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June 2012

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Corbett haven for poachers, allege activists

If wildlife activists are to be believed, at least 15 tigers have been poached in the Corbett national park during the past two months by Bawaria gangs.

Once again, Corbett is making news for the wrong reasons following discovery of at least four steel traps used for poaching big cats, animal intestines and raw meat from a temporary camp site set by poachers in the Bijrani range and another area near Dhela range a few days ago. While the chief wildlife warden has declared a red alert in Corbett and attached a forester and forest guard to the head office following this discovery, wildlife activists state that Bawaria gangs are active in Corbett, but officials are covering up their crimes in stead of preventing them.

Though department officials deny these allegations, there is reason to believe that the world’s most famous tiger reserve is not as secure as claimed considering the fact that some Corbett officials on condition of anonymity, state that the national park is understaffed, officials lack proper vehicles and forest guards have little more than bamboo sticks to tackle armed poachers.

Four steel traps, animal innards, raw meat, camping material, a packet of sweets from a shop in Ramnagar and beedis were discovered by forest staff on May 24 and 28 in Bijrani zone and at Sanwalde near Dhela range.

Talking to The Pioneer, the former chairman of the State Forest and Environment Advisory Committee, Anil Baluni said, “It is very unfortunate that poachers have breached even a secure area like Bijrani. I have reason to believe that at least 15 tigers have been poached in Corbett during the past two months. The Chief Minister is in-charge of forest and wildlife and he should directly intervene because the level of security in Corbett has continued to deteriorate with Bawaria gangs moving around freely poaching big cats.” The traps were laid to poach tigers and the intestines belonged to a tiger and not a jackal or porcupine because poachers don’t lay traps to poach such animals.

The State should follow the example of Maharashtra and issue orders to shoot poachers at sight which is the only way to prevent Bawarias from killing tigers, he added.

People For Animals, Uttarakhand member secretary Gauri Maulekhi has written to the National Tiger Conservation Authority demanding an investigation into the incident. “When Corbett staff reached the site of a forest fire in Bijrani on May 24, they saw three men dressed like Bawarias escaping from a tent. Though they were unable to catch the men, they recovered intestines, traps and other material from the site. To conceal facts the Corbett director informed media persons on Thursday that the organs belong to a porcupine, which is questionable without proper scientific investigation. Senior officials have continued to frame junior staff to conceal their own incompetence.”

There have been four cases of tigers being found injured or dead in suspicious circumstances in the past month, but no arrests have been made yet, she added.

The Chief Wildlife Warden SS Sharma said that he had attached a forester and a forest guard to the head office following the discovery of the traps, but claimed that reports of tigers being poached in Corbett were based on misinformation. “Even if a tiger dies in Haldwani or Terai, they say a tiger has been killed in Corbett. I have declared a red alert and directed the director to get the intestines tested at the Wildlife Institute of India to ascertain which animal they came from.”

The Corbett deputy director CK Kavidayal said that a trap and signs of poachers had been discovered in Bijrani but CTR personnel had acted before the criminals could damage wildlife. “We have 175 to 200 tigers and though we have found signs of poachers in the national park, we are on red alert and taking necessary measures to prevent poaching,” he said. The intestines discovered in Bijrani most probably belong to jackal or porcupine though the fact will be known after the innards are tested, he said.

Meanwhile, wildlife activists are waiting to see whether the chief minister takes the stringent measures expected from him to protect tigers in the land of roar and trumpet.
 

The Pioneer, 1st June 2012

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Karnataka NGO wins global green energy award

The Karnataka-based NGO, Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP), has won Ashden Gold Award for 2012.

The Ashden awards were founded in 2001 to encourage greater use of local sustainable energy to address climate change and alleviate poverty. Ashden's patron is the Prince of Wales.

A press release by the London-based Ashden said that the Dharmasthala-based SKDRDP was awarded the overall Ashden Gold Award of £40,000 in prize money at a meeting with the Prince of Wales in London on May 30.

Quoting the judges of the Ashden award, the release said that the project is a fantastic example of how ethically managed microfinance can deliver sustainable energy to the poor, demonstrating that providing consumer loans for energy makes sound social, environmental and economic sense.

The project provides affordable loans to families in the area, helping them buy renewable energy systems that improve their quality of life. Key to the success of this programme, which has provided nearly 20,000 energy loans, is self-help groups that help people make informed choices on what energy products they buy, it said.

Presenting the award, Dr Kandeh Yumkella, Director-General of UNIDO and Chair of UN-Energy, urged governments around the world to increase their support for clean energy pioneers. “The Ashden 2012 winners are exposing the myth that poor countries cannot stimulate growth without degrading the environment. They are demonstrating that sustainable energy stimulates green growth and new jobs, lifts people out of poverty, improves health and opens up new educational opportunities,” he said.

Dr L.H. Manjunath, Executive Director of SKDRDP, said that receiving an Ashden Gold Award was a great step in recognising that poor people need financial services to acquire sustainable energy assets. For too long, micro-credit only meant improving livelihoods. This award will redefine the scope of micro-credit, he said.

SKDRDP, which is headquartered at Dharmasthala in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, has presence in 16 districts in the State. Other winners of this year's award are: IBEKA, a community-owned micro-hydro programme in Indonesia; GIZ/INTEGRATION, a micro-hydro programme in Afghanistan; iDE/Hydrologic, an energy-saving water filter in Cambodia; and Barefoot Power, an affordable solar power provider in East Africa. SKDRDP has been selected for the overall Gold Award winner, it said.
 

The Asian Age, 1st June 2012

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Treasure trove for art lovers

The amazing statues, rare motifs and interesting inscriptions found at the Thiruchuzhi temple are a visual treat.

The square temple tank and the pillared corridor were an elegant sight at the Bhoominadha Swami temple, Thiruchuzhi. The clouds in the sky and the setting sun cast a warm glow on the pillars. A cursory glance revealed several conventional 18/19 century Saivite images, some erotic images and floral designs.

A long pillared corridor, within the main precincts of the temple, sets off two smaller shrines, one for the Lord and the other for the consort. The entire pillared corridor has geometric designs painted in the 19 century with strategically placed ventilators to let in a flood of light.

The monotony of sculptures of the ‘later period' was broken on seeing the rare statues on the pillars. The sculptor had some imagination which was evident in the combination of a parrot and a monkey, which was an interesting variation from the usual cow-elephant theme.

Another had a winged apsara, from heaven, showering flowers on a Ganesa image. Others included scenes from the Sivapuranam, executed with grace and finesse, though the characters were formal to some extent.

One cannot miss out on the unusual lotus-bud shaped motifs on some of the floor slabs, which are the handles for the slabs that covered the storm water drains.

Such attention to detail in such mundane matters was indeed enchanting.

The temple for the consort had several pillars with grim looking warriors, each competing with the other, in sporting fierce moustaches. The shrine is part of the many temples that the Ramnad princes maintain and is in good condition though some of the walls seem to be cracking up.

The shrine for the consort also had pillars with many sculptures of women. One wonders whether they were queens of the palace but the explanation for each one being a ‘devadasi' attached to the temple was surely more romantic.

Temple inscriptions

The Thiruchuzhi temple inscriptions, many of which got jumbled up or even set upside down during successive renovations, were recorded in 1914 and 1935. The temple has two fragments of inscriptions from Raja Raja I.

One proclaims his victory at a battle in Kaandalur and is evidently a part of a longer inscription. The other mentions the gift of a lamp that burns perpetually.

The Madurai Nayaks are represented by an inscription from Saka year 1630 (1630+78) that is AD 1708. Vijaya Muthu Chokkanatha Nayaka, son of Rangakrishna Muthuvirappa Nayaka, gifted lands, near Nadakulam, to the temple. The deity has been hailed as Thirumeninathaswami. It is possible that much of the temple as one sees it today dates back to this year.

The temple finds mention in the Thevaram verses among those sung by Sundarar. The hymns are religious in nature but he does mention the town having many trees and women with full red lips playing with joy.

Like in other Siva temples, the circumambulatory passage had many images of saints and Gods. It is easy to pass by a small Vishnu image seated with His consorts and it would be a loss for the devotee if he misses it. The image belongs to the Pandya times, probably the 10 century.

The Lord is seen here with his characteristic ‘Prayoga Chakra.' The crowns of the three deities were also well carved.

Subsidiary shrines within the temple complex also have images of Chettiyar donors who had contributed much to enlarge the temple.

The temple seemed to be moderately active and the size of the town and its association as the birth place of Ramana Maharishi has certainly helped. Thankfully no coats of paint or tiles have marred the beauty of the temple.
 

The Hindu, 1st June 2012

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South Delhi stands up for its green belt

It seems South Delhi residents get worked up not just over lack of parking spaces but also about green patches around their homes. On Raja Dhir Sen Marg in East of Kailash, residents have been fighting for several years to keep alive a “green belt” that faces their homes.

All they want now is for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to take responsibility for the green area and develop it into a park with a boundary wall, park benches and a gardener to take care. “Two months ago, just before the MCD elections, a bore-well was hurriedly installed here by the civic body but it just sits there without an electric meter and any tubes or pipes,” says Karan Aggarwal, executive committee member of the D-Block Residents' Welfare Association, pointing to the obvious problem of how one single bore-well without pipes could hardly reach the length and breadth of the green area.

However, the patch of green which runs to about 50 metres adjoining a government girls' high school was not always filled with greenery. In fact, it has a loaded history, explains Mr. Aggarwal. “Before 1999, there used to be slums,” he says, pointing to the piece of land that now sprouts several plants and trees. “For the next five years or so, the land remained vacant and was misused by people for throwing debris. But in 2004, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi's Remunerative Project Cell wanted to make the stretch into a parking lot.”

But the residents firmly put their foot down and pooled in money to develop the stretch into a park on their own. “When the bulldozers came to clear the stretch to make it into a parking lot, around 10 families sat on the stretch in protest,” says Preeti Anand, another resident.

Despite being threatened by the “parking mafia”, the residents decided to sow the seeds for their green patch. “We chose trees of a particular thickness such as ashoka and neem so it will be difficult to pull them down and those which require less water to survive,” she says. “Every morning some of us would come out here and count the number of plants and trees to make sure it was all there,” laughs Preeti.

Residents say they have tried everything to find answers to their questions on who will help take care of their park. Complaints have been filed on the public grievance portal and letters have been written to the MCD horticulture department. “It has been a terrible battle with the MCD,” observes Reeta Bhatia, a senior citizen and resident, as she recollects the harrowing experience of contacting one official after another. But she warns her younger neighbours about getting the civic body involved. “Don't need to ask them for help. We should do it ourselves, that is what community projects are about.”

Just behind the houses that face the green belt, another feisty senior citizen, Promila Kapoor, has been fighting for funds to keep several of the area's parks beautiful. A couple of months ago, as president of the RWA, she filed an RTI query asking the horticulture department of Central Zone about non-payment of funds for development of parks under the PPP scheme. “I got a reply saying there is no information regarding the reason for non-payment and I should take up the matter separately with the department,” she says. This past Tuesday, she was told by a section official of the department that she has to refill an application to receive funds for this year.

The cryptic reply could reflect the lack of knowledge about residents' woes. However, an official at the department says: “Due to trifurcation of the MCD some of the files have been withheld. In the coming months, the matter will be taken up.”
 

The Hindu, 1st June 2012

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Tourism complex to eat into Mangar cover

A large portion of the natural and sacred Mangarbani forest in Aravali will now pave way for a mega tourism complex spread over 500 hectares. After a long wait, the Haryana government has notified the Mangar Development Plan 2031 but did not upload the document on its official website for a fortnight to invite people's suggestions and objections.

This has happened despite the government claiming that it is pushing for e-governance in Haryana and transparency and people's feedback are its top priority for better public participation in governance. The gazette notification on May 17 says the town and country planning department will consider objections and suggestions to the plan only in case these reach its headquarters by June 17.

The state's plan to divert large portion of the sacred Mangar forest - protected by locals of Mangar and adjoining villages in Faridabad - for any non-forest use has come under criticism by environment activists. "If the government keeps the notification in wraps, how can people file objections and suggestions? The plan has a huge impact on the ecology of the entire region and even the national capital. Losing huge natural ecologically sensitive area in Mangar, which also works as a natural water harvesting zone, would go against the plan of saving Aravalis," said Chetan Agarwal, an environment analyst.

Environmentalists are shocked by the department's decision to reduce the forest cover notified under the Punjab Land Preservation Act and the Aravali Plantation project. While it was estimated to be 1,822 hectares under the draft development plan, in the latest notification, it has been reduced to only 1,274.33 hectares. This happened despite the planning department recommending an increase in the forest area to 3,800 hectaresafter a fact finding committee submitted a report.

"Supreme Court judgments clearly mention that all plantation area in Aravalis be treated as forest. The state government has been eyeing on this oldest and dense green cover in Aravalis forreal estate development," said former conservator of forest R P Balwan, who had taken real estate sharks and mining mafia head on for damaging Aravalis.

Earlier this year, the state-level committee (SLC) had cleared the proposal of the mega tourism complex and setting up of a government or private university over 40 hectares. The latest notification only adds the government can allow the tourism complex project after it receives all clearances and the plans are in compliance with the SC orders.

The SLC had also turned down the proposal to declare Mangarbani as "conservation zone" claiming "since the bani exists on private land, which is not notified under any forest notification...the government should not put any restrictions on the usage..."
 

The Times of India, 1st June 2012

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History for sale

It's a scorching summer day and the dirt tracks meandering through the twin villages of Rakhi Shah and Rakhi Khas in Hissar district , Haryana, are deserted. A sugarcane juice vendor, an odd man out in the heat, points to the edge of the villages where ancient heritage lies buried under mounds. But all you can spot from that distance are innumerable mounds of cow dung cakes, 4-6 feet high, standing atop a natural knoll, almost covering it completely.

On getting closer, you realise that you are standing next to the mound that had made headlines more than 12 years ago, when excavations at Rakhigarhi - as the two villages are known collectively - had revealed it to be the largest Indus Valley Civilisation site in India, with an approximate area of 130 hectares.

Rakhigarhi was recently declared one of the 10 most endangered heritage sites in Asia by the watchdog Global Heritage Fund. The countless heaps of cow dung cakes seem too harmless to render this protected site endangered. Just then, some women cross the mound through a shortcut created by villagers by removing blocks from the iron boundary wall erected by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is evident that the heritage at Rakhigarhi is not being looked after.

This mound, called RGR1 by archaeologists , is one of the seven that were studied more than a decade back to reveal a rich haul of artifacts establishing the importance of Rakhigarhi in the pecking order of Indus Valley Civilisation sites dominated by Harappa and Mohenjodaro, inPakistan. Its importance was buttressed by the discovery of burials in a field north of RGR1, one of which - of a middle-aged woman wearing shell bangles - is on display at the National Museum in New Delhi. Most of the findings are being studied at Deccan College, Pune.

Suddenly, a group of boys appears, offering to help in digging out heritage from the other mounds. It's obvious that the site is being vandalized for years. A block from the RGR1 boundary is missing; a cremation shed stands on top of the mound that had revealed a planned habitation of Harappan times (which has since been covered by ASI); broken earthen pots used in cremation and white shrouds are lying all over; the boundary near RGR2 and RGR3 is almost gone; and a lone daily wager appointed by the ASI to protect the place is missing too. Besides , the RGR2 was overtaken by a dargah about 5-6 years ago. An eager boy draws attention to RGR3, which continues to throw up pottery shards, toys, beads every now and then. He slides down the gullies created by rain water in the mound and pulls out pottery and terracotta shreds. The top of this unprotected mound, however, is littered with used condoms and caps of liquor bottles.

History is vanishing from these mounds into private houses. A boy heads to his home to display his private heritage collection. "Foreigners come frequently looking for artifacts and we sell them for Rs 50 to Rs 200. The best time to visit is after the rains when the soil gives way, revealing many objects," he says. He informs that recently , a shower had thrown up an inscribed plate which he had sold to an angrez for Rs 200.

Heritage, clearly, is on sale at Rakhigarhi and the villagers are not just unscrupulous with what they have in their midst but also unaware of the implications of their actions. The guard, who is supposed to look after the place on behalf of the ASI, remains largely missing from his post at RGR1. The post, however, displays a board that lists activities at protected sites that could invite legal action. But most of those prohibited activities - construction, digging, excavation of artifacts - go on unchecked here.

The officers seem to be in denial. V C Sharma, superintending archaeologist of ASI's Chandigarh division, under whose jurisdiction Rakhigarhi falls, says, "No fence has been removed" when he is informed about the deteriorating condition of the boundary walls. When he is told about the photographic evidence with Sunday Times, he shoots back, "I'm not aware of it. ASI is so short-staffed that it is not possible for us to keep a 24X7 watch on the village."

That's the sentiment echoed by Gautam Sengupta , the ASI director-general . "That happens all over the country. We don't have the wherewithal to look after the day-to-day problems at the sites," he says. Sengupta says that the importance of Rakhigarhi cannot be undermined even though he doesn't understand the term 'endangered site' . "It's unfortunate that we don't have the means of fool-proof control. A longterm model involving the local community is needed as when excavations go on, they provide the maximum work force. It would be beneficial to involve them in a way that would sustain them and protect the heritage as well," he explains.

Then there is another festering debate: can the villagers be asked to give up the traditional use of land around their habitation. An expert on the subject who wishes to remain anonymous says that despite limitations, it is possible to protect the interests of both the heritage and the villagers, only if there is a will.

Until that happens, Rakhigarhi will continue to be raided and mauled, often sold away in little bits to foreigners and Indians by eager villagers who neither understand what they are doing nor care.

Back to the past About 150 kilometres from Delhi in Hisar district of Haryana, Rakhigarhi is located on the dried bed of Saraswati-Drishadvati rivers First major excavation at Rakhigarhi was carried out for three winters in 1997-1999 by a team led by Amarendra Nath Spread over an area of approximately 130 hectares, it is the largest Indus Valley Civilisation site in the country Two levels of Early (3500 BC- 2600 BC) and Mature Harappan (2600 BC -1800 BC) civilization have been found at Rakhigarhi. Both the phases have yielded a rich haul of artifacts It is a necropolis which has yielded burials, important for the study of any civilization. The ASI has located only one other burial site, at Kalibanga, under Saraswati-Drishadvati project
 

The Times of India, 3rd June 2012

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Watch out for the stripes!

Tiger population spikes in the verdant forest cover of Corbett National Park

Are there really 214 tigers in Corbett? The elaborate tiger census done in 2010 by the Wildlife Institute of India and the National Tiger Conservation Authority has established that India's oldest park, established in 1911, is also the tigers' biggest haven. The current tiger census, which is in its third phase, also shows a good population of tigers. But it is difficult to spot tigers in the 1400 sq km of the well-forested tiger terrain. Unlike in Ranthambhore, Rajasthan, where most people come back elated after seeing the magnificent king of the jungles or a whole family of the big cats, tiger sighting is so rare in Corbett that people were beginning to question their existence.

However, controlled tourism and better management shows that not only do large numbers of the striped cat reside in Corbett but with some luck, they can be spotted as well. Seven different tigers have been spotted on a single day by tourists this season. Priyanka Gandhi was one of those lucky persons who saw seven tigers on a visit. This journalist, too, has been to Corbett several times but it was the first time that I had a full 10 to 15 minutes view of a tiger at a water hole at Bhichubodi, very close to the Dikhala forest guest house, in the third week of May.

We were on elephant back and as it was 6.30 p.m. We were on our way back to the forest lodge when suddenly, a sambar's call was heard and safari jeeps which could not penetrate the jungles like the elephants, advised that we get into the thickets and catch the tiger while they waited on the road. Patience is of utmost importance to sight a tiger. But we had barely waited five to six minutes at a clearing adjoining a water hole, when we saw the magnificent creature walked in to our vision. It looked as though it had just had a good meal. It was a full grown male tiger of about two to three years, the mahout said. The elephants shuffled their feet in anticipation and two of them lifted their trunks as if in obeisance to the king — then low and behold it walked up to the water hole, drank some water and stretched out beside the water, its long tail stretched behind it like a snake. Then the tiger immersed itself in the water to cool off, looked in our direction — its ears perked up and finally got up and left the way it had come to the water hole.

At the reception centre at Dikhala forest lodge, people recorded their tiger sightings on a black board. The day we arrived, there were four entries. The next day we added our entry and felt like heroes.

Though some 850 sq km of unspolied forest form the core zone of the Corbett tiger reserve, tourists are allowed entry into just five zones. This seemed a kind of restriction since I remember driving all over the protected area during my earlier trips. Field director Ranjan Mishra, who sits at Ramnagar, however, seemed a harassed man with the phone ringing constantly with tourists seeking entry into the protected area. Approximately 2.20 lakh people visit Corbett in the seven months it is open to tourists, and another lakh or so waiting to get in.

Only registered safari jeeps are allowed inside the park. At Dhangade gate, where entry permits are checked by the forest officials, visitors are told not to get off their vehicles or talk while on a safari. Animals, you are told, have the right of way in the jungles, a code diligently followed. Each vehicle is given a gunny bag for litter on entry. It was wonderful to see the pristine purity of the park — not a plastic bag or bottle.

Mr. Mishra needs to keep the habitat in good health for the tigers. The lantana weeds have to be regularly cleared so that the king has better feeding facilities. Man-animal conflict is still a problem. Though there are no more villages inside Corbett, the tiger does stray outside the park at times and lifts cattle. This could lead to retaliatory killing of tigers by villagers through poisoning. The compensation for a cattle killed by the tiger is just Rs. 5000 whereas the market price is Rs. 30,000. For a human death, the compensation is just Rs. one lakh. In 2010, six people were killed by a man-eater and it was finally shot down. Park officials have been asking for realistic compensations if the tiger is to be saved.

Shortage of forest guards has plagued almost all national parks and tiger reserves for several years. In Corbett, there are 106 vacancies and Mr. Mishra is hoping to recruit them in the next three to four months. The Special Forest Protection Force has been constituted three months ago with 67 forest guards, 18 foresters and 27 Gujjars (local lads of 18 to 20 years who could provide information on poaching and poachers). They are being hired on a contract basis but will have the same pay and perks as the commissioned forest staff. Hiring Gujjars is one way of involving local community in forest protection work. Satellite phones have been given to forest guards inside the park's core area.

Corbett has a good prey base with hordes of spotted deer, sambar, darking deer and hog deer. There are 700 to 800 wild elephants at Corbett and an elephant census is currently on. Though many people come to Corbett for tigers and elephants, the Park is a bird watcher's delight with 585 bird species accounting for 50 per cent of India's bird species and 36 species of butterflies. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is doing research in Corbett, says it has the best breeding ground for gharials (101). There are some 76 crocodiles as well.
 

