it was important to remove the unwanted buildings from the Red Fort ramparts, saying they did not add to the monument’s beauty and were instead being misused.

“Why do we need to preserve the fort? To understand this, we need to think why the Prime Minister hoists the national flag here. Our heritage is not elastic. If it is gone, it will not come back. We need to learn to respect it,” said Chenoy.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru marked the end of the British rule by hoisting the Indian flag from the ramparts on August 16, 1947. His successors have since hoisted the tricolour there to mark the Independence Day celebrations.

In her book, ‘Chandni Chowk: The Mughal city of Shahjahanabad’, historian Swapna Liddle wrote that the British used explosives to pull down many buildings since they were made of stone.

According to ASI, only 20 Mughal-era edifices remain. The British razed a significant portion of fort’s northern wall and a small (Calcutta) gate to lay railway lines in the 1860s.

The buildings constructed after 1947 caught the Centre’s attention in 2002. Blocks were found inside the fort stuffed with junk and garbage during an inspection, prompting a cleaning drive to be ordered.


First Published: Aug 06, 2018 12:54 IST