Crippling heritage cries for attention

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Neha Saini

Tribune News Service

Amritsar, May 28

As the state government is busy formulating a cultural policy, the lack of vision and concern for saving the tangible and intangible heritage of Amritsar remains a concern. Post the announcement of several restoration projects under HRIDAY and development of Heritage Street had brought some cheer, but the fizz soon disappeared. While the previous government focused heavily on superficial and speedy methods in the name of restoration, the old city or the walled city is slowly dying, with heritage buildings, the last remaining ruins of Sikh period architecture, either crippled or being demolished.

A few days back, a voluntary organization called Heritage Lovers Society had raised the demand of saving the old buildings inside the walled city, which include the haveli style structures inside the katras (avenues) in old bazaars of the city. It also highlighted the dismal condition of the old city’s 12 gates and the wells that still exist and need immediate attention. This is not the first time the issue is being raised. “If you go deep into the old city, the buildings with remains of Sikh period architecture in Katra Ahluwalia are being demolished by their current owners to build modern ones. Also, the old havelis and crafts markets like Bazaar Thatheran, which was once one of the biggest hubs for handmade utensils, are now on the verge of closing down,” says Gurinder Singh Sihal, founder member of Heritage Lovers Society. Out of the 12 heritage gates of the old city, only seven gates still exist, albeit in a bad shape. The Rambagh gate still has an old architecture of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time. The Hall gate is the only maintained gate, though it recently got a makeover.

Johal says that they had presented a memorandum to the administration about the forming an immediate team to restore or make efforts to maintain these structures. “Tangible as well as intangible heritage should both be saved,” he says.

Sukhdev Singh, Punjab State Convener, INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage), an organisation that had proposed formulation of heritage regulatory laws to the state, says that MC and local bodies need to act immediately to stop defacement and destruction of these buildings. “We had proposed heritage regulations that could stop destruction of the heritage buildings without harming the ownership rights of people living inside them. That was a year ago. There is currently no law to protect these structures.”

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