The Hindu, 4th June 2012

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The many wonders of UP

The other day, Deepak, one of my young friends from Varanasi dropped in and we went into raptures just talking about the various good things that are peculiar to Varanasi, beginning with the reigning deity Lord Vishwanath and the Ganga ghats, goodies like special kesar jalebis, matar ki kachori, chaat along with exquisite sarees, pink meenakari jewellery, Ramnagar ki Ramlila, and of course paan and bhang. Now, make no mistake, both he and I agree that parts of Varanasi are very dirty and make it difficult for anybody to love it, but still there is so much to the place — culturally, artistically, aesthetically and spiritually that at the end of the day, we were beginning to sound like a tourism brochure! The Indo-Gangetic plains of Uttar Pradesh have traditionally being fertile in more than one way: the civilisations they have held in their lap have given birth to some amazing arts, including classical music — the Purab ang of Hindustani classical music for one, the Banaras baaz of tabla playing for another, the thumris and dadras and ghazals of Awadh, the Lucknow ang of Kathak dance and its mind blowing chikan embroidery, the slightly raunchy Nautanki-style of folk theatre, and the Dum-style of Awadhi cuisine, the brassware from Moradabad and carpets from Mirzapur and Badhoi. And of course, the Banaras Hindu University, Allahabad University and the Aligarh Muslim University as seats of learning, playing their part of this long heritage. Not to forget the more obvious Taj Mahal and the pietra dura stone inlay work of Agra. The list is indeed long. Given this background, contemporary and modern visual art can’t be too far behind and chronicling this journey is Shubhi Publications’ latest offering Variegated Vista — Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking in Post Independence Uttar Pradesh by Dr Shefali Bhatnagar. The publication is really a lifetime’s work and has been done in a detailed yet easy-to-read and access manner. The book is the first-of-its-kind and traverses the hitherto unexplored territory and takes into account all developments in the context of art and artists’ vision and is definitely one the most authentic and comprehensive treatise on modern art in UP. Dr Bhatnager’s background as an academic and professor of art stands her in good stead, as she is able to organise the facts, and delineates important and major artists’ work and contribution with illustrations. It has been lovingly handled and treated almost like a passionate obsession. The text is able to trace and consolidate an almost kaleidoscopic overview of the art from the region and gently allows art lovers to wade through the timeline, to experience the steady evolution from an agrarian folk culture with its traditional and hierarchical mindset to the state of present-day experimentation and innovation. The process captures the multifarious culture of this region reflected in its art and how artists from the farthest corners of India have come and settled here and enriched its art with the fabulous outpouring of their traditions to evolve synergies that are as versatile as the artists themselves. Another publication on an individual artist Sarla Chandra — a journey of four decades, supported by the PSU Powergrid Corporation of India, is a lavishly produced volume tracing her voyage in four segments. Written by senior critics from all over the country, it is vibrantly illustrated and has images of her works over the decades. Sarla Chandra’s sensibilities are refined and her aesthetics quite in place in both her paintings and this book. Not often are artists in a financial position to chronicle their journey or able to find sponsorship to create publications like this. I have seen so many artists struggle to even print a measly catalogue that I would often tell them to do CD catalogues. Publications on the arts, both visual and performing, are mostly labours of love with neither the publishers nor the authors hoping to get rich on them and so both need all the kudos for putting their heart on the line for the art.

Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist
 

The Asian Age, 4th June 2012

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Dwarka residents team up to revive dying pond

It was camaraderie at its best. Neighbours who never knew one another joined hands for Mother Nature. There was once a pond in their midst that teemed with life. Today, muck and filth has sucked out life from it, almost. It's drying up. And the Dwarka Sector 23 residents went all out to save it on Sunday.

Some of them lived in apartments; others came from the nearby Pochanpur village. They started desilting the pond with spades after authorities did not heed to their call for giving the pond a shot of life. The pond that today looks more like a puddle used to be called 'Naya Jhor' by villagers. They say it was very deep and the water so clear that people could drink from it. After DDA acquired the land in 1984, the pond was gradually buried; sewage from nearby apartments was also discharged into it.

Two huge Peepal and Banyan trees still stand by the pond creating a wide canopy. "This park used to be our grazing ground and people would rest under the trees. They would take a dip in the pond and even drink the clean water. Every monsoon the pond would fill up. After the apartments started coming up, the pond gradually dried out," says Chandrabhan Sherawat, a resident.

The pradhan of the village, Sultan Pradhan (90) adds: "Our children can't swim because there is no water body here anymore. It's so hot and water quality so bad because there is no ground water recharge in the area." The villagers say that the pond is over 200 years old.

Residents of Sector 23 and 22, have sent a letter to the chief engineer of DDA in Dwarka drawing his attention to the condition of the pond but they are yet to receive a favourable response. "The roots of these old trees were exposed when we came here. We got the DDA to put loose soil and cover them up so that at least the trees are secure. Now we are desilting the floor of the pond which will take some time unless we get help from authorities. We want to preserve the catchment of this pond so that the pond acts as a good recharge system," said Diwan Singh, another resident.

It's not going to be an immediate makeover though. In fact it many take many monsoons for the pond to fill up with water. After desilting the soft clay within will completely absorb the rain water this year and recharge the ground water to some extent.

"In Delhi we have lost the culture of being connected to the environment. Everyday we hear about water shortage but rarely people do something about it. This effort by Dwarka residents will help rejuvenate the pond but it will take some time," says ecologist and advisor to Delhi Jal Board, Vikarm Soni who also joined the residents and gave them advice.
 

The Indian Express, 4th June 2012

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Grave reflections

The head that wears the crown may lie uneasy in life, but numerous crowned and uncrowned dignitaries of Indian history sleep peacefully in cemeteries across the city How sleep the great and not-so-great who have been part of Delhi's history at some time or the other? Restfully in most places, including Qutab Sahib's Dargah and Humayun's Tomb and Nizamuddin Dargah. The grave of Murad Bakht, wife of Shah Alam II, in the dargah of Qutub Sahib at Mehrauli is hardly visited by people now. According to the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), it was part of a mosque once but now is a residence where people cook their food and wash their utensils and clothes before meals and then spend a restful night there. Built in 1800, six years before the death of the blind emperor, it has two other graves near it. Whose they are is not known, for the courtyard in which they are situated was once a graveyard. But it can be conjectured that those who lie buried in them must have been other close relatives of the last real Mughal ruler, probably his daughters or concubines. In Lal Bangla (where the Delhi Golf Club is situated) are the graves of his mother and Lal Kanwar, the beloved of emperor Jahandar Shah.

Not far away in Mehrauli is another graveyard where three nawabs of Loharu were buried, as they were important personages during Mughal times. The probable dates of their burial are 1802-1803. The enclosure has 15 graves in all, with arches on the western and eastern walls with fluted columns.

On a corner of Zafar Mahal is a graveyard where Bahadur Shah Zafar wanted to be buried. Among those interred here are Bahadur Shah I, also known as Shah Alam I, who was the eldest son of Aurangzeb. INTACH identifies the other graves as those of Shah Alam II, son of Alamgir II, of Akbar Shah Sani, Zafar's father, and other notables.

Chihaltan Chihalman in the DDA Park at Mehrauli contains the graves of the Abdals, who were saints of Afghan descent, and according to some, members of the Abdali clan, to which Ahmad Shah Abdali, the general and successor of Nadir Shah, also belonged. The graveyard has a hemispherical dome and a narrow gateway. The arch contains inscriptions from the Quran and the possible date of the monument's construction is the Lodhi period. What does Chihaltan Chihalman mean? Some conjecture that it is an alliteration of “chhialis” or 46, which must have been an important date for the Sufi Abdals, though some others contend that there might have been 46 such saints who are commemorated here, but according to Sadia Dehlvi, those buried number 40 — the constant mystical number of Abdals in perpetual Sufi service.

In Chiragh Dilli, near Bahlol Lodhi's tomb, is an enclosure which is said to contain the graves of the ministers of the first Lodhi ruler, whose tomb was built by his son Nizam Khan Sikandar Lodhi in 1488.

In Sarai Shahji, Malviya Nagar, is the enclosure of Farid Murtaza Khan's tomb. Farid held the rank of mansabdar of 5,000 horses during the reigns of Akbar and Jahangir and also served as the Governor of Gujarat. The nobleman was credited with the construction of several sarais, and those who lie buried near him were his kinsmen.

On the Northern Vista of Rajpath is a grave enclosure with ornamental tombs but the main one has disappeared. It belonged to the late Mughal period. In Kaka Nagar is the shrine of Hazrat Bibi Fatima, considered an elder sister by Hazrat Nizamuddin. She is revered as a saint and one who helps girls get good husbands. Besides her grave there are a number of others where her admirers and followers lie. The main grave dates back to CE 1245. Near Humayun's Tomb in the area known as Bhartiyam is a late Mughal period grave platform to which access is through the basement gate. A well nearby points to the fact that it was constructed to provide drinking water to visitors and also to a garden which might have been planted around the enclosure. Mehrauli's Hijron-ka-khanqa and the Panchkuin Road graves are two other notable qabrastans.

The enclosure of the graves of Nawab Iradatmand Khan and Nawab Musa Yar Khan in Lal Kuan, Old Delhi, dates back to 1774. Iradat Khan was a general of Mohammad Shah while Musa Yar Khan was his kinsman — some say son — who was a nobleman of the court of Shah Alam. The graves are of marble but fast deteriorating. There are Muslim tombs in enclosures in Nizamuddin Basti and also in the Karbala at Jor Bagh where, among other notables, lie Maha Khanum and the famous Mughal general Mahabat Khan of Jahangir and Shah Jahan's times. The graveyards at Idgah and the one behind Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg are the most widely used ones now.

Delhi also has a Parsi cemetery and some samadhis at Nigambodh Ghat, which is believed to date back to 1000 BCE. However the samadhi of Mitra Sen at Mitraon village, Najafgarh, is unique. It dates back to the late Mughal period and commemorates the founder of Miraon village. Pets' Corner at Tis Hazari is a graveyard of its own kind.

The Christian cemeteries are Lothian Road (1806), Rajpur Road (1850s), the Skinner family graveyard in Kashmere Gate, Nicholson cemetery (1857 where the British hero of the revolt lies buried), Prithviraj Road cemetery of the early 20th Century, the late 19th Century Paharganj cemetery and Brar Square War Cemetery. Then there are the new graveyards of Burari and Dwarka. A hoary cemetery near Ajmeri Gate was demolished for the extension of Delhi Main Station and the one in Kishanganj faces extinction. In keeping with the times, most of the old Christian graveyards are already filled up and there is no more space for God's Acre.
 

The Hindu, 4th June 2012

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IT capital is also a killer of lakes

There was a time when unfiltered, clear water from the 625 lakes of Bangalore used to be supplied to homes for drinking. Bangalore was then a pensioners' town. One huge lake for instance, Dharmambudhi, supplied a major share of the drinking water. Today this lake lies buried under Bangalore's biggest bus terminus Kempegowda.

Most of the lakes, some dating back to the 16th century, died a slow death. Many were poisoned by discharge of sewage and effluents and some were buried by landsharks. The Lake Development Authority (LDA) says around 100 water bodies have gone totally dry. More than 265 acres of lake area has been encroached. The remaining are in various stages of deterioration.

Only recently, a court order took note of the destruction and directed government agencies to mend things. But as things stand, this intervention might have come a bit late in the day.

Now, Bangalore's drinking water needs are met by pumping about 900-925 million litres per day (MLD) from the Cauvery, 100 km away. Greater Bangalore has no water. High-rises, where most techies live, depend on watertankers that suck water out of illegal bore-wells. Tippegondanahally lake used to pump 143 MLD but supply is down to 25 MLD now, because upstream inlets are blocked by encroachments. Water lost in distribution to Bangalore is 30% , nearly 270 MLD.

Bangalore reached this sorry state after encroachments, especially from real-estate giants, killed the water bodies. No agency stopped this. One problem was that there were too many agencies involved. There was the forest department, the municipality ( BBMP), the water supply and sewage board (BWSSB) and the LDA. Even if residents wanted to complain, chances were that they wouldn't know who to approach.

An Institute for Social and Economic Change research report last year said data on lakes is missing from important government agencies. This points to corruption in these departments.

Among those that remain, most are classified 'dead'. There's barely any oxygen and dead fish can often float on the surface. Residential areas discharge their untreated sewage in these lakes. In the 1980s, the state made efforts to protect lakes, crucial as they were to Bangalore's growing needs. They served as home to migratory birds. But unplanned urbanization led to dislocation of lake communities (agrarian, fishing and grazing) that protected and maintained these commons. It had a debilitating effect on surface and groundwater.

In 2004, the LDA invited private companies to develop and maintain the water bodies for 15 years. They'd help desilt and dredge the water bodies, ensure sewage diversion, build treatment plants and landscaping. But in 2008, the Environmental Support Group filed a PIL in Karnataka High Court. They contended that leasing out of the lakes (four had been leased out) was against norms. The water bodies, they said, were in prime areas and their privatisation benefiited only hoteliers and builders.

The court disposed of the PIL on April 11, 2012 with a list of directions. It ordered removal of unauthorized constructions within 30 metres of a lake's periphery. Officers were made incharge and directed to hold regular meetings with LDA and take effective steps to protect Bangalore's lakes.

BWSSB chairman Gaurav Gupta said, "BBMP and BDA send proposals on lake maintenance to LDA, which focuses on an approach to keep them in good condition. There are issues of sewage disposal and recharging of channels, which we have to respond to. This process is taking place."
 

The Times of India, 5th June 2012

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Mithi hasn’t shamed Mumbai the city has shamed the river

A foul-smelling river snaking through the city was Mumbai's best-kept secret till a heavy rain day, July 26, 2005, exposed its filthy underbelly. The Mithi River broke its banks that day, as if protesting years of neglect, flooding major pockets and laying bare Mumbai's aspirations to be a Shanghai-like metropolis.

The Mithi gained notoriety ever since and is perhaps a symbol of all that is wrong with Mumbai. The river, which is about 15 km long, tells of the city's haphazard growth, the ineffective administration of government agencies and the struggle for conservation.

The city resembles one large overflowing nullah, whether it is natural water bodies such as the Mithi or the Powai Lake or manmade drains built under the British. Squatters defecating in the open are a common sight along the railway line and sea stretches, given that over 45% of suburban homes and 33% of those in the island city are without toilets, as per Census 2011 findings. "There hasn't been much improvement in the city's drainage network since 2005," says Prakash Sanglikar, a World Bank consultant and retired deputy municipal commissioner (environment) of the Brihnanmumbai Municipal Corporation. He says Mumbai remains as prone to flooding as it was in the past.

Many provisions of the Madhav Chitale Committee that recommended constructing more pumping stations, augmenting nullahs and constructing gates for lakes await implementation. Only two of the eight recommended pumping stations are functional.

Following the 2005 deluge, a stormwater drainage project (BRIMSTOWAD) was announced to overhaul the century-old stormwater drains and double their capacity from the current 25 mm of rainfall per hour. The project was to finish by 2012, but officials say that only 55% to 60% of the 58 projects is completed. It may be another three years before the drains are fighting fit, they concede. "We have almost completed the first phase, the second will take some time," says BMC's chief engineer, storm water drains, L Vatkar.

Ask about deadlines being overstretched even as costs have escalated from Rs 1,200 crore to roughly Rs 3,900crore and officials blame logistical difficulties such as land acquisition, environment clearances and mangrove permissions. The saga is repeated across projects. Mithi is a picture of failed promises. This is of particular concern since rivers play natural flood barriers.

The Mithi's restoration—involving desilting, beautification and building of a retaining wall—was distributed between two state agencies—the BMC and MMRDA. While the former has spent over Rs 500crore and the latter around Rs 270crore, the results are dismal, say locals. MMRDA spokesperson D Kawathkar reels off statistics — 73% of the desilting for this monsoon is complete, 85% of the retaining wall built and 4,315 families along the river rehabilitated. BMC's Vatkar says work is on schedule, although only 9 of the 22 km of retaining wall is complete.

But locals refute official speak. "Agencies play with figures to justify contracts they give out. Encroachments along the Mithi and its feeders have become endemic," says Janak Daftary of the Mithi Nadi Sansad explaining that not only illegal slums but housing colonies have encroached its path. "The river has been diverted over 90 degrees which destroys its natural ecological balance," he rues, pointing out that Bombay high court had ordered removal of debris in December 2011, "but nothing has been done".

BJP's Kirit Somaiya, who had petitioned the high court, too says an action plan submitted by the agencies promised that desilting and beautification would be complete by 2012, but deadlines have not been met. He adds that much of the silt removed from the river is piled along the river bank. "Only half of it is transported to the dumping ground which means much of the silt flows." As authorities draw up their defences, the city grows into a squalid dump. Some citizendriven initiatives are underway to reclaim these spaces, but they remain sporadic and ineffective."
 

The Times of India, 5th June 2012

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Terai gives new wings to vultures

An innocuous looking painkiller had wiped out almost whole population of vultures from the Terai region. Ornithologists have now decided to develop Diclofenac-free zone along the Indo-Nepal belt where this scavenger species can breed and grow.

"Diclofenac use for animals is banned in India. But farmers are diverting human injectable drug to treat their domestic animals because of its effectiveness," Asad Rehmani of Bombay Natural History Society told The Pioneer.

It is no secret for officials of the Uttar Pradesh animal husbandry department. "If farmers are using human generic drug of Diclofenac, we cannot stop it. Our hands are tied," said senior official NK Chaudhry.

Population of three species of vultures — Gyps, Oriental White-Backed, Long-Billed and Slender-Billed — is 97 per cent gone. Barely 1 per cent of the Oriental White-Backed survives; it has been decimated in just 20 years. Disconcertingly, in the 1990s, the population of nine species of vulture was around 80 million and has now hit an alarming number of just 4,000 birds.

"The Terai region bordering Indo-Nepal is very crucial for us. The Nepal is vulture safe zone because it has succeeded in preventing use of Diclofenac among animals. If India fails to do so we would be damaging the vultures of Nepal side too. So, this is of paramount importance for India in general and Uttar Pradesh in particular to make the Terai as Diclofenac free zone," VP Singh, an ornithologist, told The Pioneer.

Initial work by ornithologists has started bearing fruit. Under a study carried out under CSE Media Fellowship, The Pioneer went to villages bordering Nepal. Foresters and people working to protect vultures, linked this issue with religion as they spoke about how garud’s numbers had plummeted. "Save garud. Save your religion and history," ornithologists tell villagers, asking them not to use Diclofenac.

The efforts are bearing fruits as Singh claims Slender-Billed species has been spotted the most. New nests have been spotted along the border of Katarniaghat and Dudhwa National Park. "At least 500 to 600 vultures have been spotted in this part of Terai," Singh said.

The drug called Diclofenac is administered to ailing cattle and if the animal dies, the farmers leave its carcass in the open. When the vulture feeds on this, the drug reaches the body of the scavenger, causing visceral gout - a chalk-like presence - and dehydration.

In humans, the by-products of Diclofenac are thrown out of the body by the kidney but this is not possible in the case of vultures. Diclofenac accumulates and turns the viscera in to chalk. Ultimately, the vulture dies a painful death.

Veterinaries and scientists have proved that presence of just 0.5 per cent of the drug in the animal carcass could prove fatal for vultures. "Vultures are gregarious and eat carcass in a flock or 40-50, so any Diclofenac body could wipe out the complete flock," Rehmani said.

In 1997, vulture conservation became a national issue after 40 birds were found dead in Rajasthan. At the same time, US research showed Diclofenac was responsible for untimely death of this natural scavenger. Following pressure, the Centre banned use of Diclofenac in animals and introduced substitute Meloxicam.

Thus, began the real struggle. The animal Diclofenac was banned but human drug under same generic name was available in the market. The farmers now started administering the human drug into animals - and the problem continued to persist.
 

The Pioneer, 5th June 2012

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Heritage Repackaged

Before the play Hanuman Ki Ramayan could be performed at Prithvi House in Mumbai last week, its director Devendra Sharma alerted the audience of a particular etiquette that must accompany while watching swang nautanki . “The audience is never passive. Whenever you like something, you should respond with a wah wah or kya baat hai,” he said. Barely had he finished saying this when a young boy responded, “Awesome, man”. Somewhere, Sharma’s statement struck a chord. The performance inched closer to what this assistant professor of communication at California State University had in mind — to introduce urban youngsters to traditional art forms.

Quite predictably, only a handful of children in the audience understood the Hindi lines of the play that had a smattering of English, even though they seemed to have got its essence. But most of them floundered while trying to express their views in Hindi. Sharma put them at ease and asked them to speak in a language they were comfortable in. English dominated the interaction thereafter. Later, information on swang nautanki and the meaning of the Hindi terms used in the play were circulated.

The experience, points out Sharma, is an example of Indian children having little exposure to their culture today. It made him — a fourth generation nautanki and rasiya artist and son of Pandit Ram Dayal Sharma, a stalwart in this field — take up the mission of acquainting young viewers with this traditional art form. Interestingly, this was also the first time that performers were dabbling in nautanki. “For nautanki, the pitch has to be high,” says Sharma, who was happy with the repertory’s work. “We often shut the windows to our heritage. The knowledge of cultural context is important,” he says.

This was why he had initially lapped up the proposal made by Shaili Sathyu, artistic director of Mumbai-based Gillo Theatre Repertory, to work on a children’s play. A short mythological story by Devdutt Pattanaik seemed perfect for this project. “This production is designed as a stand alone performance that can be staged anywhere,” says Sathyu. Sharma spends most of his three-month-long summer break and one month of winter vacation designing and performing nautanki shows and his work is not limited to India. In California, he has a nautanki mandali where most of the members have a day job. Sharma and Sathyu intend to turn this into a longer play soon. Maybe by then, young audiences in India would have developed a better understanding of this art form.
 

The Indian Express, 5th June 2012

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The Saraswati Civilisation

A fresh study by a group of international scientists confirms the dominant role of Saraswati river in sustaining the so-called Indus Valley Civilisation.

A new study titled, ‘Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilisation’, has concluded that the Indus Valley Civilisation died out because the monsoons which fed the rivers that supported the civilisation, migrated to the east. With the rivers drying out as a result, the civilisation collapsed some 4000 years ago. The study was conducted by a team of scientists from the US, the UK, India, Pakistan and Romania between 2003 and 2008. While the new finding puts to rest, at least for the moment, other theories of the civilisation’s demise, such as the shifting course of rivers due to tectonic changes or a fatal foreign invasion, it serves to strengthen the premise that the civilisation that we refer to as the Indus Valley Civilisation was largely located on the banks of and in the proximity of the Saraswati river.

More than 70 per cent of the sites that have been discovered to contain archaeological material dating to this civilisation’s period are located on the banks of the mythological — and now dried out — river. As experts have been repeatedly pointing out, nearly 2,000 of the 3,000 sites excavated so far are located outside the Indus belt that gives the civilisation its name.

