Smart city Agra dwarfed by encroachments
The historical monuments are virtually dwarfed by encroachments from all sides, and all segments of the society, including the police have encroached upon public space, he added
As the countdown to a new tourist season and the annual Ram Lila celebrations begins, the city administration is locked in a fierce battle against encroachments that have virtually choked Agra’s mobility arteries.
“You could probably get to the moon faster than commute between one part of the city to the other,” said green activist Devashish Bhattacharya.
The historical monuments are virtually dwarfed by encroachments from all sides, and all segments of the society, including the police have encroached upon public space, he added.
The Yamuna flood plains are heavily encroached, as new colonies have sprung up along the banks in the Dayalbagh area.
A religious sect has been accused of grabbing a stretch of the river bank, for developing a bio-diversity park.
In the past three decades, almost all the community ponds and the extensive canal system in the district have disappeared without a trace.
The city administration does not have the gall to free the city of illegal encroachments.
The Archaeological Survey of India routinely sends out notices but without district administration and police support, it feels helpless.
For the past two weeks, the Agra Municipal Corporation commissioner Ankit Khandelwal launched a demolition drive in the busy Sanjay Place commercial complex, in the heart of the city.
The annual Janakpuri fair has to be held in the area which once was a Central Jail. Scores of structures have been razed to the ground and roadside kiosks have been shut down.
“The campaign has just begun but unless all stakeholders get involved to support the drive, it will prove a temporary relief,” an official said.
Orders from the National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court are not executed for one reason or the other.
“The irrigation department was asked by the NGT five years ago, to demarcate the floodplains of the Yamuna, but the officials do not have the guts to identify the encroachers that include multi-storeyed residential complexes and schools."
Encroachments have prevented regular cleaning of drains and streets, besides being a constant irritant to traffic mobility, social activist Rajiv Gupta said.
"Since the cops have always been soft towards encroachers due to corruption, the sporadic anti-encroachment drives have not been successful,” he said, adding that in fact, a number of police stations and chowkies have come up on encroached land.
Perhaps the most alarming lapse has been ASI's abject failure to rid the monuments of illegal structures and encroachments.
The 1958 Act gives it sweeping powers but the mandarins in the ASI have never had the will to act. Several smaller protected monuments in Agra and there are scores of them, have been virtually overwhelmed by new structures which threaten their existence.
Delhi Gate, Etmauddaula, Sikandra, Ram Bagh, and dozens of others have been dwarfed by encroachments.
The biggest threat to the survival of historical monuments in Agra is the ubiquitous encroachments.
With land prices skyrocketing and builders of all sorts making a beeline to usurp every inch of available space in the city, the bare survival of some of these structures has become uncertain.
Conservation and preservation have to be a joint venture of the government agencies and people's groups as it is not always possible to police all the monuments.
Even Christian cemeteries are going off the map, their land taken over by colonisers and government town planners.
“When the BJP government launched its Smart city project in Agra, there was some hope, but after five years, and several hundred crores expenditure on fancy projects, the overall condition of the city remains as good as it was during the Mughal era,” says social activist Rahul Raj.
The list of woes is pretty long from traffic jams to potholes, to choked drains and overflowing sewer lines.
Bus shelters have disappeared, and parking slots in busy market streets do not exist.
Civic amenities are under pressure as the population explodes, adds Deepak Rajput, a lawyer.