Days before the Jama Masjid redevelopment plan is to come up for hearing at Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC), the caretaker of Delhi’s monuments — Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) — has expressed reservations about the project. It has warned the MCD that Jama Masjid area now comes under the buffer zone of World Heritage Site Red Fort and, therefore, no major changes can take place in the area.
At a meeting held recently to discuss the project, ASI officials feared that the Jama Masjid plan was sounding similar to the controversial Taj Heritage Corridor project where a mall and commercial complexes were due to come up between Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. It is learnt that ASI is not happy with the "commercial" aspect of the Jama Masjid plans, fearing it would affect the heritage value of the zone.
Sources said ASI believes that two centrally-protected monuments, Red Fort and Sunehri Masjid, fall within the ambit of redevelopment plans even though no construction or mining work could be allowed near these monuments under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. A senior official, on condition of anonymity, told Times City that when the redevelopment plans were made, Red Fort had not been inscribed the world heritage status. "Unesco guidelines stipulate that we cannot allow any major changes in the buffer zone of Red Fort. Before the MCD attempts construction work in this zone, it will have to seek ASI’s permission. Also, since a conservation plan for Red Fort is due to start soon we will have to take that into account too," said the official.
ASI has also warned MCD that the parks in front of Red Fort cannot be disturbed for reopening the physical link of Red Fort to Jama Masjid. ASI has expressed reservations on the various changes proposed in the precincts of Jama Masjid too. In a letter to MCD, ASI said: "Extending the upper plinth in front of the masjid amounts to further intervention in the precincts of Jama Masjid contrary to its grandeur."
While awaiting DUAC’s approval for the project before the high court order at the end of the month, MCD has proposed to make several commercial structures like community centres, sports and health facilities and a three-tier underground parking in the Jama Masjid precincts. Responding to the proposals, ASI has observed that the creation of such facilities involves heavy construction and digging activity within the 300 metres prohibited/regulated area of Red Fort and Sunehri Masjid.
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