In other words, the Indus Valley Civilisation was largely and in reality the Saraswati River Civilisation. Yet, in our collective consciousness, numbed by what we have been taught — and what we teach — we continue to relate this ancient civilisation exclusively with the Indus Valley. For decades since Independence, our Governments influenced by Leftist propaganda, brazenly refused to accept even the existence of the Saraswati river, let alone acknowledge the river’s role in shaping one of the world’s most ancient civilisations. In recent years, senior CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury had slammed the Archaeological Survey of India for “wasting” time and money to study the lost river. A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture which he headed in 2006, said, “The ASI has deviated in its working and has failed in spearheading a scientific discipline of archaeology. A scientific institution like the ASI did not proceed correctly in this matter.”

Yet, on occasion after occasion, scientific studies have proved that the Saraswati did exist as a mighty river. According to experts who have studied the map of all relevant underground channels that are intact to date and connected once upon a time with the river, the Saraswati was probably 1500 km long and 3-15 km wide.

The latest study, whose findings were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, too is clear on the river’s existence and its role in sustaining the ancient civilisation. The report said that the Saraswati was “not Himalayan-fed by a perennial monsoon-supported water course.” It added that the rivers in the region (including Saraswati) were “indeed sizeable and highly active.”

Will the new findings lead to a fresh thinking on the part of the Government and an acknowledgement that the time has come to officially rename the Indus Valley Civilisation as the Saraswati-Indus Civilisation? But the UPA regime had been in denial mode for years, much like the Left has been for decades. As the then Union Minister for Culture, Jaipal Reddy told Parliament that excavations conducted so far had not revealed any trace of the lost river. Clearly, for him and his then Government, it meant that the river was the creation of fertile minds fed by mythological books with an even more fertile imagination. The UPA Government then went ahead and slashed the budget for the Saraswati River Heritage Project — which had been launched by the NDA regime. The project report had been prepared in September 2003, envisaging a cost of roughly Rs 32 crore on the scheme. The amount was ruthlessly pruned to less than five crore rupees. In effect, the project was shelved.

However, despite its best efforts to do so, the UPA could not completely ignore the facts that kept emerging about the reality of the river and the central role which it had played in the flourishing of the so-called Indus Valley Civilisation. In a significant shift from its earlier stand that probes conducted so far showed no evidence of the now invisible Saraswati river, the Government admitted half-way through its first tenure in office that scientists had discovered water channels indicating (to use the scientists’ quote) “beyond doubt” the existence of the “Vedic Saraswati river”. The Government’s submission came in response to an unstarred question in the Rajya Sabha on whether satellite images had “established the underground track of Saraswati, and if so, why should the precious water resources not be exploited to meet growing demands?”

The Union Water Resources Ministry had then quoted in writing the conclusion of a study jointly conducted by scientists of Indian Space Research Organisation, Jodhpur, and the Rajasthan Government’s Ground Water Department, published in the Journal of Indian Society of Remote Sensing. Besides other things, the authors had said that “clear signals of palaeo-channels on the satellite imagery in the form of a strong and powerful continuous drainage system in the North West region and occurrence of archaeological sites of pre-Harappan, Harappan and post-Harappan age, beyond doubt indicate the existence of a mighty palaeo-drainage system of Vedic Saraswati river in this region… The description and magnanimity of these channels also matches with the river Saraswati described in the Vedic literature.”

Interestingly, the Archaeological Survey of India’s National Museum has been as forthright on the issue. This is what a text put up in the Harappan Gallery of the National Museum says: “Slowly and gradually these people evolved a civilisation called variously as the ‘Harappan civilisation’, the ‘Indus civilisation’, the ‘Indus Valley civilisation’ and the ‘Indus-Saraswati civilisation’.” The text further elaborates on the importance of the river: “It is now clear that the Harappan civilisation was the gift of two rivers — the Indus and the Saraswati — and not the Indus alone.”

There is another interesting aspect to the new study by the group of international scientists that deserves mention. The report has discounted the possibility of ‘foreign invasion’ as one of the causes of the ancient civilisation’s decline. But, long before this report was published, NS Rajaram, who wrote the book, Saraswati River and the Vedic Civilisation, had noted that the discovery of the Saraswati river had “dealt a severe blow” to the theory that the Aryans had invaded India, which then had the Harappan Civilisation. The theory supposes that the Harappans were non-Vedic since the Vedic age began with the coming of the Aryans.

But, since the Saraswati flowed during the Vedic period, the Vedic era ought to have coincided with the Harappan age. Rajaram says in his book that the Harappan civilisation “was none other than the great river (Saraswati) described in the Rig Veda. This means that the Harappans were Vedic.”

Not just that, experts have pointed out for long that there is no evidence of an invasion, much less from the Aryans who ‘came from outside’. Rajaram, like many others had concluded that the drying up of the Saraswati river and not some ‘invasion’ was the principal cause for the civilisation’s decline.

However, the latest study by the international group leaves a question mark on the origins of the river. The report claims that Saraswati was not a Himalayan river. But, several experts believe that the river originated from the Har-ki-Dun glacier in Gharwal. Let’s wait for the final word.
 

The Pioneer, 6th June 2012

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When ‘clean’ projects take a toll on environment

Who wouldn't want to replace polluting energy with clean, renewable energy? Surprisingly, some wouldn't. Because, sometimes they end up paying a heavier ecological price for it. Communities in many parts of the country are fighting a war against 'clean energy' projects that have proved to be far from clean. If mini hydel projects have destroyed aquatic fauna and changed the course of streams, wind farms have cleared forests and taken land from villagers. People at these green-energy sites, mostly forest areas, are more concerned about how these projects have destroyed local ecology.

Five village panchayats in Malnad of Karnataka's Western Ghats recently passed a resolution opposing the 200-MW Gundia Hydroelectric Power Project (GHEP). They worry the project, proposed in the Gundia River basin, will change the river's hydrological cycle and submerge a large forest. Their fears are not unfounded. The Western Ghats Ecology Task Force headed by Madhav Gadgil has recommended scrapping of the GHEP because of its location.

Kishore Kumar, RTI activist and president of Malanadu Janapada Horata Samiti, has been fighting the mini hydel lobby for over five years. "The Karnataka High Court has stayed 72 mini hydel projects in the eco-sensitive regions of Western Ghats. That has been our biggest relief but the minihydel power lobby is strong in the region. Four projects are under way in Hassan for instance," says Kumar. These have destroyed forest patches and fragmented the elephant corridors, he says. Man-animal conflicts, says Kumar, have increased after the implementation of these schemes.

Though these projects are supposed to be built on the run of the river stream, they have a strong impact on the river flow. The Yettinahole hydel project is also facing flak. The project is supposed to bring water from the Western Ghats to Bangalore Rural, Kolar and Chikkaballapur districts. But conservationists believe it will spell the beginning of river Nethravati's diversion.

Wind farms are wreaking similar havoc in Andhra. Kalpavalli forest of Anantapur district is a unique case where communities had regenerated barren land, converted it into lush forests, only to lose it to the wind farm lobby.

"From wasteland, it became a forest. But on paper, it continued to be labelled a wasteland. In 2007, the wind energy firm started acquiring around 49 acres. They built roads which destroyed more forests. Local livelihood was gradually eroded," says Leena Gupta of Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD).

The energy firm paid villagers a meagre compensation and offered small jobs at the 49 windmills that were installed. But the villagers are unhappy. N Gopalaswamy, a resident of Kalpavalli village says, "Villagers had to give them water tankers from forest streams. Animal husbandry collapsed because the grasslands were destroyed."

Gopalaswamy says the road constructed has fourwheel traffic all the time. Further, livelihood opportunities have been impacted. "We made grass brooms, sold dates and toddy (palm wine), now all have gone down. The company has to compensate for this loss."

Another case in point is a large solar energy company that had illegally procured contracts for nine solar projects in Rajasthan when they were supposed to develop just one. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) drew government attention to the erring firm.

Under the National Solar Mission, there is a policy to approve one-project-per-proponent.The solar firm grabbed nine. So, at the end of the first phase of the solar mission, the company had its hands on almost a quarter of the total 1,000 MW to be derived from solar radiation under the first phase. It pocketed about Rs 13,000crore. Strangely, all the nine projects in question are located in Askandara village in Jaisalmer. This is also because the Rajasthan government gave land at throwaway prices for the projects.
 

The Times of India, 6th June 2012

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Goa’s Reis Magos Fort restored, opened

One of the finest, if not the only example of restoration of historical forts in Goa, the Reis Magos Fort, was thrown open to the public by Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on World Environment Day, June 5.

The inauguration of the restored fort through a tripartite agreement signed between the Government of Goa, INTACH and The Helen Hamlyn Trust, UK also featured an exhibition of works of noted late illustrator and cartoonist and Padma Bhushan awardee Mario Miranda, who was the then convenor of the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage, Goa chapter and gave a vital push to the restoration of the fort.

“It is a pity that Mr Miranda couldn’t be here. But the inauguration, will have an exhibition of Mario Miranda’s works,” architect Gerard da Cunha who owns the rights to Miranda’s works and was also involved with the restoration told The Pioneer.

The Fort, located on the banks of Mandovi river, across Panaji originated as an armed outpost of the Adil Shah of Bijapur in 1493. When Bardez (now a tehsil in north Goa) was conquered by the Portuguese in 1541, the Fort was built along with the church. From 1900, it lost its defensive role and was used as a jail and was finally abandoned in 1993 after which it was at the mercy of the elements, and had begun to crumble.

Work on the fort had begun way back in 2008 with the money being provided by the UK-based Helen Hamlyn Trust, INTACH a non-governmental organisation dealing with restorations of monuments and the Government of Goa.

The fort will now be converted into a Cultural Centre, besides being used a tourist attraction. “This fort should serve as an example for other monuments as well, we have a very terrible record of taking care of our forts,” da Cunha said stressing that other forts too need to be restored and adaptively used.
 

The Pioneer, 6th June 2012

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The ‘lion' in winter ?

CONSERVATION The Lion Tailed Macaques, endemic to the Western Ghats, find themselves on the red list of endangered animals

It was the icon of the conservation movement of the Silent Valley in the 1970s — the Lion Tailed Macaque (LTM). And it was partly responsible for the government shelving a proposed hydro electric project on the Kunthipuzha in Silent Valley. A rich bio-diversity zone was thus saved, along with the animal. Today, the LTM, endemic to the Western Ghats, finds itself on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Despite a good number of them in Kalakkad-Mundanthurai, Anaimalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu, Silent Valley in Kerala and parts of Karnataka, their decline is noticeable in forest patches outside these protected areas. The reasons are poaching and habitat fragmentation. “We have less than 5,000 LTMs left in the entire Western Ghats,” says T.R. Shankar Raman, scientist at Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), involved in restoration and environment awareness programmes in the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve area and the Valparai plateau.

Confined to the wet evergreen rainy forests of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, LTMs stand out with their silvery grey facial mane and a tufted tail resembling a lion's tail. They swing seemingly in slow motion from tree tops.

“LTMs live entirely on treetops in dense canopies and rarely come to the ground. They continuously look for food and feed on fruits.

Their favourite is the culenia fruit ( kurangu pala ). Other favourites are jackfruit and a few fig varieties. They are intelligent animals. They use tools to gather and eat their food. For example, when they catch a prickly caterpillar, LTMs cover their hands with leaves to pick them up, remove the bristles and then eat the caterpillar.”

Renowned photographer and naturalist K. Jayaram has observed LTMs and photographed them in Valparai, where they are a large population. “As it is in the case of elephants and tigers, LTMs are threatened, and it is critical to conserve them. The animals are shy and retract from human beings. They live in troops of 10 or 20. A dominant male controls the group. I have seen them threaten the sub adults in the group, ferociously opening their mouth and showing their canines.”

In the tea estates of Valparai, the LTMs have become habituated to people. Sometimes they are even known to enter people's homes.

When they move on looking for better forest cover, that is when tourists spot them, throw bananas and lure them. Shankar Raman says: “Because of this, a lot of infants moving with female LTMs get killed by speeding vehicles.” In co-operation with the Forest Department and private estates, NCF has put up ‘canopy bridges' on tree tops. In places where a natural canopy is disturbed, the canopy bridges made from parallel strips of rubberised canvas cloth connect the trees. These are put up at known locations that LTMs frequent. In addition, full-time watch guards and signboards warn the tourists to stop throwing food to monkeys.

Regular studies monitor the population of the LTMs in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. H.N. Kumara, scientist at Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) at Anaikatti, near Coimbatore, who has surveyed the Karnataka region, says: “What we need is data on the current population of LTMs in the Western Ghats. In Karnataka, we recorded about 600 individuals living in 30 groups in the Aghanashini Reserve Forest. They are in good numbers in Kudremukh too. But in Karnataka, hunting has affected the population. In Uttara Karnataka, increasing dependence on forest for green manure for agricultural fields is fragmenting the habitat of LTMs.”

Slow breeders

LTMs are slow breeders, and that is one of the reasons for the low population turnover, observes H.S. Sushma, research associate at the Foundation for Ecological Research, Puducherry. She has tried to estimate the population of LTMs in Agathimalai, the southern most part of the Western Ghats.

K. Pramod, nature education officer of SACON, who has been observing LTMs for four years in Silent Valley, says it is vital to conserve the bio-diversity of the evergreen and semi-evergreen forests for the animals to survive. “They are habitat specialists with unique requirements. They need a contiguous canopy and a rich diversity of food that includes fruits and flowers,” he says.

Once the quality of forests suffers, LTMs, one of the most arboreal primates, may not survive, says Gigi. K. Joseph, professor at Muvvatupuzha, who studied the ecology and demographic aspects of LTMs in the Silent Valley.

Recalling the Silent Valley protests, Pramod sums up: “The LTM was highlighted as an icon. The debate was narrowed down to ‘man over monkey'. Ultimately, both were protected.”

K. JESHI
Once the quality of forests suffers, LTMs, one of the most arboreal primates, may not survive
 

The Hindu, 7th June 2012

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A restaurant for vultures

The Gadchiroli forest division has come up with the unique idea of feeding the scavenger population to save them from the brink of extinction

With the winged scavengers teetering on the brink of extinction, innovative measures are being undertaken to save the vultures. In a bid to conserve the fast dwindling vulture population, Gadchiroli forest division has established ‘Vulture Restaurants'. These restaurants are located strategically with a regular supply of safe food by collecting dead animals from local people.

These birds play an important ecological role through the rapid consumption of animal carcasses. The loss of a major scavenger from the ecosystem has already started affecting the balance between populations of other scavenging species and/or result in increase in putrefying carcasses. This has resulted in associated disease risks for wildlife, livestock and humans.

Presently there are three ‘Vulture Restaurants' in Gadchiroli forest division at Marakbodi, Madetukum and Nimgaon. Also, machans are constructed near Yeoli and Navegaon to provide safe food and to protect the dead carcass from stray dogs. People inform the forest department in case of the death of an animal in their village and the department after testing the dead animal and paying monetary benefits to the owner of the animal and informer transports it to the vulture restaurant. Apart from this, whenever a vulture nesting is found, conservation measures like providing safe food near nesting trees, constant protection from all sorts of disturbances, etc., are put in place without delay.

Anthropogenic disturbances leading to destruction of suitable roosting and nesting trees as well as disturbance have a marked impact on vultures and their survival. The general public is ignorant of the ecological importance of vultures.

Conservation efforts cannot be successful without the active involvement of local communities. Economic incentives could be one of the means to attract local communities to this endeavour. So in-situ conservation efforts, in combination with awareness programmes, may play an important role in conservation of remaining population of vultures. The involvement of local communities in in-situ conservation is having dual benefits to vultures and to our society. There is a three-pronged approach wherein the forest department, NGOs and local people came together for conservation of vultures.

The other activities initiated in Gadchiroli forest division include creating awareness about importance of vultures and its conservation among local people, safeguarding of vulture nesting colonies and prohibition on felling tall nesting trees, economic incentive to people who conserve roosting trees in their own land and constant monitoring of vulture nests and providing adequate protection to the rooster trees.

After this initiative, the frequency of vulture sighting has increased in and around Gadchiroli city. A vulture nest was found near Yeoli village and a group of 25-30 vultures is regularly visiting the villages near Gadchiroli. Our future work involves identification and conservation of available nesting locations of vultures around Gadchiroli and Dhanora, protection of roosting trees by involving local people and increasing the number of ‘Vulture Restaurants' to provide regular safe food to vultures.

(The writer is Deputy Conservator of Forests, Gadchiroli Forest Division, Gadchiroli, Maharashtra)
 

The Hindu, 7th June 2012

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A lungful of air!

With the Government's imminent nod to the Bharat Bhasha Vikas Yojana, the Central Institute of Indian Languages is working to help preserve our endangered languages

We have 22 languages recognised by the Constitution, rather a sizeable figure by the world standards. Yet, we have so many craving for State attention, some on the verge of extinction now, some already lost due to deficiency of organised support. Looks like there is a ray of hope now.

Bharat Bhasha Vikas Yojana, the ambitious project of the Central Institute of Indian Languages — the nodal agency of the Union Government which works for the development of our languages — to help save our minor and endangered languages (it runs up to 198), is finally all set to be taken out of the cold storage and implemented. “I was in Delhi last week, the Government (Ministry of Human Resources) has agreed on the Yojana in principle. We are waiting for the formal nod,” says G. Devi Prasad Sastry, the head of CIIL's Centre for Tribal and Endangered Languages. Submitted to the Government in 2006, it was to get approval in April 2010.

Nevertheless, a buoyant Sastry and his team are now putting their minds together to formulate a master plan to help States preserve the languages on the verge of extinction. “The first thing to do is to work out a policy, what should be the criteria, how we should go about it. We plan to go phase-wise, year-wise. Since education is a State subject, it is the States which will have to finally do the job under our supervision,” he says. The States will identify the languages to be preserved but Sastry is clear that the priority will be to preserve the most endangered ones first.

“We will work from the bottom to top. The world of languages is also like the animal world. The small fish is eaten up by the big fish and the big fish by the bigger fish. For example, take Andhra Pradesh. A tribal language speaker will learn Telugu but a Telugu speaker will learn English, not the tribal language. At the end you see that that particular tribal language is the most affected one.” Since the minor languages are not taught in schools and colleges, there are hardly any job openings for those learning them. “There has to be some impetus. When a possible language learner sees that he/she is not getting anything out of it, it diminishes their interest in the language,” he points out.

This is where the Yojana will try and make a difference. It will help create trained manpower within the communities at different levels with State machinery that could sustain development programmes by owning up CIIL's joint work with them. “It is the most critical component,” states Udaya Narayan Singh, former director of CIIL during whose tenure the proposal was submitted to the Government. In future, with constant nurturing, these non-scheduled languages can come up to be a part of the second language options in schools, etc. thereby generating job opportunities too. “Several of these languages have produced literary work of great merit. But many of them have been facing threat of extinction mainly due to the absence of educational institutions employing these languages,” says Singh.

The proposal quite efficiently builds a case for the endangered languages highlighting the fact that “only 22 languages receive Central and State patronage. But there are 100-odd languages with at least 10,000 speakers which wait for their turn to receive the fruits of development.” Sahitya Akademi, the National Book Trust, the Central and State universities, the language academies, it underlines, promote only the scheduled and classical languages, “and not more than that.”

“Even within the scheduled languages there are so many variations but they do not attract attention. For instance, in Hindi, there are 53 mother tongues but only the mother language gets Government patronage,” points out Sastry, who took over the centre at CIIl two years ago.

Though happy to note that the Yojana will finally begin, Singh points out yet another crucial issue which he had earlier mentioned in the proposal too. “Over the years, the manpower at CIIL has reduced drastically. From over 150 faculty, CIIL has now become an institution with less than a dozen faculty members. You need people to make a project successful.”

About reaping results from the Yojana, Sastry is unwilling to put a deadline. “Language promotion is a continuous process, it can't have a deadline.”
 

The Hindu, 7th June 2012

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Goa beaches to get ‘decent’

Pot-bellied men changing their garments with a flimsy towel around their waists may be a thing of the past with the Goa tourism department planning to start fresh water showers as well as changing rooms as part of its policy for beach shacks.

“The most important requirement is creating practical facilities for tourists on the beaches. They need to change clothes when they go for a swim. We are trying to set up changing rooms for them on the beaches,” Goa’s Tourism Minister Dileep Parulekar said.

The department which is in the process of formulating a policy for beach tourism which includes beach shacks stressed the urgency of ‘practical facilities’ for the issues.

“We need to install showers where those who have been for a swim can have a fresh water bath and get refreshed. Other facilities like designated parking areas, toilets, high mast lights at night are also being given a thought,” Parulekar told The Pioneer.

One of the major problems that most visitors to the beach face is the complete absence of infrastructure forcing visitors to use bushes, sandunes and thistles to either change or answer nature’s call. The shack owners too provide some facilities like changing rooms and toilets but only to their guests.

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar too concurred with his Tourism Minister. “We are coming out with good shack policy… I am speaking to the Ministry as well as the stakeholders. It will be comprehensive,” Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said adding that the average visitor faces chaos, garbage besides lack of directions and help centres.

He said that the beach tourism policy will cover the beach shacks, the barely regulated water sports operators, dolphin tours, para-sailing etc.

“The policy will also demarcate specific areas for water sports operators, beyond which they will not be allowed to go. The areas will be marked by buoys,” Parrikar said.
 

The Pioneer, 8th June 2012

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China's Great Wall is 'longer than previously thought'

The Great Wall of China has been officially declared even longer than previously thought, state-run media report.

The wall measures 21,196.18km (13,170.6956 miles) long based on the latest state survey results, state-run news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

A preliminary study released in 2009 estimated the wall to be 8,850km long.

The world's largest man-made structure was built to protect China's northern border.

This is the first time such a definitive figure has been released, Xinhua reports.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage released the results based on an archaeological survey done since 2007.

Previous estimates of the wall's length were mainly based on historical records.

Tong Mingkang, deputy chief, said that the survey revealed a total of 43,721 heritage sites that included stretches of the Great Wall, reports Xinhua.

Known to the Chinese as the "Long Wall of 10,000 Li", the Great Wall is a series of walls and earthen works begun in 500BC and first linked up under Qin Shi Huang in about 220BC.

Only 8.2% of the original wall remains intact, with the rest in poor condition, according to the report.

It was listed as a Unesco world heritage site in 1987.
 

The Hindustan Times, 8th June 2012

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New scheme to uplift semi-urban settlements

While the Planning Commission flatly classifies the country into rural and urban categories, India is witnessing a rapid rise in the number of a relatively new kind of settlement – census towns – which figure in neither the rural nor the urban categories.

The population

count in 2011 showed that census towns have nearly tripled over the last decade, from 1,362 in 2001 to 3,894 in 2011. Census towns, by definition, are settlements that possess a population over 5,000 and have lost the characteristics of a village – primarily agriculture as the principal occupation. However, they have not reached the ‘municipality level’ to deserve categorisation as statutory towns.

Census towns have now become a challenge to planners. “Our policies have been either for rural or urban areas. We lack an approach to such trishanku (middle world) areas,” Jairam Ramesh, union minister for rural development, said.

