JULY 2001- Contents
Travel & Adventure
the-south-asian.com July 2001
Adopting Historic Monuments
Over three hundred and fifty years ago, Mughal emperor Shahjahan built the world's grandest mausoleum in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Since then, this masterpiece in marble has come to symbolize love and creativity.The image of India down the centuries has been linked to this marble minaret of love. Travel brochures and advertising campaigns have used the Taj Mahal with telling effect to sell India as a destination.
But over the years, the city of the Taj has come to symbolize more than just love. Filth, muck and stench have become an inseparable part of Agra. In fact just outside the main entry gate of the Taj is a drain and an open urinal without a flush. The city infrastructure is in shambles. Pot holed roads, garbage dumps and lack of toilet facilities even near the Taj present a repulsive picture. While numerous decisions were taken in the last few years to give the place a face-lift, the implementation has been quite another matter.
Thus the recent 'adoption' of the Taj Mahal by the House of Tatas, in June 2001, is a major shot-in-the-arm for the upkeep of the Taj Mahal.
Conservationists who have been observing the decline of priceless heritage sites with concern are of the opinion that more and more corporate participation is required to preserve heritage sites that are falling prey to decay and vandalism.
A number of corporations have shown keen interest in taking up the work of conservation. Many are discovering that heritage conservation is a useful value addition to their corporate philanthropy dossier. Most companies are voluntarily `adopting' heritage sites and earmarking budgets for restoration and maintenance work.
The first big beneficiary was Humayun's Tomb in Delhi, which sparkles in its new look today. The monument's water channels have been revived and its gardens are as green and verdant as they were when they were originally built. The money for the restoration [Rs. 9 lakhs] came from the Indo-British 50th Anniversary Trust, comprising a group of British expatriates, which raised funds from the Agha Khan Foundation and Oberoi group of hotels.
However, the Taj Mahal and the Humayun's Tomb were just two of the many monuments in dire need of preservation. The Shaniwar Wade monument near Aurangabad is another case in point. Despite being a notified ASI heritage site, ugly encroachments had mushroomed around it and there was a noticeable slowdown in tourist traffic to the area. Not surprisingly, this 18th.century seat of Maratha power under the Peshwas began showing signs of neglect.
Timely action on this front has been possible because of a Rs. 60-lakh grant from corporate houses such as Venkateshwara Hatcheries, Bajaj Group, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, Tata Sons and Finolex. The face-lift involves sprucing up the front garden, general maintenance and setting up a light and sound system.
The Chennai-based Sterling group spent Rs. 32 lakhs on restoration of the Madurai Meenakshi Temple and the lighting of its four towers. In Calcutta, the UB group spent Rs. 27 lakhs on restoring the Gawalior Monument and the Princep Ghat.
In Mumbai, Stanchart and ANZ Grindlays Banks were among the first to give a facelift to their turn-of-the-century buildings on Mahatma Gandhi Road and D.N. Road respectively.
Similarly, Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation has spent huge sums to restore its Chennai, Calcutta, Mumbai and Bangalore offices. In its Calcutta branch, the bank discovered exquisite stained glass work, which had been hidden under the false ceiling for decades. The bank has also been maintaining the Banganga Tank, a 12th century Hindu pilgrimage site in Mumbai. It gave the Indian Heritage Society a grant to help restore the precincts.
The cement giant, ACC, has funded the work on Mumbai's David E. Sassoon Library, a 150-year old neo-Gothic building in the city's Fort area. In 1998, the house of Tatas launched the restoration of the historic 19th century Army & Navy building in Mumbai's Kala Ghoda area. Currently under way, the entire project will cost around Rs. 50 lakhs. Though not enlisted under the ASI's list of heritage sites, the building is of great historical significance.
Conservation is expensive business. A single project can cost anything between Rs. 20 lakhs and Rs. 50 lakhs, depending on the amount of restoration work. In 1997, soft drink giant Pepsi raised around Rs. 5 crores for the Taj Heritage Fund from the Yanni concert for the conservation of the Taj Mahal.
A couple of years ago, American Express Bank presented a cheque of one million dollars to INTACH for the restoration of Jaisalmer Fort in Rajasthan. The project was linked under a programme called `World Monuments Watch' where members identify heritage sites worldwide in dire need of upkeep.
In many cases, conservation has become an extension of a company's business activities. For example, the Sterling group is said to have spent over Rs. 5 crores on renovation of the 100 year old Tanjore Pannayar house near the Swamimalai temple that is now a heritage resort.
Currently, there are about 3,595 identified ancient monuments. Urban heritage, as an issue, is poised for greater importance in the years to come. In recent times, conservationists have virtually forced State Governments to formulate strategies apart from the national level strategies for the upkeep of these sites.
Some lesser known sites with historical significance are also being targeted. Examples include Marine Drive in Mumbai, the 185 year old Town Hall in Calcutta, Pune's Agha Khan Palace and some ancient havelis in Delhi's walled city. Restoration work is also about to begin in the Kanheri Caves and Bassen Fort, both near Mumbai, important monasteries in Ladakh and the extension of Mumbai's Prince of Wales Museum.
In fact, contributions are expected from State Governments, statutory bodies, private and corporate sectors, trusts, societies, individuals and even from the United Nations and its associated bodies.
Contributions for restoration can be activity-specific. That means it would be possible for a donor company to indicate projects it is interested in as also the executing agency. For example, Hotel Park of the Apeejay group is illuminating Delhi's Jantar Mantar. Delhi's Hotel Imperial is keen on similar involvement with the Kumbalgarh Fort in Rajasthan.
Sites like the Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, Dwarka monument in Gujarat and Begumpur Masjid in Delhi are some of the projects that have been identified for funding from the private sector.
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