Ramesh’s ministry, which is responsible for developing rural areas, is attempting to reach out to such settlements – providing urban amenities through the Provision of Urban amenities in Rural Areas.

“The Planning Commission has, in principle, agreed to provide Rs. 1,500 crore in the 12th Plan, through which we can develop around 50 such areas,” he said.

Pilot projects are currently being implemented in Thrissur and Malappuram of Kerala, officials said, adding that half-a-dozen projects of the kind would also take off soon. The ministry is now inviting private players for the second batch of 10-15 pilot projects.

West Bengal tops the list of states with census towns, adding 528 such towns in 10 years, followed by Kerala with 362 towns. While the number of such settlements rose from 66 to 267 in Uttar Pradesh, it has gone up from 127 to 279 in Maharashtra. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu added 135 and 265 census towns respectively.
 

The Hindustan Times, 8th June 2012

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Jehangir Sabavala’s painting fetches Rs 2.1cr

A work by one of India's leading modernist painters Jehangir Sabavala set a new world auction record for the artist on Thursday. Titled Vespers 1, the painting sold for £253,650 (Rs 2.1 crore) at a Bonhams sale in London after a saleroom tussle between two buyers in the auction room. Works by the Parsi artist, who died after a year-long battle with lung cancer in Mumbai last year, have been scaling the auction ladder in recent years. In 2010, one of his serene landscapes called Casuarina Line fetched Rs 1.7 crore at a Saffronart auction. Now, Vespers 1 has gone for twice the estimate set by the auction house. Mehreeen Rizvi, head of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art at Bonhams, noted that it was about time the artist "achieved commercial success in the art market to mirror his artistic reputation."

Sabavala was known for his handling of light, colour and texture. Quite the perfectionist, the Mumbai modernist didn't produce too many works in his career spanning sixty years. His first solo exhibition, held in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, was put up with the help of fellow artist M F Husain and some carpenters. He even footed the bill for it.

Vespers I is one of Sabavala's most important works. It was first exhibited at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay and then at his solo exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute, London. His paintings had an introspective, melancholy lyricism, notes Ranjit Hoskote, his biographer and close friend.

The second highest price achieved in the Bonhams sale was a work by M F Husain titled The Blue Lady which made £97,250. It was from the private UK collection of John Hay, having been presented to Hay's mother Elizabeth Partridge by her sister as a wedding present in India.
 

The Times of India, 8th June 2012

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More monuments now under government care

There is cattle tied in front of it, the small space in front has been turned into a dumping yard, the dilapidated insides, especially the arches, are stuffed with debris of the still-erect monument and the exteriors show signs of weathering complete with grass and shrubs grown a top.

A narrow winding lane through Lado Sarai village near Qutab golf course brings you to an obscure 15th century tomb — listed as “Unknown Tomb” — ensconced between two modern buildings.

In all so many years that the village around it turned into an urban settlement and the condition of this Lodhi era structure worsened, the Delhi government did not bother about it.

However, there seems to be hope for this tomb and also for several such monuments and structures that lie scattered across the city. Three years after the preliminary notification for the first lot out of 39 monuments was issued, Delhi’s Department of Archaeology has finally issued the notification declaring all of these monuments as protected (See box). The final notification was issued towards May end..

Ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the Delhi government had ambitiously declared that it would conserve and protect these monuments. However, with objections from several quarters, including the Delhi Waqf Board, the final notification was never issued then.

Even as Delhi’s Department of Archaeology took time to hear the objections and claims about ownership of about 25-odd monuments, several of them were encroached upon, alterations were made in few while still others saw a change in façade beyond recognition. Only 15 of them were conserved, illuminated and security guards were deployed for their protection ahead of the Games.

In the meantime, the department’s MoU for three years for outsourcing conservation to Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) too has expired. Said a senior official, “Now that the notification has been issued, we would take up encroachment removal and conservation work. However, it would happen only after monsoon.”

The MoU with INTACH too is “in the process of renewal”, he said.
 

The Hindustan Times, 10th June 2012

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Digging up the past

The men who discovered a lost civilisation along the Indus

The archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, though there is much dispute about the year of its founding. What is perhaps less controversial is determining its shiniest hour. In September 1924, John Marshall, the long-serving director-general of the ASI, used the pages of The Illustrated London News to make an announcement so dramatic that reading it all these years later makes one sit up and blink: “Not often has it been given to archaeologists, as it was given to Schliemann at Tiryns and Mycenae, or to Stein in the deserts of Turkestan, to light upon the remains of a long-forgotten civilization. It looks, however, at this moment, as if we were on the threshold of such a discovery in the plain of the Indus.”

Today we are still working out the length and breadth of this city-based civilisation, and in a timely development Nayanjot Lahiri’s 2005 book Finding Forgotten Cities: How the Indus Civilization Was Discovered is back in print (Hachette India, Rs 350). Woven into her account of the discoveries at Harappa and Mohenjodaro is the a history of the early years of the ASI, of the men who missed the uniqueness of the remains at Harappa, and then those who finally caught it..

Seals found around Harappa had made their way to the British Museum in London, where they must surely not have missed Marshall’s eyes before he set off to take up his assignment at the ASI. Marshall is the hero of Lahiri’s story. His career was bound up with the establishment of the ASI as a robust institution with sufficient budgets and expertise to sustain a charter to investigate. His first love in the subcontinent remained the excavations at Taxila, but it would be his announcement of the Indus civilisation that would secure the ASI.

The men who discovered a lost civilisation along the Induss

The archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, though there is much dispute about the year of its founding. What is perhaps less controversial is determining its shiniest hour. In September 1924, John Marshall, the long-serving director-general of the ASI, used the pages of The Illustrated London News to make an announcement so dramatic that reading it all these years later makes one sit up and blink: “Not often has it been given to archaeologists, as it was given to Schliemann at Tiryns and Mycenae, or to Stein in the deserts of Turkestan, to light upon the remains of a long-forgotten civilization. It looks, however, at this moment, as if we were on the threshold of such a discovery in the plain of the Indus.”

Today we are still working out the length and breadth of this city-based civilisation, and in a timely development Nayanjot Lahiri’s 2005 book Finding Forgotten Cities: How the Indus Civilization Was Discovered is back in print (Hachette India, Rs 350). Woven into her account of the discoveries at Harappa and Mohenjodaro is the a history of the early years of the ASI, of the men who missed the uniqueness of the remains at Harappa, and then those who finally caught it..

Seals found around Harappa had made their way to the British Museum in London, where they must surely not have missed Marshall’s eyes before he set off to take up his assignment at the ASI. Marshall is the hero of Lahiri’s story. His career was bound up with the establishment of the ASI as a robust institution with sufficient budgets and expertise to sustain a charter to investigate. His first love in the subcontinent remained the excavations at Taxila, but it would be his announcement of the Indus civilisation that would secure the ASI.

Curiously, Marshall had yet to visit Harappa and Mohenjodaro when he announced their antiquity.
 

The Pioneer, 10th June 2012

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A palace without a Queen

Mice and other vermin hold court where once the voices of the only Muslim royal family in the history of Kerala reverberated off the walls. The untended grounds around the palace are now a playground for children.

The crumbling regal mansion is looked after by 75-year-old Hamsakka, a homeless destitute who found refuge here when he was 14.

Arakkal kettu (Arakkal palace), in Azhikkal, two km from Kannur city, is now shorn of the vestiges of title and power. Built on 2.11 hectares of land, it was once the dwelling of rulers who shaped the history of Cannanore (now Kannur).

Tradition has it that the oldest member of the Arakkal family, irrespective of gender, becomes the ruler. That position now belongs to Sulthan Arakkal Adiraja Zainaba Aysha Beebi (beevi), who assumed the title in 2006. Now about 80 years old, she is bed-ridden after a paralytic stroke in the home of her only daughter, in Thalaserry, near Kannur. Her three sons have settled abroad.

The duty of upholding the tradition and conventions in the kettu is now borne by the veteran Hamsakka, who lights the traditional lamp (Thampuratti Vilakku) every day and looking after the bell tower and the nearby premises. Beebi's secretary Mayankutty says as far as he can remember, he does this under no one's authorisation — no one is paying him anything for it either.

The Durbar Hall, once the official gathering place of the king and nobles, has now been renovated by the Kannur Royal Arakkal Family Trust and converted into a museum. Among the buildings that have managed to preserve their integrity amidst changing times is the 400-year-old Arakkal Pudiya Palli (mosque). In the north-eastern corner, the dilapidated bell tower is a mute witness to the glorious past of this erstwhile Muslim principality.
 

The Hindu, 10th June 2012

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Myristica swamps, a vanishing ecosystem in Western Ghats

It is now confined to 53 patches in Kerala

Nestled in the deep valleys of the Western Ghats that is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna are the vestiges of a pristine habitat that could yield precious information about evolutionary biology and climate change.

Scientists from the Centre for Earth Science Studies here and the Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) in Pune are studying the Myristica swamps, a vanishing ecosystem, now largely confined to 53 patches in the Kulathupuzha and Anchal forest ranges and the Shendurney wildlife sanctuary in Kerala.

A study by the ARI scientists, published recently in the journal, Quaternary International, describes the discovery of plant fossils of the ancient Myristica swamps from the Konkan coast.

The fossils, estimated to be 44,000 years old, throw light on the evergreen vegetation along the Konkan coast. The study infers that Konkan lost its wet evergreen forest cover due to the changes in the monsoon pattern.

The Myristica swamps are tropical fresh water swamp forests with an abundance of Myristica trees, the most primitive of the flowering plants on earth. The evergreen, water-tolerant trees have dense stilt roots helping them stay erect in the thick, black, wet alluvial soil.

The swamps are typically found in valleys, making them prone to inundation during monsoon rains. The trees form a fairly dense forest with a closed canopy.

Studies have shown that the swamps, which would have occupied large swathes of the thickly- wooded Western Ghats in the past, are now restricted to less than 200 hectares in the country.

“As of now, the Myristica swamps of the Western Ghats are fragmented, with Kerala holding a major share of this habitat. Leaving aside a few more patches in Karnataka and Goa, this exceptional wetland has almost disappeared from the Indian subcontinent due to the climatic vicissitudes over the last 18,000 to 50,000 years, a period referred to as the Late Pleistocene period,” said K.P.N. Kumaran, CSIR Emeritus Scientist, ARI.

According to C.N. Mohanan, Head, Department of Environmental Sciences, CESS, the swamps could promote better understanding of the influence of climate change on the evolution of plants. “They are living museums of ancient life.”

Dr. Mohanan said human activities posed a major threat to the unique habitat. “Over time, many of the patches of swamps in Kerala have been converted to paddy fields, arecanut plantations or settlements while others were submerged for irrigation projects. There is an urgent need to conserve the remaining swamps.”

Mr. Kumaran said: “These swamps have high watershed value. When they are drained, filled or otherwise disturbed, their water holding capacity is lost, resulting in floods and erosion during the rainy season and dry streambeds the rest of the year.”

The swamps in Kerala provide habitat for a rich diversity of invertebrate and vertebrate species, including amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

A total of 65 tree species and 72 species of shrub- herb combine have been recorded from the swamps. It is estimated that the wetlands contain 23 per cent of butterflies, 11 per cent of spiders, 8.4 per cent of fishes, more than 50 per cent of amphibians, more than 20 per cent of reptiles, 26.6 per cent of birds and 6.6 per cent of mammals in the whole of Kerala.

Of the animals recorded from the swamps, 16.3 per cent are endemic to the Western Ghats and 24.2 per cent of the vertebrates are Red Listed.

Species diversity and species abundance inside the swamps are significantly higher than that recorded from outside, for both reptiles and amphibians.
 

The Hindu, 10th June 2012

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Railways told to conserve Loha Pul as city heritage

The National Monument Authority (NMA) has asked Northern Railways to conserve 150-year old iron bridge (Loha Pul) on Yamuna as a heritage in the city. Giving clearance to Northern Railway’s proposal to construct a new rail bridge over Yamuna near bridge with new alignment, the National Monument Authority has conveyed to the Delhi Government and Northern Railways that the historic old bridge should be treated as a piece of heritage. This is the first big-ticket infrastructure project cleared by the NMA.

Sources in the Delhi Government told The Pioneer that they have received a letter from the National Monument Authority, approving the new alignment of the proposed rail bridge and treating historic old bridge as heritage and that it should not be dismantled. There is only three such iron bridges in the country. The authority has made it clear that old bridge should not be dismantled or abandoned. “It should be treated like a national monument,” said the sources. Sources in the railways said that tender will be invited by end of this month.

The alternative alignment was proposed by the railways roped in Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage for study of cultural and heritage impact. According to its report, the new alignment joins the existing line before it touches the fort wall. Pending since a decade, the proposal had faced numerous hurdles since its conceptualisation as the site is next to Salimgarh Fort, part of the Red Fort complex, a World Heritage Site. Heritage authorities had stalled work for the piers in 2006 as the then alignment meant cutting across additional portion of the fort wall. Besides, an amendment in the archaeological act in 2010 banned any new construction within 100 metres of a protected monument.

The old bridge was built in 1868 by the East India Railways. Since then it was caught in the multiplicity of authority in Delhi. While the Northern Railways maintained the railway tracks and main structure of the bridge, maintenance of the road was handed over to the MCD. The bridge runs through the 16th Century monument, Salimgarh Fort and the new bridge was to be constructed within the prohibited area, 100 metres of the monument. The bridge, a crucial link connecting the Old Delhi railway station to eastern parts of the country, is used daily by over 150 trains and thousands of motorists everyday.

Over the years, the upgradation of the bridge was stuck due to objections raised by the Archaeological Survey of India as about 1,000 square metres of ASI protected land was required by the railways near the edge of Salimgarh Fort to lay tracks for the new alignment. However, the ASI had completely rejected the proposal of the new bridge via the precincts of Salimgarh Fort and had said it was impossible for them to grant permission. The National Monuments Authority was then set up in March 2011 catering only to monuments and thus railways was quick enough to approach the body. In lieu of this, the Railways have promised to give ASI land occupied by a railway colony inside the fort.
 

The Pioneer, 11th June 2012

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Lutyens' Delhi in race for UN heritage status

The final dossier containing the much-hyped proposal for nominating Delhi as a World Heritage City will have just two heritage areas - Shahjahanabad and Lutyens' Delhi (New Delhi) - as against the earlier identified four areas, it was decided at a high-level meeting on Monday. Earlier it was decided to nominate four heritage areas: Shahjahanbad, Lutyens' Delhi, Nizamuddin and Mehrauli. There are 226 World Heritage Cities as per the UNESCO, however, not a single Indian city figures in the list.
At a meeting of the stake holders, called by Delhi chief secretary PK Tripathi, it was decided to propose Shahjahanbad and the city designed by Edward Lutyens - New Delhi, for nomination to the UNESCO's list of World Heritage City under the category of Inhabited Historic Towns.

A high-level monitoring committee has been formed for overseeing the application for nominating Delhi and for monitoring its management thus ensuring that there are no more delays in sending the final nomination dossier.

Ahmedabad already figures in UNESCO's 'tentative list' of World Heritage City.

Explaining the reason behind bringing down the heritage areas from four to two, AGK Menon from Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), said: "As we refined our arguments, we would find it difficult to convince UNESCO for Mehrauli and Nizamuddin areas.

"Both the areas have witnessed large-scale changes to its heritage fabric whereas Shahjahanabad and Lutyens Delhi (New Delhi) have easily provable values as imperial capitals. These are still recognised as the power centres. For instance, every year, the Prime Minister gives the Independence speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort," he added.

Delhi's name is missing out of the 'tentative list' updated as on May 22, 2012 by the UNESCO.

"This is possibly because the ASI has not forwarded the executive summary of our proposal as sought by the UNESCO," Menon said.

According to sources, the proposal will now be sent to the Delhi cabinet for an approval following which a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) will be signed between Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC) and INTACH and funds would be released.
 

The Hindustan Times, 12th June 2012

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Divine intervention required

The exhibition, The Lost Forest, The Sacred Mangrove of Haryana, captures a rare green ecosystem, not far from Delhi. The forest is now under threat, filmmaker Ishani Dutta tells Ektaa Malik

Faith is often located in places that one least expects. We are not talking about rituals that dominate religions of the world. This is a faith that has made an oasis of greenery — the Mangerbani forest, a few kilometers off Gurgaon-Faridabad highway, survive and flourish for years.

And that faith is now much more in need, as Mangerbani is under threat.

One stops to gaze at the green hue greeting the eye, from images on display at The Lost Forest, Sacred Grove of Haryana, an exhibition showcased at Delhi O Delhi restaurant, Habitat Centre.

It has been compiled from stills of a documentary film of the same name, and has contributions from many others. Ishani Dutta, who directed the film, shared, “We came across this mangrove while working on separate projects about traditional ways of conservation. That was 2010. It was a surprise. One didn’t realise this actually exists.”

In 2011, the filmmaker learnt that the forest is under threat.

Being prime real estate, it caught the fancy of developers and entrepreneurs.

The Haryana government was set to go against Union Government and Supreme Court directives. In 2012 January, after a state level committee chaired by the CM of Haryana, the government is set to acquire the forest as a part of the Mangar Draft Plan, 2031. They intend to make a 500 hectare mega recreational park facility. The verdict will come out on June 16.

“The entire forest serves an important water catchment area for Gurgaon and Faridabad. If the forest goes, the ecosystem and biodiversity will also go for a toss. The forest prevented the desert from extending towards Faridabad and Gurgaon. That was the reason we made the film and held this exhibition. We need to create pressure and make authorities listen up,” said Ishani.

The Mangerbani is sacred. For years, it protection itself from destruction.

“There is a guardian deity of the forest — Gudariya Baba. There is a temple in the middle of the forest. Over time, this developed the reputation of granting wishes after prayer. And when someone cut a tree or harmed the forest, they suffered, and did not accomplish the deed.”

One sees a white triangular dome of a temple, standing out amongst the green of the forest.

Bells and red threads are tied to bows and branches of trees.

The exhibition also has pictures of the Dhau, the tree that dominates the forest.

“One notices Keekar and Krishna Kadam trees, but the Dhau is the speciality,” Ishani said.

The exhibition showcases the forest in full bloom, captured during monsoons.

This miniature ecosystem has been sustained by the resident Gujjar community, who don’t live off the forest. Instead, they protect it. “When they cut a tree, they ask permission from the deity. While shooting for the film, we saw bowls of white fluid placed around the forest. It was milk mixed in water kept by people, for animals of the forest. They revere the forest. We don’t associate such behaviour with Gujjars, but here they have done something so beautiful. They don’t want the forest to be acquired. But we don’t what will happen, if huge sums come into the picture,“ explained Ishani.

The film and the exhibition were self-funded by Carrot Films.

“We saw something had to be done. We got contributions by Pradip Krishen, Moumita Das and TK Sajeev for the exhibition. They captured the spirit of the place. They are not documentary photographers. But their work relays the message,” concluded Ishani.

The film screens again today, Gurgaon, IRRAD Auditorium. The exhibition is on till the June 30.
 

The Pioneer, 12th June 2012

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Stone tools that revolutionised study of India's pre-history

On display at the Government Museum, Chennai, for a few days from June 11 are two stone tools discovered by geologist Robert Bruce Foote in May and September 1863 at the Brigade Ground at Pallavaram, Chennai, and Attirampakkam village in Tiruvallur district. He found a hand-axe at Pallavaram and a cleaver at Attirampakkam. They were paleolithic tools. Human beings fashioned them out of stones more than five lakh years to 15 lakh years ago.

Foote's discovery revolutionised the study of India's pre-history. For, it threw enormous light on how hunter-gatherers made these tools and used them to butcher animals, dig out tubers, tap sap from plants and so on. The pre-historic man was so skilful that he made a variety of these tools: hand-axes, cleavers, discoids, scrapers, choppers, knives and so on. (The word paleolithic comes from “paleo” which means old and “lithic” which means stone. Megalithic is big stone).

Although several organisations in India are preparing to celebrate the 150th year of Foote's (1834-1912) discovery of the “first paleolith of South India” next year, the Government Museum, Chennai, has chosen to “celebrate” it now and displayed these two stone tools he discovered at Pallavaram and Attirampakkam. The museum acquired his pre-historic collections in 1904.

Foote was a multi-faceted man. He was a geologist, archaeologist, ethnographer, palaeontologist, museologist and a landscape painter. He was the father of India's pre-history. He aimed for perfection in whatever he did. He systematically catalogued by 1910 all the stone tools he had discovered at Pallavaram, Attirampakkam and elsewhere. He proof-read the catalogue himself.

Shanti Pappu, specialist in Tamil Nadu's pre-history who conducted excavations at Attirampakkam and did insightful research on Foote's life and many-sided work, said: “There is no scholar of Foote's vision and perseverance in discovering India's pre-history and uniting different fields of science such as archaeology, geology, anthropology, museology etc.. into a comprehensive whole to turn the light on our past.” She called Foote “one of the most outstanding figures in India's archaeology.”

“I worked at Attirampakkam and it was a wonderful work that he did there 150 years ago. It was a humbling experience to work there.” Foote discovered a paleolithic artefact at “Pallavaram” on May 30, 1863. He and geologist W.King found more hand-axes, cleavers and scrapers from a dry stream-bed at “Atrampakkum” in September 1863. These phenomenal discoveries pushed back the antiquity of humankind in the Indian subcontinent and placed India in the world map of pre-history. While the stone tools found at Pallavaram were more than five lakh years old, Dr. Pappu estimated that those discovered at Attirampakkam were about 1.5 million years old.

In her scholarly article “Prehistoric Antiquities and Personal Lives: the Untold Story of Robert Bruce Foote” published in “Man and Environment,” Vol. XXXIII, No.1, 2008, Dr. Pappu says: “Through the years, literature written by and on Foote helps us gain insights into his personality — as a scientist and scholar and as a man standing in front of India's past with a sense of wonder and reverence… In his quest to unravel the mysteries of India's pre-history, we see a tale of great discoveries interwoven with the many joys and tragedies of personal life.”

He was a geologist of the Geological Survey of India, brought out publications on the tools found in the laterite formations in the then Madras and South Arcot districts, documented the antiquities of the Neolithic and Iron Age in Salem district in Tamil Nadu, wrote memoirs on the geology of the south Maharatta country and neighbouring districts, collected antiquities, painted landscape such as “View of Cape Comorin, the Kumla Kumari Pagoda…” and skilfully handled his finances.

Foote's grave is located in the graveyard of the Holy Trinity Church at Yercaud, Tamil Nadu. Nearby is the grave of his father-in-law Reverend Peter Percival, a scholar in Tamil and Telugu, who translated hundreds of Tamil proverbs into English, was a Registrar of the Madras University and Professor of Vernacular Literature in the Presidency College, Chennai.
 

The Hindu, 12th June 2012

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Ignore global warming at own cost

The small damages that we are doing to planet Earth on a daily basis are adding up to a catastrophe that is waiting to happen.But we don’t care simply because we don’t believe that life on the planet is going to die out any time soon

The forthcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20) between June 20 and June 22 has brought out the usual warnings of environmental doom. They have been greeted with the usual indifference: After all, there are seven billion of us now, and we’re all still eating. What could possibly go wrong?

The UN Environment Programme published its five-yearly Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5) saying that significant progress has been made on only four of 90 environmental goals that were adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. “If current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail”, warned UNEP head Achim Steiner, “then Governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation.” Yawn.

Meanwhile, a team of respected scientists warn that life on Earth may be on the way to an irreversible “tipping point”. Sure. Heard that one before, too.

Last week, one of the world’s two leading scientific journals, Nature, published a paper, ‘Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere’, pointing out that more than 40 per cent of the Earth’s land is already used for human needs. With the human population set to grow by a further two billion by 2050, that figure could soon exceed 50 per cent.

“It really will be a new world, biologically, at that point,” said the paper’s lead author, professor Anthony Barnofsky of the University of California, Berkeley. But Mr Barnofsky doesn’t go into the details of what kind of new world it might be. Scientists hardly ever do in public, for fear of being seen as panic-mongers. Besides, it’s a relatively new hypothesis, but it’s a pretty convincing one, and it should be more widely understood. Here’s how bad it could get.

The scientific consensus is that we are still on track for three degrees centigrade of warming (five degrees fahrenheit) by 2100, but that’s just warming caused by human greenhouse-gas emissions. The problem is that +3 degrees is well past the point where the major feedbacks kick in: Natural phenomena triggered by our warming, like melting permafrost and the loss of Arctic sea-ice cover, that will add to the heating and that we cannot turn off.

The trigger is actually around two degrees C (3.5 degrees F) higher average global temperature. After that we lose control of the process: Ending our own carbon-dioxide emissions would no longer be enough to stop the warming. We may end up trapped on an escalator heading up to +6 degrees C (+10.5 degrees F), with no way of getting off. And +6 degrees C gives you the mass extinction.

There have been five mass extinctions in the past 500 million years, when 50 per cent or more of the species then existing on the Earth vanished, but until recently the only people taking any interest in this were paleontologists, not climate scientists. They did wonder what had caused the extinctions, but the best answer they could come up was “climate change”. It wasn’t a very good answer.

Why would a warmer or colder planet kill off all those species? The warming was caused by massive volcanic eruptions dumping huge quantities of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years. But it was very gradual and the animals and plants had plenty of time to migrate to climatic zones that still suited them. (That’s exactly what happened more recently in the Ice Age, as the glaciers repeatedly covered whole continents and then retreated again.)

There had to be a more convincing kill mechanism than that, and the paleontologists found one when they discovered that a giant asteroid struck the planet 65 million years ago, just at the time when the dinosaurs died out in the most recent of the great extinctions. So they went looking for evidence of huge asteroid strikes at the time of the other extinction events. They found none.

What they discovered was that there was indeed major warming at the time of all the other extinctions — and that the warming had radically changed the oceans.

The currents that carry oxygen-rich cold water down to the depths shifted so that they were bringing down oxygen-poor warm water instead, and gradually the depths of the oceans became anoxic: the deep waters no longer had any oxygen.

When that happens, the sulfur bacteria that normally live in the silt (because oxygen is poison to them) come out of hiding and begin to multiply. Eventually they rise all the way to the surface over the whole ocean, killing all the oxygen-breathing life. The ocean also starts emitting enormous amounts of lethal hydrogen sulfide gas that destroy the ozone layer and directly poison land-dwelling species. This has happened many times in the Earth’s history.

Don’t let it worry you. We’ll all be safely dead long before it could happen again: The earliest possible date for a mass extinction, assuming that the theory is right and that we continue down our present track with emissions, would be well into the next century.
 

The Pioneer, 13th June 2012

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Gandhi Foundation awards Sen

Two Indian human rights activists — Binayak Sen and Bulu Imam — will be honoured with the International Peace Award given by the Gandhi Foundation at the House of Lords.

The award was created in 1998 by Surur Hoda and Diana Schumacher with the support of the foundation's president, Lord Attenborough. The intention is to honour individuals and groups who have advocated and practised Gandhian non-violence but who have received little recognition for doing so.

Sen has reportedly been handed his passport by a Chhattisgarh court to enable him to travel to London.

Jharkhand-based human rights activist Bulu Imam is the convenor of the Hazaribagh chapter of INTACH since 1987, and has been involved in various campaigns.
 

The Times of India, 13th June 2012

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ASI turns 150

The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh recently launched a year-long programme to commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). On this momentous occasion, Dr Singh expressed his pleasure to be present on this event to commemorate and celebrate the 150th year of the ASI. He said this historic institution has made an outstanding contribution to revealing our country’s rich historical and cultural heritage and protecting it for our posterity.

He further added, “We owe much of our understanding of our pre-modern past to the extensive exploratory works, excavations and careful documentation done by the ASI. The Harappan civilisation would have remained unknown but for the extensive work done by this organisation. The ASI has, over the years, developed high capabilities in exploration, excavation, conservation, environmental upgradation and research and publication. Yet, archaeology today, more than ever before, is expanding its frontiers — both in terms of its philosophy and in terms of methodology.”Releasing a set of 12 books, the prime minister said, “I’m happy that the ASI is implementing some of the recommendations made by the Central Advisory Board of Archaeology relating to epigraphy, archival management and record keeping publications.” He also commended the ASI for reviving its prestigious journal Ancient India after a gap of almost 50 years. The PM also released a set of commemorative postage stamp to mark the occasion in the presence of Minister of Human Resources Development and Telecommunications Kapil Sibal who said that India Post has been happy to do its bit in generating awareness, the stamps released depict some of the images associated with the excavation. The first day cover depicts some of the icons of Indian architecture and cultural heritage. These stamps and first day cover will play the role of paper ambassador. He also unveiled the foundation plaque for ASI’s permanent headquarters, which will come up at 24, Tilak Marg. Five eminent archaeologists were also felicitated on the occasion
 

The Pioneer, 13th June 2012

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Delhi water crisis grows as Haryana cuts supply

Haryana has tightened the water squeeze on Delhi. On Wednesday, it curtailed supply to the capital's Wazirabad pond where the level fell from the mandated 674.5 feet to 672.8 feet. The city has been reeling under shortage of water since two weeks back when Haryana reduced its supply to the Haiderpur water treatment plant. Large parts of the city, including south, southwest, west and NDMC areas, are parched.

The capital has been demanding its fair share of 80 million gallons daily from the newly-constructed Munak canal but Haryana has refused to turn the tap any further, claiming that Delhi is withdrawing more than its allocated share. Delhi officials have taken up the matter with the prime minister and are even contemplating approaching Supreme Court.

If Delhi had only taken the task of reducing its transmission losses seriously, the crisis won't be so grave. An IIT-D report claims that these losses are a massive 40%. By DJB's own admission, the water it loses through leaks and other unaccountable means is 30% of what's available. With a total of 845 MGD available for supply, the city it seems gets just 510-590 MGD.

For now, Delhi can only blame Haryana. "Against the mandated 425 cusec, Haryana has been supplying only 385 cusec for the Haiderpur plant for the past several days. Haryana is right in saying that they are maintaining the canal level but they are actively restricting the water from entering Delhi's system. Production at the plant has dropped by18 MGD and more than a lakh people have been affected. We have approached the Upper Yamuna River Board and ministry of water resources for help," said DJB officials.

Senior DJB officials claim the situation this year is actually better than 2011 and more areas have been brought into the network. "Since 2011, 783 unauthorised colonies with a few lakh people have been covered by the water network. However, there has been no increase in supply during this period," said an official.

Independent experts say Delhi, which is already enjoying an average of 229 litres per capita per day (lpcd) against a standard of 135 lpcd, is not really short of water. "There are undoubtedly huge inequities in the supply system but if all leaks were to be plugged and DJB adopted a more efficient system of supply, a lot of the water worries would be over," said a Central Ground Water Authority official.

IIT Delhi's civil engineering department's analysis of unaccounted for water (UFW) in Delhi says it is as high as 40%. In fact, professor AK Mittal of the IIT team claims the figure is probably higher than 40%. "I would say there is no water shortage in Delhi. The gap between how much water is produced and how much reaches the consumer is huge. More than 40% of the water doesn't reach consumers. Leakage is only one reason. There are many others like tankers, illegal connections, theft, maintenance problems etc," points out Mittal. According to Delhi Jal Board estimates, however, we lose around 30% of the water to leakages and other transmission losses.

Despite severe shortage of water, recycled sewage water which can be extensively used for non-drinking purposes is not utilized. The IIT team is currently working on a research project to asses the potential of using treated sewage water in Delhi. "We don't use even 10% of the sewage we generate. At least institutions like the railways, DMRC and industries can use recycled sewage water. Even if we utilize 50% of sewage water we generate, it will help meet the demand-supply gap," adds Mittal. He add that Delhi's water charges were much lower compared to Chennai, Bangalore or Mumbai which only encourages wastage.

Every summer it's the same story. Swathes of the city go dry, Delhi fights with Haryana and UP for more supplies, but nothing really is done to see that the situation gets better the next year. For starters, we suggest that the Delhi government make rainwater harvesting compulsory for all buildings - commercial and residential. Sheila Dikshit should put her foot down and ensure that this happens. It may not fully solve Delhi's water crisis, but will certainly mitigate the problem. If cities like Chennai and Hyderabad can make rainwater harvesting compulsory, why can't Delhi?
 

The Times of India, 14th June 2012

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Rainwater wasted; government needs to act fast

How much is 69 billion litres of water? By a rough calculation it is equivalent to nearly 9 million water tankers - the same ones that can be seen trundling about supplying precious water to Delhiites in a swathe of residential colonies.

But, 69 billion litres of water is the amount of water that rains on Delhi's rooftops every year. The calculation is simple - take Delhi's average rainfall at about 490 millimetres, and multiply it with the total rooftop area of about 140 square kilometres as estimated by some experts.

In a city where the search for water, especially this blistering summer, has become an almost life-anddeath struggle for thousands of families, this bounty from the skies almost seems unbelievable. But it is as true and real as the dry taps in Delhi today.

Of course it is not as simple as that. All water cannot be collected from rooftops. Some will be absorbed by the surface, some will evaporate in the heat, some will get contaminated or spill away. But the numbers do give an idea of the immense potential of rainwater harvesting in Delhi.

And this is just harvesting from the rooftops. It is only 10 per cent of the total rain that falls on Delhi in an average monsoon. The total volume of water that comes down as rain is a mind-boggling figure, about 690 billion litres. Even a 25 per cent usage of this would go a long way in recharging the fast depleting groundwater.

With a population of over 138 million at last count Delhi is said to have an average daily demand of about 1100 million gallons or about 5 billion litres. The supply gap this summer is about 465 million gallons or over 2 billion litres per day.

Had all the pronouncements and declarations by Delhi government on making rainwater harvesting mandatory in commercial and residential constructions been implemented, at least some edge would have been taken off this present water scarcity.

Those few who have installed a rainwater harvesting system in their homes vouch for its effectiveness. One such person is Ruchi Singhal, an interior decorator, who got a system installed in 2004 with the help of theCentre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based environmental advocacy institution. "I have a 3800 litres capacity tank under the driveway connected to the roof through pipes. There is arrangement to take the overflow from this tank to a discharge well which takes the excess water down to the groundwater table ," says Singhal. She uses the collected water for nondrinking purposes like washing cars and watering the garden.

Apart from rooftop harvesting, rainwater can very effectively be used for recharging precious groundwater, saysSushmita Sengupta of CSE. The total built-up area of Delhi is around 50 per cent according to Sengupta. This could yield a huge amount of water through drainage area recharge or a micro-watershed treatment. In both of these, run-off water (that is, water not absorbed by open ground but runs off and finally ends up in drains and the river or evaporates) is trapped either on the surface through check dams or channeled to well-like structures nearby so that it goes into the groundwater after crude filtering. All this would ease some of the crisis that occurs every summer in the capital. For a long-term solution, there is a need to quickly finish various projects like the Renuka, Kishau and Lakhwar Vyasi dams and the canals linking them to Delhi. This will require sorting out watersharing issues with surrounding states, as with the existing Yamuna, Beas and Ganga water sharing systems, says Dilip Fouzdar, an expert on water resources management. "The capital's water needs have to be treated with priority and this requires cooperation between various states, under the stewardship of the Union government," he says.
 

The Economic Times, 14th June 2012

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Five Raj monuments recommended for world heritage status

Five monuments from Rajasthan have been recommended to UNESCO for world heritage status.

The five monuments are Ranthambore Fort, Gagrone Fort Jhalawar fort, Chittorgarh Fort, Amber Fort and Kumbhalgarh Fort.

"We have forwarded the names of five monuments to the World Heritage Committee," Rajasthan Tourism Minister Bina Kak said here today.

The final decision for the approval of these sites will be taken up at the World Heritage Session to be held at Saint Petersburg from June 24 to July 7.

These nominations will be discussed by the Advisory. Bodies and World Heritage Committee during the session, she said.

The Minister said that some more forts from Rajasthan like Jaisalmer fort will be submitted to the Evaluation Committee for the World Heritage status.

All the five monuments have unique features. While Kumbhalgarh Fort in Rajsamand have the second-longest continuous wall after the Great Wall of China, Gagron Fort in Jhalawar is the only fort which is surrounded by water on four sides.

Amber Fort in Jaipur is known for a distinct architectural style which has both Mughal and Rajput influence.

Chittorgarh Fort is famous for its historicity. And Sawai Madhopur Fort in Ranthambhore is totally surrounded by forests.
 

The Millennium Post, 14th June 2012

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Tiger, tiger online

A new conservationist website hopes to make a big difference

Against a backdrop of big cat pictures, conservationist and wildlife filmmaker Shekar Dattatri talks about Conservation India, a one-of-its-kind non-profit and non-commercial portal. The website, with its prowling tiger logo, was recently launched with wildlife photographer and entrepreneur Ramki Sreenivasan.

Conservation India aims to become a one-stop shop for anyone interested in conservation. “This isn’t just a collection of articles on wildlife. If you’re interested in conservation and asking yourself what you can do to help, this site is for you,” says Shekar. “Our motto is ‘enabling conservation action’ and we focus on empowering people with knowledge.” Many people want to help with conservation but typically, they confuse animal welfare with conservation. Also, enthusiasts need to be sensitised to the many wildlife laws that are in place in order to react adequately. This is what the website seeks to do.

After two years of research and preparation, the site went live a few months ago. “Often, people think wildlife conservation is all about getting into a jeep and roaring off into the jungle,” says Shekar, “but it also involves boring things like paperwork.”

A wildlife enthusiast and photographer for many years, Ramki was disillusioned by what he saw. “As a photographer or tourist, you are just a mute spectator,” he says. The team realised that the best way to get conservation practices across is to codify best practices on a public domain. “It becomes accessible and becomes repeatable. We opted for a website that is minimalist and to the point.”

The website has an exhaustive array of articles, essays and interviews. “We’re looking at experts in every domain. For example, if it’s a case study about someone who has fought against roads running through national parks, we will bring them on board to write about it,” says Shekar. Contributors include Dr. Ullas Karanth, Belinda Wright and Praveen Bhargav. “The portal will be a repository of information,” says Shekar, with static content as well as dynamic content like news and pictures.

With 10,000 unique visitors already, most of them Indian, the response has been overwhelming so far, say the two conservationists. The Conservation India team will soon be holding workshops, talks, film screenings and more. Visit Conservation India at www.conservationindia.org

What it has

Featured images – where public can send in images relevant to conservation

Conservation toolkit – with information about conservation, how to start a campaign, handle the media, make videos and constitutional imperatives

Topics – with insights into different aspects of wildlife like tourism or illegal trade

Q&A – where people can pose questions to experts

Publications – where relevant research papers will be edited and uploaded
 

The Hindu, 14th June 2012

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Metro diggers find Mughal mosque?

Has a long-lost Shahjahan-era Mughal mosque been found by Delhi Metro diggers? That's what chief minister Sheila Dikshit wants the Archaeological Survey of India to confirm. And her apprehensions are justified as locals have claimed that diggers have unearthed remains of the 17th century Akbarabadi Masjid — a claim that DMRC has denied.

The CM held a meeting with senior officers of DMRC, chief secretary P K Tripathi and Matia Mahal MLA Shoaib Iqbal on Wednesday. "We cannot hurt anyone's feelings. As ASI is the expert on the subject we will request them to confirm it. DMRC will then take action in accordance with ASI findings," Dikshit told TOI.

A senior government officer said ASI experts have been asked to be present at the digging site to ensure that if there are any mosque ruins, those are protected. "No one can deny a mosque stood there and was demolished later," said the officer. The mosque was constructed by Shah Jahan's wife Akbarabadi Begum and was situated in the Netaji Subhash Park area near Jama Masjid. But the British demolished it after the Revolt of 1857.

Iqbal made a presentation to the CM and requested that the site be handed over to ASI and other agencies for further exploration and restoration of the mosque. He also asked the government to tell DMRC to stop work at the site.

Conservationists had earlier raised concerns about the location of Jama Masjid Metro station as it was close to the place where the mosque once stood. Archaeology experts had also said DMRC's excavation would ruin all archaeological evidence of the mosque. Plans to excavate the remains of the mosque and bring it to the surface were initially part of MCD's Jama Masjid redevelopment plan. But the plan never took off.
 

The Times of India, 14th June 2012

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A unique observatory to study quakes in Koyna-Warna area

Physical and mechanical properties of rocks before, during and after a quake will be measured

What kind of physical and chemical changes take place in the earth's crust during an earthquake? How does the temperature change and will there be some melting of the rock?

Answers to such fundamental questions are expected from the results of a unique Rs.300-crore project under which scientists will drill a seven-km deep borehole into an earthquake zone for an on-the-spot measurement of various physical and chemical changes.

Under the project — Deep Scientific Drilling into Earthquake zone of Koyna-Warna region (Maharashtra) — seismologists and other scientists from the National Geophysical Research Institute (CSIR-NGRI) plan to establish a deep borehole observatory in the seismically-active intra-plate fault zone in Koyna-Warna region.

Former NGRI Director and currently a member of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Prof. Harsh K. Gupta is the advisor of the project.

Continuous monitoring of this borehole at seven-km depth would enable measurement of physical and mechanical properties of rocks, hydrology, temperature and other parameters in the near-field of earthquakes before, during and after their occurrence.

“It is expected to lead to a better understanding of the mechanics of earthquake faulting and the physics of reservoir trigger mechanism” said the project leader, Dr. N. Purnachandra Rao.

He said the Koyna-Warna deep drill hole would be the first of its kind in the world to directly investigate earthquakes in a stable continental crust, unlike the deep borehole drilled on a plate boundary fault In San Andreas Fault in California.

Besides, that was up to a depth of three km, “whereas what we are going to get here is the representative earthquakes of the region within a depth of seven kilometres,” Dr. Rao added.

Pointing out that Koyna-Warna region was known for Reservoir Triggered Seismicity (RTS), he said that triggered earthquakes have been occurring regularly in an area of 20 x 30 sq.km ever since the impounding in Koyna reservoir in 1962. While the largest earthquake in that region was of 6.3 magnitude on Richter scale, hundreds of others of varying magnitude have been recorded.

“Since there is no other source of seismic activity within 50 km of the Koyna-Warna region, it forms an excellent natural laboratory for earthquake studies,” Dr. Rao said.

Explaining the importance of the project, he said so far scientists have been drawing indirect inference from measurements on the surface of the earth. “We have been measuring from the surface and trying to understand what is happening inside. But now we will measure right at the spot.”

This would be extremely valuable knowledge for whole world and has the potential to facilitate earthquake forecasts in future.

A seismic network of 15 sensors operating in the region for the last six years helped the scientists to precisely locate the area where the earthquakes are occurring.

“This would help us to plan the exact location for drilling”, Dr. Rao said. While earthquakes normally occur in the crust down to 35 km depth, the drilling could be done only up to a depth of 12 km with the present technology.

Dr. Rao said that most of the earthquakes in that region were occurring within seven km and there was no need to go beyond that depth. Besides, they would be drilling into hard granite rock and the cost of the drilling would go up exponentially as they go down further.

“We are not simply drilling up to seven km. It is going to be a permanent observatory and we will be monitoring for several years,” he said.

Koyna-Warna region was like a laboratory where earthquakes were constantly occurring within a shallow depth range. “It makes it feasible for drilling and setting up an observatory for earthquake studies,” he added.

Dr. Rao said NGRI would be installing seismometers, temperature loggers, strain meters (to measure deformities in the rock) and some instruments to measure physical parameters like density all along the borehole at different depths up to seven km.

He observed that in plate boundary zones where the earthquakes were usually extensive and deeper, it would be difficult to pinpoint an area for drilling.

In a bid to supplement these studies, a new institute, Seismological Research Laboratory was being established by the Ministry of Earth Sciences at Karad, Maharashtra. It is planned to develop into a centre of excellence in earthquake and related studies.
 

The Hindu, 14th June 2012

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Shoddy facelift plan has left Connaught Place with scars: Experts

Since its construction during the second decade of the 20th century, Connaught Place has seen a lot of ups and downs. However, the elaborate redevelopment plan of the area by NDMC has not worked out as envisioned and many conservationists and historians feel that an "unplanned'' redevelopment of the market has compromised its heritage and authenticity. A number of experts said the damage done to the heritage complex was beyond repair.

New subways, improved pathways and restored building facade of all blocks of inner and outer circles were planned in 2007 and were to be over before the Commonwealth Games in October 2010. But ongoing construction can still be seen at various places. The plan has hit many roadblocks as well from agencies like Delhi Urban Art Commission which protested against the use of granite for the flooring and insisted that the original material, sandstone, be used. Conservationists said sandstone should be used and in floral patterns as designed by Lutyens while traders wanted granite as it is long-lasting and looks better. A mix of granite and sandstone has been used in the inner flooring.

Architects and conservationists say the biggest flaw in the plan from a historical perspective was ignoring the need to keep CP's originality. "CP has changed so much in the past few years that there were discussions to drop it from Delhi's nomination dossier for a world heritage site. Many experts felt CP had been compromised too much and no longer had that uniqueness,'' said a source.

Historians say the plan was to restore CP, not reconstruct it, and this basic fact has been forgotten. "The biggest problem with the plan was that no method was followed — neither conservation or development. Whatever was the most expensive solution was chosen in an ill-planned manner. So many subways were never needed which were hurriedly dug up and then re-filled, urban space has been destroyed as have linkages to Central Park,'' said a top conservation architect.

AGK Menon, convener of INTACH Delhi Chapter, says all that now remains of CP is a skeleton. "The authentic fabric of CP was destroyed, plaster and flooring changed. It was not treated as a heritage zone and was made into a new place. What has been done to CP cannot be salvaged now.''

A senior ASI official says too-many changes have been made in CP, which should never be allowed in a protected heritage precinct. "CP is living heritage and should have been maintained as such. Why change the floorings? Sandstone has been used in Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri and Red Fort for centuries and is still firm so how can it be damaged here? Even the pillars and windows have not been restored properly," says an official.

While NDMC declines to comment, senior DUAC member Satish Khanna says there was no problem in facade restoration of CP and the only problem is traffic. "Parking in CP is another issue that has not been resolved," he says.
 

The Times of India, 14th June 2012

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Zipping up the hills

Delhi is amazing; the only thing more amazing than Delhi is escaping Delhi. A decade of motorcycling across thousands of kilometres tells me that a weekend definitely offers possibilities way beyond our usual rattle.

It could offer a dream come true.

Think about it — curvy forest roads for starters, a main course of mouth-watering mountain roads dancing like snakes, Chalia dancers with bagpipers and intoxicating drums for dessert. To top it all, a post-dessert service could take us swimming in a haunted lake.

James, an architect from UK, left his cushy Gurgaon hotel and took a leap of faith with me and another colleague to experience the rustic roads. At four in the morning on a Saturday, three of us mounted on our Royal Enfield bikes and left the corporate town behind, thumping out a pretty resonance. An elephant retiring from a rich Delhi wedding greeted us on our way.

Now James is an experienced rider but most of his riding has been in Europe. Used to high-speed and lane discipline, he found our random lane changing, blind overtaking love affair with the highway a bit “interesting.” Adding to it, tractors and oxcarts, and drivers of call centre SUVs with hand-on-horn and foot-on-accelerator was daunting, but he soon found his technique flowing through the traffic guided by us.

By late morning, our band of riders had hit the welcome byway of the Jim Corbett National Park. The landscape changed sharply, and heat dissipated with altitude. The efforts of the previous few hours seemed worth it. Our bikes kept up both as a comfortable cruiser on the highway and as a steering and skidding dirt bike. We pressed further on largely empty roads through beautiful jungles. We visited an old friend, a holy man living in the jungle, roamed down the mall road in Nainital, and retired for the day at Surya Goan, a hidden village overlooking a beautiful symphony of seven interconnected lakes.

The next day began with Kayaking in the Haunted Lake amidst flocks of paradise, flycatchers, kingfishers and sunbirds. We rode up a gravel track to Sarghakhet. The evening treated us to a magnificent sunset across the mountains.

The dinner was entirely from produce of the few acres surrounding the homes of my farmer friends, and we all greatly admired such self-reliance. Our return journey on Monday started with a glorious ride swooping through fragrant pine forests and on narrow bridges crossing streams at the bottoms of steep valleys.

The Unexplored Kumaon
Up for some curves on the Himalayan roads? Yes, we heard you — ample pit-stops for photographs, smokes and so many explorations en route. And, sometimes just for the heck of it. So, on the table is peaceful environment, a sense of pride for the lifelong friendships you forge with nature, and its inhabitants, the mountain people, and a harmony to be broken only by a drift of breeze, or a far cry of a hyena from the womb of the jungle.

The Highland Himalayas
Villages invisible to naked eye, yogis that survive on air, yetis, and the snow leopards. We don’t promise, we don’t refuse. Still up for it? Well, come over at your own risk. They are hills that rise over 4,000 metres, immediately north of the Mahabharata Range located at the Main Central Thrust fault zone, where the greater Himalayas begin. However, to the human spirit and the soul, since time immemorial, they have remained a source of inspiration and power to go on.

Ride to unsung Haveli
In 16th century, when the Istimrar-dari (a category higher than Jagirdars of the then Rajputana) constructed a magnificent haveli in Rajasthan, little did they know that this palace would become a tourist spot in future. The haveli offers a relatively small ride from Delhi, and offers you an awesome palette of stuff you can do here — the youngest wildlife sanctuary of India, luxury as per choice, heritage villages in vicinity, bicycle rides, and all of it in an area rarely frequented by tourists.

Road to Manali
Ever heard of Manali? We did too. Then what we did was — we rode to Manali. It was a great group of people who loved riding, and food, and fun, and rivers, and mountains, and all of that, and when they came back, they urged that we share this trip with our guests and visitors, and friends. So, here we are, and here is the circuit we welcome you to: Delhi to Solan to Chail — Chail to Rohru — Rohru to Rampur — Rampur to Tattapani to Chindi — Chindi to Rivalsar — Rivalsar to Manali — Manali to Delhi.

The Golden Triangle
A circuit popular with both ace-riders and novices, the Golden Triangle offers not a lot in terms of the number of kilometres you cover, but is most suited to the weekend-rider. Not much hardship, not many testing stretches, but great fun, food, history, photography and colours are embedded in this short ride. Broadly, but not quite that simply, we start usually in Delhi, ride out to Jaipur, touch Agra, Sikri-de-Fatehpur, and shuttle back to Delhi. Short and sweet, not much to say, not much to ride, but a great trip that you will cherish for years to come.
 

The Asian age, 15th June 2012

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Corbett reserve faces a host of intractable problems

Corbett Tiger Reserve may boast of the world’s highest density of tigers but it is beset by a host of problems that may soon see it lose its premier status. CTR’s director Rajan Mishra admits that CTR has witnessed an intensification of man-animal conflict with as many as eight humans being killed by a man-eater in 2010.

One of the main reasons for this conflict is the massive construction of hotels and luxury villas blocking of the entire eastern boundary with only two passages available for wildlife to approach the Kosi river. Joseph Vattakaven, tiger coordinator for WWF-India pointed out that tigers are constantly spilling over outside tiger reserves and presently 13 tigers are using the Kosi river corridor to cross over to the Ramnagar forests. The WWF has employed 86 traps on either side of this corridor which show the corridor is being used by several animals, including elephants. CTR’s other problems relate to the removal of the villages of Chukam and Sunderbhal which are cutting off the animals access to the Ramnagar forests. The problem is that although these villages are not located in core tiger habitat, the National Tiger Conservation Authority realises only too well that the buffer area is also rich in wildlife. “The entire Sunderkhal area, comprising a 10-km stretch, has been encroached upon and presently has 144 families living there. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had made an exception and agreed to grant compensation of `10 lakh per family even though they were not in the core area,” said Mr Mishra. “Removing the villages of Chukam is an easier task since they are inside a territorial division of a tiger reserve area,” Mr Mishra explained. But though villagers from both these villages are clamouring to be relocated, the NTCA has yet to act on the ground. Another major problem facing CTR is that stone and sand quarry is no longer restricted to the Kosi river but is being done in stretches of the Ramganga river as well.
 

The Asian age, 15th June 2012

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Illegal houses blight ASI sites

Builders in the Hauz Khas area are minting money by constructing buildings on unauthorised lands which come under the periphery of archeological monuments.

Many illegally constructed houses are flourishing, especially in the Hauz Khas area of south Delhi, as a number of ASI protected monuments are based there.

In the latest case reported from the Hauz Khas area, the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) lodged a complaint against three persons for illegally starting the construction of a new house in the periphery of Moth ki Masjid, in Hauz Khas area, which is an ASI protected monument. A three-storey building is being constructed within 30 metres from the Masjid. The offence is punishable as per the AM & ASR Act 1958 I rules 1959 and punishment with imprisonment of two years or fine up to Rs 1,00,000 or both is liable.

A case under monument protection act was registered against Subhash, Sunder and Narender, the owners of house number 117. A senior police official said, “Five persons have been arrested in this regard.”

Police claim that construction work has been stopped after the arrest of the concerned persons. However, on doing a reality check, it was found that construction work was in full swing in the area and the builder had also rented out the apartments, which have already been constructed in the three-storey building.

A resident of the area said, “Police have registered a case against the owner of the house. The construction was stopped for sometime but it has resumed soon after police officials left. The builder has rented out the flats at Rs 15,000 already.”

ASI, in its complaint to the police, said, any unauthorised construction or additions to or alteration of existing building was prohibited or regulated area of the centrally protected monument is an offence as per the AM & ASR Act. Gazette of India, July 4, 1992 declared areas up to 100 metres from the protected limits and further beyond up to 200 metres near or adjoining protected monument as prohibited and regulated areas, respectively for the purpose of both mining operation and construction.

It is a common scene in the Capital to see houses constructed in the periphery of archeological monuments. This, however, is illegal according to the laws of the Archeological Survey of India, but the builder mafias pay no heed to it.

FLOUTING RULES

  • Many illegally constructed houses are flourishing, especially in the Hauz Khas area of south Delhi, as a number of ASI protected monuments are based there
  • A three-storey building is being constructed within 30 metres from the Masjid
  • Police claim that construction work has been stopped after the arrest of the persons concerned. However, on doing a reality check, it was found that construction work was in full swing in the area and the builder had also rented out the apartments, which have already been constructed in the three-storey building
The Pioneer, 15th June 2012

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Timeless beauty of steam locomotives through a veil of vapour

To take visitors to an era gone by, the Indian Steam Railway Society is for the first time hosting a special photo exhibition at the All-India Fine Arts & Cultural Society here on Rafi Marg.

Spanning a period of around two centuries, steam locomotives all over the world have generated huge excitement and remain a matter of national pride and nostalgia for regular rail passengers.

Steam locomotives become a casualty due to the rapid strides made by the Railways. When Railways across the world introduced fast-paced electrical trains, they in a way erased steam locomotives. While the introduction of electrical and diesel locomotives was part of the modernisation process, lovers of steam locomotives were outraged and offended.

Reviving
As a result, the Indian Steam Railway Society was formed by enthusiasts led by Romesh Chandra Sethi in 1999. A non-profit body, it comprises not only railway employees but all those interested in reviving and resurrecting steam locomotives.

According to Society member S. K. Kashyap, the steam locomotives came to a grinding halt when the last steam engine was discontinued on the broad gauge in 1995 and on the metre gauge in 2000. The only silver lining was a limited run of steam locomotives on the hill railways and on commemorative runs.

However, Mr. Kashyap, who ran steam locomotives then and the Delhi Metro Airport Express line now, is not despondent and gloomy over the present scenario. “We still have steam locomotives running between Kalka and Katlighat. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is also a steam locomotive.”

The revival of the Fairy Queen, the oldest working steam locomotive in the world, in 1997 was a matter of pride and enthusiasm for all steam connoisseurs. It was certified by Guinness World Records to be the oldest operational locomotive. It was the turning point in the second coming of steam locomotives in the country. Its engine was manufactured at Leeds in 1855 by the British and it is a matter of great pride that it continues to run between Delhi and Alwar between October and March..

Titled “Veiled in Vapour”, the exhibition showcases a picture of the majestic Fairy Queen and 39 colour and black-and-white pictures of other steam locomotives. Some pictures are a collector's item -- a steam locomotive chugging and puffing uphill, a passenger train whizzing past a station and how passengers were enthusiastic about them! The exhibition seeks to make visitors understand the emotional bond between passengers and steam locomotives.

One black-and-white picture is of a passenger train with the majestic Taj Mahal in the background. The white marble mausoleum designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has been superimposed in the picture.

These pictures have been captured by two Indians, Ashok Sharma and Vikas Arya. Berd Seiler, Heinrich Hubbert, Peter Jordan, Guy Brigden, Damsgard Hamen and D. Barry, have also gone out of their way to capture the timeless beauty of steam locomotives across the country on their camera.

The exhibition, which opened on Friday, comes to an end this Sunday.
 

The Hindu, 17th June 2012

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Epical comparisons

The Purana Quila in Delhi is surrounded by both history and legend, but R.V. Smith extends the reach of its story by finding similarities between the epics of India and Greece

The Purana Quila never ceases to amaze students of history. The Delhi High Court order last week directing the mahant of Kunti Mata temple to vacate the area occupied by him and his family for the past three decades is the latest development in the fort's 3,000-year-old history. Kunti Devi, the mother of the five Pandava brothers, used to worship at this temple when Yudhishtir was ruling in Hastinapur. The quila was a part of his capital of Indraprastha that is supposed to have been an Ilium of sorts (where the Trojan king Priam — who, like Dhiritrashtra, also had 100 sons — ruled). One sometimes wonders at its similarity with the Purana Quila, which was not known by that name then.

The war between the Trojans and the Greeks took place some 3,000 years ago and that too over a woman, Helen of Sparta, just as beautiful as Draupadi whom the Kauravas, the cousins of the Pandavas, had insulted. In the case of Helen, it was her seduction by Paris of Troy that had led her husband Menelaus to form the Greek confederacy for the invasion of Ilium. Helen was finally taken away after a 10-year war in which Paris and nearly all his 100 brothers had been killed. Something akin to the fate of the Kauravas. Aeneas, one of the surviving Trojans, went on to found a principality which later gave birth to Rome. Just as the surviving Pandava descendant (Parikshit) went on to establish a new kingdom. So to draw a comparison between the Purana Quila and Ilium is not far-fetched. The other Greek classic, The Odysseyby Homer, on the wanderings of the hero Ulysses, corresponds with the 14-year the exile of Rama and his return after the rescue of the kidnapped Sita to Ayodhya. Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, was also united with him (after being harassed by several suitors) after a decade.

When one visits the Purana Quila, all these thoughts cross the mind. Kunti built a temple in it to honour her favourite gods and goddesses, but no temple of hers dedicated to Surya, the sun god, exists there. It was Surya who fathered her firstborn, Karna, a child born out of wedlock, whom shame prevented her from publicly acknowledging. But just before the fratricidal Mahabharata war, she did try to draw from him a promise that, fighting on the Kaurava side, he would not harm Arjuna and his brothers, revealing that they were Karna's half brothers. This sad meeting could have taken place at the Purana Quila.

Another mother-son encounter related to this war was when Gandhari tried to make Duryodhana invincible by passing her powerful gaze on all parts of his body. Only the middle portion modestly covered with a cloth remained unprotected. ( The Greek hero of the Trojan War, Achilles, was also made invincible, in his infancy, by his fairy-mother, who dipped him in the river of hell, Styx, except for the heel held in her palm. ) The mahant of Kunti Devi temple claims to be its hereditary priest. The 108th mahant, Pandit Ghasiram Bharadwaj, renovated the temple in 1915. The present pujari is his descendant whose claim of residential rights was rejected by the High Court which, however, allowed him to continue offering daily puja in the mandir as of old..

The Bharadwajs could have been ministering at the temple almost since the time of the Mahabharata. They take their name from Rishi Bharadwaj (son of the planetary ruler Brihaspati) of the Ramayana and Mahabarata times. Isn't it exciting to know that such a long tradition has been continuing at the Purana Quila which, in its present form owes its inception to Humayun, the second Mughal ruler, who named his fort Dinpanah — built at the site of the Pandava citadel. The fort was rebuilt by Sher Shah Suri after he had defeated Humayaun but the ousted ruler returned to recapture Delhi after spending 15 years in exile in Persia. He died a few months later after a fall from the steps of the Sher Mandal in the fort, which continued to remain in the control of his descendants till the time of Akbar Shah II, father of Bahadur Shah Zafar, who unfortunately had control only over the Red Fort.

So when you see the Purana Quila next, try to remember that it is not only linked to the Mahabharata but also in a way to the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epics written at about the very time the fort took shape in brick and mortar. The temple of Kunti and its mahant of course, are there to lend credence to the events of long, long ago. Surely Purana Quila in word and deed.
 

The Hindu, 18th June 2012

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Planting bliss on the terrace

Growing grapes, guavas and pomegranates in polythene bags and having seasonal winter flowers bloom in peak summers, and that too on the terrace of a house in North Delhi may sound outlandish to many, but not to Madan Gopal Kohli

While the idea of growing grapes, guavas and pomegranates on the terrace of a house might seem odd to many, for Madan Gopal Kohli this only marks the fruition of a passion for gardening which has made him innovate and derive results like few could imagine.

While his terrace garden which is spread over nearly 50 square metres at C-8/118A in Keshavpuram is a treat for anyone who loves gardening, the hundreds of plants also speak volumes about the effort that Mr. Kohli puts into nurturing and saving them in the searing heat.

The terrace is a veritable feast for the eyes. Plants in baskets, old bottles and even polythene bags vie for space here. A former defence personnel, Mr. Kohli knows the art of spacing and placing them really well.

His efforts over the past 29 years have also fetched him four recognitions from the Limca Book of Records. In 2008 a two-year-mint (pudina) plant hanging from a pot had reached a length of 2.18 metres; then in 2010 he grew the tallest marigold plant in his terrace garden to a height of 1.96 metres and only this year a cosmos planted by him in April 2011 in a pot reached a height of six feet. Apart from a mango leaf in his garden had grown 16 inches long and six inches wide and fetched him recognition..

So how does he manage to keep the plants healthy and strong in the extreme weather of Delhi? Mr. Kohli insists it requires a lot of discipline and careful tending. “I water and tend to them for two-and-a-half hours in the morning and then again for about two hours in the evening. Apart from the sun and wind, I also have to protect them from monkeys and birds.”

But it is the effort in taking buckets full of water to the plants which is most demanding. Giving a tip, he said: “I have always ensured that the phenyle water that is used in mopping the house is also not wasted and put into the pots. It carries some mud and also keeps pests away.”

Another key to keeping the plants healthy is changing their mud and putting manure every six months..

Mr. Kohli believes in sharing the knowledge of experience he has gathered over the years and this is a reason why for the past 19 years he has been organising a mini-terrace flower show. The show attracts a fair number of visitors who all get to see how over 35 varieties of seasonal flowers, roses, ornamental plants, succulents, palms, cacti, bonsai, creepers, vegetables and fruit can be grown on a small terrace – provided there is a zeal for the job and the dedication and discipline that the hard work demands.
 

The Hindu, 18th June 2012

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Will Delhi become a World Heritage City?

So far, we have been looking at the city as a monument. But with the amount of insight we have gained from our research, it has forced us to look at the city as a city" said A.G.K. Menon, convenor of INTACH

The preoccupation to find a compelling argument weighs heavily on the table around which sits A.G.K. Menon, convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage's Delhi Chapter, and his colleague. Focussed arguments go back and forth between them inside the cool interiors of their office in Lodi Estate.

“Let us concentrate on criteria 4,” Mr. Menon's sharp voice is the only thing breaking the sleepy post-lunch lull. “Criteria 4 refers to excellence in town-planning although you should get the exact definition from UNESCO's website,” he cautions.

It is based on this criterion (to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history) that INTACH's preparing its final dossier containing the proposal for nominating the Capital as a World Heritage City.

“We need a powerful compelling argument to show that the heritage we have is of universal importance,” says the convenor, about a project that the Delhi Chapter has been dedicated to since August 2008. While earlier four areas were identified – Shahjahanabad, Lutyens' Delhi, Nizamuddin and Mehrauli – now only the first two will be nominated.

The arguments are quite straightforward. “No other city has two such diverse examples of heritage in one place – Mughal and British and both are being used today with almost the same intent as it was initially built for,” he says. “They also prove excellence in town planning. For instance, New Delhi is the fusion of the garden city movement and the city beautiful movement.”

A week ago, at a meeting of stakeholders presided over by Delhi Chief Secretary P. K. Tripathi that included representations from the Delhi Development Authority and the Archaeological Survey of India, there was strong endorsement that Delhi should become a World Heritage City.

After Ahmedabad's nomination to gain heritage city status in 2011, Delhi's nomination, the second in the country, also appears in the ‘tentative list' updated by UNESCO on May 22, 2012..

Yet, for the team at INTACH it has been a struggle to dispel some misconceptions among people where many perceive heritage to be an impediment. “Nominating the city is a celebratory act and this does not mean it needs to be restrictive,” says Mr. Menon.
 

The Hindu, 18th June 2012

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See saw: Gandhi's Post

Gandhi's Post
Artefacts related to Mahatma Gandhi have always aroused interest, especially since they serve as a key biographical resource for his life. Now, an upcoming auction in London will shed some light on the time Gandhi spent in South Africa, as seen through documents owned by Hermann Kallenbach, who is “arguably Gandhi's closest friend”. “Many thousand letters and documents” have been offered for sale by Sotheby's English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations section on July 10 and is estimated to fetch up to a whopping $1.1 million (approx Rs 6 crore). The collection, arranged in 18 files "housed in green document wallet", comes after another series of Gandhi's letters to Kallenbach, sold in 1986 by Sotheby's. Documents include business letters, papers related to his time in South Africa, correspondence with his family, Kallenbach's letters related to Gandhi's campaigns, and 287 photographs of Gandhi with his family

Singing Talent
Sa Re Ga Ma alum Abhilasha Chellam is all set to make a transition into playback singing. She will make her debut with the Marathi film, Dombar i, in which she will sing a duet with singer Anand Shinde. The film is being produced by Bapusaheb Karande and Prakash Orpe, and being directed by Sunil Waikar
 

The Indian Express, 19th June 2012

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Goa's grand old church to go green, shed asbestos

The Basilica of Bom Jesus, one of Goa's most revered churches, will soon have an eco-friendly roof -- thanks to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) which wanted visitors to the over 400-year-old building to have a "healthy" experience.

The massive asbestos roof on the imposing laterite stone building will be replaced by eco-friendly galvanised sheet.

The decision was taken on the recommendations of the ASI to ensure that tourists were not exposed to the risk of cancer due to exposure to asbestos, Savio Barretto of the Basilica of Bom Jesus told IANS.

"Last year, the ASI had done the roof work and replaced a lot of older sheets with new asbestos sheets. But in a recent meeting, officials informed us that people were protesting against the move and demanding that modern galvanised sheets be put up on the Basilica roof. We agreed," Barretto said.

"We were informed that asbestos is not eco-friendly and according to studies it could cause diseases like cancer," he said.

Built in 1604 and located a short distance from the capital Panaji, the Basilica of Bom Jesus attracts thousands of tourists and devotees every year.

Until recently, the roof of the church was covered by clay Mangalore tiles.

A few decades ago, heavy maintenance costs forced the authorities to switch from tiles and rafters to asbestos to cover the 300 sq mt wide roof of the church.

The Basilica contains mortal remains of the Spanish saint St. Francis Xavier who brought Christianity to the region. The Navarra-born saint is now the patron saint of Goa.

The Basilica is also recognised as a Unesco (United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation) world heritage site.

"We agreed to the idea of galvanised sheets because all such heritage buildings in the world have discarded asbestos as a building material. I believe that the modern material would be of great help as it is eco-friendly too," Barretto said
 

The Asian Age, 19th June 2012

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Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary’s 3-D model on Web soon

Here is some good news for nature lovers who want to explore the untouched bounties of city’s Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary. A digital elevation model of the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary would soon be accessible on the web.

The PEC University of Technology, conferred with the task to prepare a digital model of 26 square km Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary, has completed the work and the digital model or 3-D representation of the terrain’s surface would soon be made available to the general public.

To give a chance to the trekking and adventure lovers to explore the unique terrain, the UT Forest and Wildlife Department will shortly upload the digital model of the Wildlife Sanctuary on the official website of the UT Administration

Aimed at giving boost to the eco-tourism in the city, the move would also assist the Forest and Wildlife Department to conserve the wildlife in the Sanctuary. The department also plans to display the digital model outside the sanctuary to make all the trekking routes, placement of water bodies and gradient of the landscape easily accessible to the adventure lovers.

Confirming the same, the UT Chief Wildlife Warden, Santosh Kumar while talking to The Pioneer said: “The digital model of city’s Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary has been prepared by the PEC University of Technology.

He said: “A presentation regarding the same was given by the PEC recently and we had requested some changes in the digital elevated model of the Sanctuary. Now, the final digital model of the Sanctuary is complete and would soon be uploaded on the official website of the UT Administration.

“The digital model of the sanctuary would help the trekkers in exploring different trekking routes, water bodies, wildlife habitats and to observe the relative gradient of the landscape. Besides, it would also highlight the habitat of a particular wildlife species or the areas where the fire incidents are recurrent, assisting the authorities in improving the management of the forest area,” he added.
The digitalisation model would also view features like zoom in or out and map users can scan it in any direction and change the nature of information, considering the number of options given.

At present, there are around eight tracks under the ‘nature trails’ initiative of the department in the sanctuary. While seven tracks are from 5 km to 8 km, only one track is of two-and-half km. Maps of these eight ‘nature trails’ created to promote eco-tourism including Nepli inspection Hut to Kansal Log Hut, Kansal Loghut to Nepli gate, Nepli Gate to Nepli Inspection hut etc would also be displayed in the digital model.

Apparently, the administration is pulling out all the stops to make the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary easily approachable and a prominent spot in the City Beautiful.

The Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary forms the part of Sukhna Lake catchment area falling in Shivalik hills. It inhibits nine species of mammals and 63 species of birds.

The sanctuary spreading over an area of 26 sq km is inhabited by a large number of Sambars, peacocks and endangered species like spotted deer, porcupine, pangolin, wild pigs, cheetal.

As per the census report compiled by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2010, the Sanctuary has nearly 1,031 Sambars and 920 peacocks.

The wildlife habitat also houses wide variety of butterflies, moth, honey bee and other micro-organisms in abundance besides a variety of replies including snakes like cobra, rat snake, Common krait, Russell’s viper, Indian python and common monitor (Gho), freshwater turtle.

Last year, over 10,000 people had visited the Sanctuary. In 2008, nearly 10,733 people visited the Sanctuary while in 2009, 10,828 had visited it. In 2010, the statistics had descended to 8,154.
 

The Pioneer, 19th June 2012

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Artificial lake forms in Himachal's Spiti, tourists evacuated

A small artificial lake has been formed in Himachal Pradesh's Spiti with the melting of a glacier and the water inflow into it been increasing, triggering panic among the locals. Officials however ruled out any immediate threat.

Meanwhile, eight foreign tourists, who were stranded in the Pin Valley for over a week, due to formation of the lake and landslides, have been evacuated, an official spokesman said here Monday.

The government said it was monitoring the situation and there was no immediate threat from the lake located on the Pin river in the Spiti region.

Official sources said the size of the lake has been increasing day by day with the thawing of glaciers in its catchment. "If it bursts, it could severely damage the villages located downstream," an official told IANS.

Locals said area of the lake, formed near Shangni village in the Pin Valley, some 300 km from Shimla, has increased to over three square km and the depth increased to more than 20 feet.

Sub-Divisional Magistrate Hemis Negi ruled out any threat.

"There is no immediate threat to the downstream areas," Nagi told IANS over phone from the spot.
He said government choppers have airlifted most of the stranded tourists, including eight foreigners, and provided essential commodities to the locals.

The people were struck for over a week as the lake damaged the nearby highway, he added.

Two foreigners were airlifted Sunday, whereas the remaining six were airlifted Monday.
 

The Assam Tribune, 19th June 2012

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Buried over time

There is no doubt that for every scholar whose talent and work gets recognised, there are many more who have either been forgotten or ignored — not only by posterity but also by their own contemporaries. In the arena of archaeological scholarship, this is something that I am constantly
reminded of when reading Alexander Cunningham’s reports. As the first director general of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) he, more than any other scholar of his day succeeded in imparting a grass-root reality to the literary image of Ancient India by identifying and mapping out archaeological sites on a grand scale. Yet, he remained inexplicably silent about the path breaking discoveries of others who were simultaneously seeking out India’s prehistoric roots. Robert Bruce Foote was among the many scholars who searched out the presence of prehistoric artefacts, although if you read the Cunningham reports, you wouldn’t even know that he existed

One reason for this is that Foote was a geologist with the Geological Survey of India, and his interest in prehistory was not a serious concern of the ASI which then, as now, was the institutional guardian of archaeology in India. Fortunately for us, Foote had a strong sense of his own worth and consequently, his various publications have ensured that his work received the acclaim it deserved, even if the ASI ignored it

There are other instances, though, where individual achievement was compromised by untimely death. The Italian explorer Luigi Pio Tessitori is an example of this. Tessitori’s discovery of Harappan seals at Kalibangan remained practically unknown in part because, before he could publish his findings, he died in his early 30s. That his pioneering trail was eventually recognised owes much to the motivation of a Kanpur businessman, Hazarimal Banthia, who brought back copies of his correspondence from Italy. Haranandan Panday was another promising ASI archaeologist whose work extended from Belwa in Bihar to Sanchi in central India, much of which remains unknown because he too died young. His obituary — written by no less than the famous barrister-historian KP Jayaswal — mentioned that Panday had prepared a Devanagari edition of the Buddhist text Mahaparinibbana Sutta and an archaeological map of Bihar. These remained unpublished and are now untraceable. One can only hope that his grandson Nirmalendu Choubey who has made it his mission to recover whatever is available on the life and work of this forgotten archaeologist, eventually discovers them

A third kind of sidelined scholarship is introduced to us by Virchand Dharamsey’s book Bhagwanlal Indraji —The First Indian Archaeologist (2012). This connects up with mainstream scholarship that is largely English-speaking and which is usually uncomfortable with the Indian languages in which people from small towns and places publish. The subject of the book, Bhagwanlal Indraji, was born in Junagadh in a family of Ayurvedic practitioners. As a 15-year-old, he became seriously interested in ancient inscriptions when the newly-opened Sanskrit pathshala there was presented a chart of characters of the Brahmi script which James Prinsep had deciphered and published. Using a tracing of that chart, he began to study the inscribed rock of Girnar and some years later, he became a masterful decipherer of epigraphs. Initially, Bhagwanlal acted as an assistant to the doctor-cum-Indologist Bhau Daji who extensively used his findings. It was after his benefactor’s death that he came into his own, received credit for his work and a honorary doctorate from Leiden University. This is well-known

What this book has now revealed is that sometimes, Bhagwanlal’s discoveries were ahead of his European contemporaries but remained sidelined because they were written in Gujarati. The handwritten notebooks of Bhagwanlal in the library of the Forbes Gujarati Sabha in Mumbai highlight this as do the letters which Bhagwanlal wrote to his patron, the Nawab of Junagadh, about the progress of his archaeological explorations. These, unlike the diaries, were published in Saurashtra Darpan, a Gujarati weekly from Junagadh, but, like the diaries, are in Gujarati

In a letter written in 1872, he reported his discovery of an Ashokan edict at Bairat in Rajasthan: “On the southern side of Virat is a hillock with ancient Buddhist ruins. Near the ruins once stood an engraved stone inscription of Ashoka, which at present lies in the Asiatic Society Museum in Calcutta. While I was on the northern side of Virat, I discovered a new inscription at the foothill.” Since his letter was published in Saurashtra Darpan and in Gujarati, he never got the credit for it and instead, an assistant of Cunningham who arrived there soon after, came to be considered as its discoverer

Thanks to Dharamsey’s archival digging, many vignettes about the remarkable life of this pioneering Indian archaeologist have come to light. And it all started for Dharamsey when he browsed through the manuscripts catalogue of the library of the Forbes Gujarati Sabha. One can only hope that the newly-launched National Mission on Libraries will pay attention to the holdings of such institutions so that there is an integration of those outside the academy with those within it. Hopefully, this will make it easier for many more individuals like Bhagwanlal’s biographer to find such forgotten scholarship
 

The Hindustan Times, 19th June 2012

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Bangalore’s forgotten soldier

Meera Iyer goes in search of the dargah of Bahadur Khan, the brave soldier who died defending the Bangalore fort one moonlit night two centuries ago. She finds it near the corner where the City’s SJP and Avenue roads meet.

One moonlit night 221 years ago, an old soldier died fighting while defending his fort against an enemy. He was one of thousands killed that night.

Yet something about the venerable old fighter moved even enemy hearts, so much so they buried him with full honours and wrote paeans about his bravery.

The soldier was the commandant or killedar of the fort during the Battle of Bangalore, which culminated on March 21, 1791. And interestingly, he is still remembered today, though in a slightly different role than earlier.

In the late 1700s, the Mysore kingdom was the greatest enemy the British had in India. The British had already fought and lost two wars against Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, when in 1789, they declared war on Tipu, launching the Third Anglo-Mysore War.

At that time, Bangalore was the second most important city in Mysore. It was a commercial hub for silks and textiles, an important centre for the manufacture of arms and ammunition, and was well-protected and fortified.

A mud fort, a deep ditch and a hedge of bamboo, aloe and other thorny bushes protected the populous commercial and residential part of the City, or pettah. Adjacent to it, a strong stone fort with a deep, wide moat protected the royal establishments along with foundries, magazines and barracks. Some British army officers referred to this as the most important fortress in Mysore.

The Third Anglo-Mysore war reached Bangalore in 1791, when Charles Cornwallis led his Grand Army here. They captured the pettah fort on March 7, 1791. Their next target was the stone fort.

A siege followed, during which there were many skirmishes between Cornwallis’s troops and Tipu’s army, which was camped nearby. Three weeks later, the British batteries trained on the stone fort succeeded in breaching its massive walls. And at 11pm on March 21, the British stormed the Bangalore fort.

The Mysoreans in the fort were caught unawares by the attack – perhaps because of traitors as some suggest, or because, as S K Aruni of the Indian Council of Historical Research points out, it was against the rules of war to attack at night.

Nevertheless, they put up a stiff fight. Rockets, cannon and a constant stream of gunfire assailed the British as they entered the fort. But within an hour, all was lost and Cornwallis had captured the fort. Estimates for Mysoreans killed in the fighting that night range from 300 to 2000.

Bahadur Khan, the brave one
One man in particular stood out – the killedar or commandant of the fort, Bahadur Khan. Tipu had only recently had him transferred from Krishnagiri to Bangalore.

Tall, fair and striking, with a white beard that reached almost to his waist, the seventy-something veteran looked more like a prophet than a fighter. But he fought with all the vigour of a youth.

British accounts recount how he led the fight from the front, urging his men to make a last stand against the enemy. The gallant old soldier battled on till his last breath, dying of a shot in the head and multiple stab wounds.

You can gauge the admiration the British felt for this particular enemy soldier from their encomiums on him.

Roderick Mackenzie, a lieutenant in the British infantry, writes, “Wherever gallantry is recorded, Bahadur Khan, killedar of Bangalore, will hold a conspicuous place among the heroes of our times. True to his trust, he resigned it with life, after receiving almost as many wounds as were inflicted on Caesar in the Capitol.”

After the battle, Cornwallis sent word to Tipu informing him that he could take the mortal remains of Bahadur Khan. Tipu is said to have wept with despair when he learnt of the loss of his trusted killedar.

But to Cornwallis, he responded that the spot where a soldier fell was the most honourable place where he could be interred. Accordingly, the British buried Bahadur Khan with full military honours near where he died. A few weeks ago, a friend and I went in search of Bahadur Khan’s grave. Only a small fraction of the once-great fort of Bangalore remains today, but what of the resting place of the now-forgotten man who had died defending the fort? Does it still exist?

Looking for his dargah
Knowing that he was buried somewhere near the fort, we decided to scour that vicinity. We knew that the grave, if it existed, would be a dargah. My fellow heritage enthusiast Mansoor Ali, who often visits dargahs, explained that in Islam, saints who had died or those who had been killed for a good cause were considered blessed. One could ask them to intercede on your behalf to God.

We began our search at Albert Victor Road, near Tipu’s palace. One interesting dargah followed another and we gathered stories about saints, soldiers and healers. From shrines where we were the only visitors to those like Syedani Bibi’s which had a regular stream of believers, we saw a whole gamut of dargahs, each a distinctively green oasis of calm amidst the chaos of the outside world: no traffic, no noise, no tension, no differences between religious communities.

In each, we asked about the grave of the brave commandant who had died fighting against the British, but though a few dargahs housed graves of people who had lost their lives fighting during Tipu’s times, none was named Bahadur Khan…until we reached the corner of SJP and Avenue Road. There, in the middle of the hubbub of the market and bus stand nearby, stands the Dargah Hazrath Mir Bahadur Shah Al-Maroof Syed Pacha Shaheed.

The dargah is a small one-roomed structure with granite cladding, a dome and four small turrets. In the centre is a grave draped with a red embroidered shawl and festooned with several garlands. As we watch, several men and women come in, touch the grave and fervently but silently pray to the martyr.

The faithful believe that a wish made at this dargah will come true. I learnt later that about 100 people worship at the dargah everyday. The karaga procession, too, makes a stop here.

Bahadur Shah died years ago, but here, near where he died, he is still very much a part of people’s lives
 

The Deccan Herald, 20th June 2012

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Our future lies in saving forests

While there is no denying that economic growth is important to our country, it is equally critical to understand that there can be no growth without ecological security. We cannot allow our wildlife to be increasingly endangere

In the desolate region of Thar, beyond the bright lights of the tourist circuit of Rajasthan, is the Desert National Park. Few are aware of its existence — fewer know that it supports the Great Indian Bustard. Barely 300 of these endemic birds survive, yet this national park may soon be ‘rationalised’ (the rationale being that much of it is wasted, degraded, largely due to neglect and poor protection and management over the years), reportedly in consideration of the oil interests in the region

A major chunk of another sanctuary in Maharashtra dedicated to the Great Indian Bustard was de-notified recently. Incidentally, the Great Indian Bustard is listed under Schedule-I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and is identified as one of the 16 critically endangered species for a recovery programme by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests

So precarious is the status of the Great Indian Bustard that guidelines were formed, and an ‘emergency plan’ for the bustards’ revival was emphasised. To date, the guidelines and the ‘emergency’ strategy are yet to see the light of day, while we continue to devastate the home range of the Great Indian Bustard

Beyond the tiger, whose fortunes — and misfortunes — are well-documented and reported, there are other species that stare at an uncertain, precarious future. They are the Dugong, Hanguls or Kashmir Stag, Olive Ridley Turtles, vultures, and many more

Endangered wildlife enjoys strict protection in India’s legal, regulatory framework. India has set aside about 4.9 per cent of its geographical area as 'Protected Areas'. To put our protected areas network in a global perspective, the US has protected nearly a third of its land area

Before we plunge into a debate about the US being able to ‘afford’ to do so, our enlightened neighbour, Bhutan, has protected 42 per cent, while Pakistan is reported to have set aside about 10 per cent of its area. Nearly 12 per cent of the world's land surface is protected for nature conservation

Leaving global comparisons aside, the pertinent question that needs to be asked is: Is our Protected Area network effectively, actually five per cent

Unfortunately, no protected areas are not the pristine, sacrosanct havens that they are meant to be. They are criss-crossed by highways, railway lines, electric wires and canals, and submerged and fragmented by reservoirs, degraded by cattle grazing and extraction of forest produce and pillaged by the construction of hydel-dams and mines

Rajaji National Park, the north-westerly limit of the tiger and the elephant in India, is a classic example. The park is heavily fragmented by roads, railway lines and canals

The Marine National Park in Gujarat, which supports myriad eco-systems and oceanic fauna including the critically endangered dugong, has oil pipe lines running through it

Errant vehicles killed two tigers on roads cutting across Corbett and Dudhwa Tiger Reserves last year, while in North Bengal the railway line running through the Buxa-Jaldapara-Mahananda complex continues to take a heavy toll on elephants — after slaughtering seven elephants in one go in 2010

The pristine rainforests of Kudremukh National Park were gouged for iron-ore mining by a public sector company, until this was stopped by an order of the Supreme Court, after a long and courageous battle by local conservation groups

The Olive Ridley Turtles may lose their mass nesting beaches to the proliferation of ports (and ancillary development) along the Orissa coast. Rivers where the Gangetic dolphin and the gharial swim, are no more than toxic, turbid drains — their flow stilled by hydel-projects

What is difficult to digest even more than the wanton destruction is the apathy. The fact that rarely are wildlife concerns factored in, or worse, in fact, usually overlooked, be it in development projects, or urban planning or any such activity

Why is endangered wildlife considered expendable? Why are we willing to sacrifice them for even the most frivolous of causes, as in the case of a Hollywood film shot at a vulture nesting site in Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, even as we protect them by law

Why can’t we seriously consider options, for highways through tiger reserves, and iron ore mines in wildlife parks? Why do we ignore the law of the land when we plough roads through tiger corridors? And why don’t we take punitive action when forest and wildlife laws are clearly circumvented as in the instance of a national highway that brushes past the Nagzira National Park? Why are ecological concerns so easily side-stepped? Why is it considered radical, even anti-national to press for implementation of the law of the land in protection of wildlife

The point is: While there is no denying that economic growth is important to our country, it is equally critical to understand that there can be no economic growth without ecological security. It’s crucial to set aside a part of our country for wild habitats. Our protected areas are tiny islands, and under increasing pressure. We must be categorical in having a hands-off approach at least in our protected areas. We also need to take stock of our effective Protected Area

Huge tracts of forests have been destroyed and many rivers dammed since Independence, in our quest for growth, yet over 300 million Indians continue to live in dire poverty. Will sacrificing the tiny portion of India that is protected, solve our complex problems and take us to the fast road of development? Will we dismember the Taj Mahal to build a housing colony for the homeless

Viewing forests as a ‘hurdle’ to growth is fundamentally flawed. The forests, wetlands, coasts, deserts and grasslands that we seek to destroy, perform vital ecological services on which rest our very survival and livelihood. Hundreds of rivers flow from forests, wetlands recharge groundwater and millions of fishermen depend on the sea for their sustenance. Tigers, dolphins, bustards, cranes etc are symbols of the health of these eco-systems, vital to life on earth. In conserving them, we ensure a future for us

The writer is a member, National Board of Wildlife
 

The Pioneer, 20th June 2012

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Dangers of a different kind

Government must harden and secure critical electrical infrastructure from solar flares. These flares can be tremendously destructive

National Geographic has serialised the perils of solar disturbances, which it calls super solar storms. Next year, the sun will be at the most proximate distance from the earth and scientists are predicting the worst

We’ve all become hostage to electricity and electronics — some more than others. A power outage of a few hours leads to frayed nerves, bad temper, rage and riots. You haven’t heard this one — EMP (Electro- Magnetic Pulse) can cause calamitous damage to power grids and electricity infrastructure. To familiarise yourself with the trauma, read William R Forstchen’s thriller, One Second After, which is a novel and not sci-fi, and it could happen any time. One high altitude EMP detonation is all it takes to reduce the US to 25 million people returned to the 18th century. An EMP attack is caused by a nuclear blast as well as by non- nuclear means of a lower (E1) intensity

In India, luckily, 70 per cent of the population lives in villages and yet is increasingly being driven by the power grid. Probably the only facility in the country which is EMP hardened is the country's National Command Post and its alternate site. This means that a malicious EMP attack can bring the nation to a standstill

The other catastrophe will result from a major Geo-Magnetic Disturbance caused by a solar storm — what people call a solar blow — which can cause prolonged power outages. A solar eruption is expected in 2013; so this is an early warning to those who match risk with vulnerability. In the past, North America including Canada, Sweden and even South Africa have experienced severe geo-magnetically induced currents which have cause long power dislocations. The two historic sun storms (1859 and 1921) predate the modern electricity grid. The Canadian power outage occurred in March 1989 and resulted in the collapse of the Quebec grid which includes parts of North America. The longest solar flare happened in October 2003

The sun is being observed minutely all the time for forecasting the likely behaviour of solar flares. While solar storms cannot be predicted, one can be alert to them

The object of defining a malicious EMP and a natural severe space weather event is to get Government, industry and power regulators to harden and secure critical electric infrastructure from EMP and GMD. The insurance industry which is intrinsically involved compares low probability with high cost saying "this may not happen in our lifetime but it could happen next year"

People are more likely to have heard about GMD and not EMP. Experts rate a GMD event as inevitable while EMP has low probability. There is no consensus on worst case scenarios; still action seekers say: Do not wait for the Black Swan. In other words, ‘Stop admiring the problem, do something… make a start.” To which the caution inducers recommend waiting for more data and analyses to nail the problem. In the US and the UK, critical military and nuclear assets are EMP hardened. But 99 per cent of power for defence communication comes from commercial civilian power grid. At present the military is geared to handle a 72-hour outage. And then it’s all dead

The US’s new Mission Assurance Strategy ensures greater redundancies to keep NCR Washington functional. Much of the operational control of strategic assets employed outside the continent of United States like drones are directed from home bases. Between GMD and EMP, the emphasis at present is on GMD. EMP from nuclear blasts is a military responsibility. While some progress has been made in GMD protection, there is none at all against EMP

What is the EMP doomsday scenario? A single nuclear warhead detonated at an ideal height — say 140-400 km above mean sea level — can cause catastrophic electric and power failures, making EMP the ultimate cyber threat. While Russia has super-EMP weapons, some of that technology is likely to have been leaked to North Korea which is making EMP bombs. An EMP attack is inevitably a nuclear assault. The West, especially the US , dreads an Iran-provided nuclear bomb fired by an anonymous terrorist group. This EMP enabled weapon in jihadihands considered 100 per cent shari’ah-compliant, is non-deterrable

Western deterrence scholars have convinced themselves that the Iranian leadership is irrational and that the mullahs would not hesitate to have a go. Iran is known to have practiced in the Caspian Sea, drills for the detonation of a high altitude EMP weapon delivered by the Al Shabab series of ballistic missiles

In One Second After, in 2008 the US is hit by an EMP nuke, detonated over Kansas fired from a container ship (which later blew up) in the Gulf of Mexico. One year later, 25 million Americans were left with New York estimated to be down to 25,000 living “like in the Dark Ages”. The advocates of EMP hardening say that an EMP effect (of E1 intensity) can be created by a non-nuclear EMP simulator suitcase device without creating a nuclear blast. The re-usable device costing $ 100,000 can destroy all database when activated from a distance of 75 feet. The device has been successfully tested against military infrastructure in the US and is commercially sold in the US except in the state of Minnesota which has declared its sale as felony

In the US, estimates for hardening vary from $ 200 m to $ 10 billion. This would entail installing blocking devices on transformers in 100 US cities. Between 2020 and 2030, the US is expected to invest $ 1.85 trillion improving electricity infrastructure

On March 13, 2013, a GMD threat warning (which is E3 on the EMP scale) is likely to come up. On that day the sun is expected to hit a peak eruption period leading to extreme storm conditions and blackouts which could last for weeks and months. As for EMP warning, the suitcase EMP bomb is now available off the shelf in the US and the jihadis are on the prowl

Discounting an EMP attack against India may be a calculated risk. Still a natural GMD could wreak havoc, given our total dependence on electricity. It is time the national security establishment took stock of this challenge. It is also time that the power grid managers prepared for the challenge ahead by shielding and hardening transformers and other equipment which are central to defeating a severe weather disturbance. The time to prepare and protect is now
 

The Pioneer, 20th June 2012

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‘Opened’ Parade Ground parking stuck in red tape

Inaugurated with much fanfare in February — in the run-up to the municipal polls — the multilevel parking at Parade Ground has not been made operational so far. In fact, sources say, 15% of the work on the parking lot, touted as a solution to the traffic chaos of the Walled City, is pending. Unhappy with the tardy progress on the project, traders of Chandni Chowk say all their pleas to make two levels of the parking operational have fallen on deaf years thus far.

"We have repeatedly been told that the parking will be made operational soon. But given the pace at which work has been progressing for more than two months, we don't see it happening in the near future," said Sanjay Bhargava, general secretary, Chandni Chowk Sarv Vypar Mandal.

The parking has four underground levels but only the ground floor and the upper basement have been completed so far. When it was inaugurated, traders were assured that these two levels, which can accommodate more than 500 cars, will be made operational as an interim facility.

"We have been asking the authorities to allow us to use the two levels but our appeals have been to no avail. We were also promised that no parking fee will be charged till the time a contractoris appointed," added Bhargava. However, the cash-strapped North Delhi Municipal Corporationis still busy identifying a contractor.

"The parking lot is in the tendering stage. Once the contractor is appointed, it will be opened," said Mira Aggarwal, mayor of the corporation. The parking lot can accommodate 1,000 cars and is being built at a cost of Rs 52.8 crore.

Several other multilevel parking lots, under construction for the last five years, are yet to be completed. Work on the Kamla Nagar parking lot began way back in 2008 but 20% of it is still incomplete. Unable to complete parking projects, the corporation blames other civic agencies for delays.

Corporation officials blame agencies like Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and Archeological Survey of India (ASI) of holding up these projects.

"Shifting of DJB pipelines, getting clearances from the forest department, ASI and other agencies, and delays in the tendering process, are responsible. Some projects had to be dropped, as shifting of services was not feasible," said a corporation official
 

The Times of India, 20th June 2012

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Decoding whispers from the past

Archaeology is a discipline that opens up a comprehensive and scientific perspective as far as understanding the cultural heritage of a country is concerned. Preservation and conservation of the cultural heritage of a country is a national imperative and requires participation from even the average citizen. Understanding this need the archaeology department of Deccan College, Pune, has been conducting several outreach programmes to educate people across the country about the importance of this discipline. “The central and state governments are doing their best to preserve our cultural heritage but they have their own limitations. Our outreach programmes are envisaged to supplement the efforts of the government and our mandate is to enlighten people about the contribution of this discipline with regard to the history of the country and the world at large,” says Dr VS Shinde, professor of archaeology and joint director of the university. Founded by the late Professor H.D. Sankalia, this department is the premier post graduate and research institute for archaeology in South Asia

USP:
Incidentally, this is the only department in the country that carries out research at the all-India level

Infrastructure:
This is the only university department of archaeology in the entire country which boasts of elaborate laboratories for archaeological chemistry, palynology, archaeo-zoology, archaeo-botany, biological anthropology, sedimentology, paleontology, physical chemistry, X-Ray diffraction and computing. The services are extended to other institutions and university departments in the country, including the Archaeological Survey of India and state departments of archaeology

Faculty strength:

It has a sanctioned faculty strength of 28 members

Research focus:
The various fields in which research is carried out include prehistory, protohistory, Harappan age, early iron age and the early historic, mediveal and industrial periods. Numismatics, art and architecture, palaeography, epigraphy, iconography, museology, ethnoarchaelogy, domestication of plants and animals and health and diet of ancient people are other key focus areas in terms of research

Placement record:
The alumni occupies teaching and research positions in universities and research institutions. Archaelogical Survey of India, National Monument Authority, National Mission for Monuments and Archaelogical Sites and museums are some places where the alumni are employed.

Factfile
This department was granted the status of Department of Special Assistance by UGC in 1972. The UGC was also instrumental in upgrading the status of this department as a Centre of Advanced Study in 1985. In 2003, the department assisted the UGC in terms of the implementation of a programme called Assistance for Infrastructure in Humanities and Social Science

Wishlist
“Since we are imparted intensive training in the latest archaeological exploration and excavation methods I want to work independently on more challenging research projects,” says a masters student
 

The Hindustan Times, 20th June 2012

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95 monuments await ‘protected’ tag

Four years and an expired Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) later, the state Archaeology department is again drafting a fresh MoU with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to conserve the 95 monuments it had listed in October 2008. In the past four years, 17 of the 95 were conserved in the rush ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. But not one of them has been notified as “protected” till date

While the state department of Archaeology is busy “processing” the notifications, many of these monuments have been encroached upon, turned into living mosques and madrassas and renovated beyond recognition

Conservationists have time and again raised an alarm that alterations made to many of the monuments have left them beyond repair. However, the department of Archaeology — responsible for notifying, protecting and conserving heritage structures of prominence — insists that it is waiting for the notification process to be completed. Only after notification will it be in a position to “assert its authority over the monuments and ensure that encroachments are removed and the monuments protected”, said a department official

The Delhi Development Authority, the body that owns a large number of these monuments, has been writing to the Archaeology department to take over the monuments at the earliest, so that once the encroachments are removed, the structures can be protected

In 2008, the department had tied up with INTACH to conserve 95 monuments and notify them as protected

As per the MoU, INTACH was to provide conservation and management of these monuments in two phases

Under phase I, it was to prepare a site plan of the monuments showing all topographical features and structures up to a radius of 150 metres, along with the prohibited and regulated areas in the monument, photo documentation and structural description of the monument

In phase II, it was to carry out structural conservation, chemical preservation and refurbishment. The Archaeology department was to have then notified all the 95 monuments as “protected”

Since then, 17 monuments have been conserved and illuminated but not one has been notified as protected. Officials say the preliminary notification of 48 heritage structures has been done and the paperwork is now being processed for the final notification, which requires the seal of the Lieutenant-Governor

Preliminary notification is the process of making the proposed list of monuments public and inviting objections with regard to the ownership and other legalities of the structure. In the case of 48 monuments, the Wakf Board had raised objections regarding a large number of them but is said to have failed to prove its ownership. The list of 48 monuments has, therefore, finally been forwarded for approval from the Delhi government and then the L-G’s office

This, according to officials of the Archaeology department, is an achievement in itself. Claiming that notifying 48 monuments at one go is an achievement in the history of heritage conservation, an official said that “even the Archaeological Survey of India took a 100 years to notify just 25 monuments” in Delhi

The Archaeology department, which received statutory powers in 2004 — after the enactment of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act — has notified just six monuments in Badarpur and “hopes” to have another 48 added to the “protected list” by next month

The three-year MoU with INTACH expired in 2011. The department sent out a draft of the new MoU to the heritage body for approval last week

Convenor, Delhi Chapter, INTACH, A G K Menon told Newsline, “We are finalising a fresh MoU and once that comes through work on the monuments will resume. We have already presented a detailed estimate for conservation, illumination and maintenance of another 18 structures out of the list of 95 monuments.
 

The Indian Express, 21st June 2012

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Blood on tracks

K K Dey, chief loco-inspector in the Northeast Frontier Railway at Lumding, had never considered a speeding train knocking down an elephant as “such a major loss” until he attended a workshop on train-elephant collision organised by the Wildlife Trust of India a few months ago

“I have been a witness to several such elephant deaths in my 32-year career. But it was only recently that I realised why we should also care about the elephant,” said Dey. He is among the 80-odd loco-drivers and other staff of the NF Railway who have undergone training on how to save elephants on the tracks

Elephants getting killed on railway tracks has been commonplace in Assam, given the fact that railway lines pass by five major elephant reserves in the state, often cutting through natural elephant corridors. A study conducted by the WTI has revealed that as many as 187 elephants have been killed by trains in the country between 1987 and 2011, of which Assam accounts for 37 per cent or 69 cases

“While elephants crossing tracks has been a major problem for us, we have launched a vigorous drive to train our loco-drivers to be on the maximum alert especially when passing through or near known elephant reserves and corridors,” said S S Hajong, chief public relations officer, NF Railway.
The campaign mounted by NF Railway includes time-to-time workshops for loco-drivers and other staff, joint patrolling with forest and NGO volunteers, and a vigorous poster campaign in vulnerable sections, said Hajong

“NGOs like WTI and Aaranyak have come out in a big way to train our people, leading to a significant reduction of such cases,” he said

“Elephants need a lot of water and food, while factors like temperature, fodder scarcity, increasing human activity inside their habitats, encroachment and deforestation have prompted the animals to increasingly shift from one place to another,” said Dhanjit Das of the WTI

A series of workshops, jointly organised by the WTI, NF Railway, and the Forest department, have led to joint patrolling in vulnerable sections. Waste food thrown from pantry cars of trains by passengers has also been identified as another reason for elephant deaths

“During 2011 alone, such efforts have led to averting nearly 300 accidents in Assam itself, the highest being 106 in the most vulnerable Diphu-Daldali section, followed by 91 in Daldali-Dhansiri section, and 52 in Deepor Beel area near Guwahati,” Das pointed out

Loco-drivers nowadays remain alert while passing through such sections, and call up the nearest station masters and patrol parties to find out about the movements of elephants

Meanwhile, IIT-Delhi has developed a wireless sensor device called ‘The Wild Animal Protection System’, which will not only help detect the presence of elephants on the track but also activate a signal system to the nearest station to warn trains to slow down or stop

“Similar sensor devices are used by international car companies and in some trains and ships, and have proved useful in avoiding collisions. A pilot project of the sensor device is expected to be developed by 2015 and will be ready for testing in 2016 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, initially in West Bengal,” said Amruta Ubale of Animal Equality, another NGO working for elephant conservation. West Bengal, in fact, accounts for 27 per cent of the train-hit elephant deaths in the country
 

The Indian Express, 21st June 2012

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Red list has 132 species of plants, animals from India

The Red list of threatened species, prepared by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has listed 132 species of plants and animals as Critically Endangered, the most threatened category, from India

Plants seemed to be the most threatened life form with 60 species being listed as Critically Endangered and 141 as Endangered

The Critically Endangered list included 18 species of amphibians, 14 fishes and 10 mammals. There are also 15 bird species in the category. The agency listed 310 species as Endangered ones, including 69 fishes, 38 mammals and 32 amphibians. Two plant species were reported to be extinct in the wild, including the Euphorbia mayuranthanii of Kerala. A leaf frog species and six plants were recorded as extinct, according to the latest assessment

Of the total 63,837 species globally assessed, the IUCN classified 3,947 as Critically Endangered, 81 as Extinct, 63 as Extinct in the Wild. In the lower risk categories, there were 5766 species in Endangered, 10,104 in Vulnerable and 4,467 in Near Threatened categories. Scientific data regarding 10,497 species was not available and hence classified as Data Deficient, the report said

The threat level of as many as seven Indian bird species had increased in the last one year, say experts

According to the latest figures, 15 species of Indian birds, including the great Indian bustard, Siberian crane and sociable lapwing are there in the list of Critically Endangered birds. In the lower risk categories, the agency included 14 bird species as Endangered and 51 as vulnerable ones.
Compared to the previous year, the conservation status of Baer's Pochard had been uplisted to the Critically Endangered from the Endangered and the Long-tailed Duck to Vulnerable from the Least Concerned, said P.O. Nameer, South Asian coordinator, in situ, Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Species Survival Commission of the IUCN

This year, Saker Falcon has been listed as Endangered against the previous year's rating of Vulnerable. The threat perspective faced by the River Lapwing resulted in its classification as the Near-Threatened from the earlier Least Concerned. River Tern, a wetland-dependent species found in Kerala among other places has been moved to the Near-Threatened category from the Least concern and Black-bellied Tern to the Endangered from the Near-threatened in the latest list, Dr. Nameer said

Sinhoe's Storm-petrel, which was first sighted in India in Chavakad last year, has also been classified as the Near-Threatened. Last year, the species was classified as the Least concerned, he said

Fishes of Kerala
Four fish species from Kerala, including the Pookode Lake Barb and Nilgiri Mystus, are included in the Critically Endangered fishes of India. The agency listed 39 species from Kerala as endangered, including the Periyar Latia, Nilgiri Danio, Cardamom Garra, Periyar Garra and Anamalai Sucker Catfish

The Imperial White Collared Yellow Catfish, Santhampara Loach, Nilgiri Barb, Hump Backed Mahseer, Periyar Barb and Peninsular Hill Trout are among the endangered fish species of Kerala, according to C.P. Shaji, Principal Scientific Officer of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board
 

The Hindu, 21st June 2012

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A maharaja’s summer retreat

If your imagination of a hill station is that of a shopping street, many tourist sightseeing spots and a place teeming with tourists, then maybe Chail is not the ideal spot for you

However, if you are looking for something different and peaceful then head to this laidback hill-town in Himachal Pradesh and explore the wonders of nature

Chail has a very interesting history. In 1891, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala incurred the rage of Lord Kitchener, the then commander-in-chief after he eloped with the latter’s daughter. He was banished from entering the summer capital of the Raj, Shimla. This enraged the Maharaja and he built his summer capital at Chaamitabha boseil, a little village close to Shimla, which ironically was gifted to him by the British earlier

Surrounded by lush forests with a commanding view of the snow-capped Himalayas, he rebuilt the city and a wonderful palace for himself. The picturesque resort located amidst scented forests of chir pine and gigantic deodars is now a heritage hotel run by the HP Tourism. You can take long quiet walks in the lap of nature almost in any direction from Chail with the sounds of gushing winds and chirping birds as company

Chail is built on three hills, the palace is on Rajgarh Hill, the Residency Snow View once occupied by British resident is on Pandhewa Hill and on the third hill Sadh Tiba where Chail is situated. Overlooking Satluj Valley, Shimla and Kasauli are also visible from here on a clear day and during the night

Just before hitting Chail, a board gives direction to the Cricket Ground and the Sidh Baba temple which actually are the only two places to see in Chail. For those who want to blend some sightseeing, one can go to Shimla (49 km) and Kufri (25 km)

The world’s highest cricket ground at a height of 2,444m is three km from the market, and within the field there are basketball court and football goal posts. It is presently used by the students of the Chail Military School

The market is located on a flat stretch below where there are a few provision stores, some restaurants more in the nature of dhabas, a bank, a post office and also the bus and the taxi stand. It is basically a one street town. The language spoken there has a typical Punjabi flavour and the local residents are very good-looking

The Sidh Baba temple can be visited on way back from the cricket ground. The route is absolutely infested with monkeys, so be careful. There is also a Kali Mata temple about 6km from Chail in a nearby hill. The view of the valley from there is awesome. Do not miss out on visiting the Gurudwara Sahib on the steep road behind the taxi stand. It was set up in 1907 and has an unusual church-like structure with exquisite wooden ceiling

During spring-summer, the rhododendrons are in full bloom and the bright orange hues are a treat to the eyes. So pack your bags and do visit Chail this summe
 

The Asian Age, 22nd June 2012

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From the soil

Two different shows present rare folk art traditions that are not much known outside of their State

The world of Web can only tell us as much. It holds true for a country like India which still has probably much more hidden and unknown than what has been revealed in terms of its heritage and culture. Customs, traditions and practices abound in this part of the world and though scholars, patrons, art enthusiasts are working to preserve them, we are yet to be privy to so many of them. It’s sheer coincidence that the Capital city is hosting two art exhibitions of such rare folk traditions that they are still largely unknown even in these times. While a collection of Pinguli chitragithi from Maharashtra is on display at Arts of the Earth at Lado Sarai, Arpana Caur’s Academy of Fine Arts and Literature is presenting Godana art of Bihar

Pinguli chitragith

While so many folk art traditions like warli, pabuji ki phad, kalighat paintings and patachitra have survived the brunt of time, this one didn’t. Extinct almost 20 years ago, the areas of Pinguli and Paithan are bereft of the storytellers who roamed around from village to village holding the scrolls that depicted tales from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Meena Varma, Director of Arts of the Earth, had visited the village 20 years ago and acquired the works, which she is exhibiting now. The tradition, she informs us, was already on its last legs

Straight lines, not very decorative and simplistic imagery drawn from the epics, are the mainstay of this genre. A performing tradition, the hand-made paper paintings provided the visual support as the nomadic puppeteers of the Thakar Adivasi community, doubling up as musicians and singers, regaled the viewers with their show

According to Jyotindra Jain, a renowned scholar, Pingulis are also known as Paithan paintings and the actors narrated not the standard Ramayana stories but the local Marathi Ramayana called “Pandav Pratap.” “The tradition is completely extinct and perhaps its biggest collection can be seen in the Kelkar Museum in Pune. This bunch of singers and musicians would carry these paintings like a placard — two different paintings on each side and they would just turn it with a change in the story. Pinguli puppets bear some kind of similarity to the shadow puppets of Andhra Pradesh.

(The exhibition is on at Arts of The Earth, Lado Sarai, New Delhi, till July 16.Godan)

When paper reached Madhubani village in Bihar, courtesy Pupul Jayakar, womenfolk of the Dusar community felt tempted to shift the unique iconography of tattoos engraved on their bodies, to it. It’s surprising that even though the developments in Madhubani and Godana were taking place simultaneously, one acquired a cult status and another remained hardly known. It was primarily done by women but when the art form reached the market like in the case of Madhubani, men also took to it. Sat Narayan Pandey was one of them. Arpana Caur met him sometime in the ’80s at a craft exposition in Delhi and that’s how began a long association between the two which was cut short by the sudden death of the folk artist. Eight years ago, Pandey fell off a bus and died. Ironically, his paintings touched an aspect that was related to living in the city

“He was doing the typical Godana stuff but I saw a possibility of departure from the typical imagery. So I told him to do trees for me. He got back with those trees and they looked very different. From then on, he just kept on doing trees but each tree looked different from the other. They are quite imaginative. He would play with the intensity of cow dung,” explains Arpana, who is showcasing 50 of his works. A collector of tribal and folk art, Caur concenrates on one folk form every summer. This time, she got the paper painting stitched on to a cloth and mounted on a canvas. “I would tell him to do trees or depict traffic signals as trees so once he did a traffic signal and a tree shown inside the signal. The idea was about how traffic and pollution are choking the environment of the city. We worked together on many canvases and co-signed it. He once made it to the Crafts Museum’s exhibition with great difficulty and that too in the month of June when it hardly gets any visitors.
 

The Hindu, 22nd June 2012

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Valley tourism advances into separatist hotbeds

Peace in the Valley has created physical space for tourism to expand. For the first time since the beginning of militancy, the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department has move beyond Dal Lake and Mughal gardens to enter separatist strongholds in Srinagar’s old city

Four tourism circuits are coming up in the old city, focused on heritage, crafts and old markets. The ‘Srinagar Walks’ project includes ‘Market Walks’ and ‘Monument Walks’, the latter focused on Zainakadal, the old business centre of the city

The old city was the epicentre of the summer uprisings of 2008 and 2010. “The situation is now getting better,” director, Tourism Talat Parvez, said. “We have planned to set up tourism circuits in the Shehr-e-Khas (old city)”

“We have three different styles of architecture in Zainakadal,” Parvez said. “On the banks of the Jhelum, we have the shrine of Khankah-e-Moula, which is a wooden structure. Pather Masjid on the other side of the river is made of stone, while the Mazar-e-Salateen nearby is a masterpiece made of bricks.” Parvez said the tourism department would offer incentives to the local people to set up infrastructure for tourists

The department is also throwing open a walking circuit from Srinagar’s historic grand mosque in Nowhatta to Rozabal — which many Christians believe is the resting place of Jesus — in Khanyar. Nowhatta has for years been seen as the Valley’s Gaza, with residents taking to the streets and pelting security forces with stones every Friday. Hurriyat moderate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq delivers his Friday sermons from the grand mosque

The tourism department is also bringing the copper and spice markets of Zainakadal on Srinagar’s tourist map. “The aim is to link Kashmir’s craft with tourism,” Parvez said. “This will help both craft and tourism.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah recently announced that a two-km stretch from Nawakadal to Chattabal in the old city would be developed as a heritage craft pedestrian trail on the pattern of New York. The trail will have craft bazaars, retail outlets, kiosks, production centres and other facilities, he said
 

The Indian Express, 22nd June 2012

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Haryana to develop new tourist spots

The hilly and somewhat backward Morni and Pinjore regions of Haryana falling in Panchkula district would be developed on priority basis as the government has approved a special package of Rs. 3 crore and the emphasis would be on projecting them as tourist destinations

Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda announced the package after visiting Tikkar Tal Tourist Complex at Morni

Senior officers disclosed that development works would be carried out in 20 Morni and eight Pinjore villages. Also, a three-km road would be constructed from Belwali village to Sergujran and from Meerpur to Tikkar which would benefit residents of about 50 villages

Instructions were issued to maintain the natural scenic beauty of Morni especially the Tourist Complex by de-silting the water body and constructing a retaining wall to prevent landslides during the rainy season

Officials of the Tourism Department said that the old Thakur Dwar Temple located close to the Tourist Complex would be renovated through Shri Mata Mansa Devi Shrine Board

Meanwhile, the State government has agreed in principle to provide 25 acres of land in the National Capital Region near Delhi to the Union Tourism Ministry for setting up an Indian Culinary Institute

The land would be provided on the condition that 50 per cent seats in the institute would be reserved for the students of Haryana

Moreover, the Haryana Tourism would rebuild the Surkhab Tourist Complex, Sirsa and Bulbul Tourist Complex, Jind. Also, an Integrated Tourism Resort would be developed at Madhogarh Fort in Mahendergarh district under Public Private Partnership mode
 

The Hindu, 22nd June 2012

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A piano with a history

The grand pianoforte was ordered for the 10-year-old Victoria by her uncle, King William IV, in 1829

The authorities at Victoria Memorial Hall unveiled a nearly 200-year-old piano that was used by Queen Victoria herself, on the occasion of World Music Day on Thursday

The instrument had been locked up for nearly two decades, ever since the Royal Gallery at the museum was closed for renovation

The grand pianoforte was ordered for the 10-year-old Victoria by her uncle, King William IV, in 1829. It is the instrument on which she learnt how to play from her teacher Mrs. Lucy Anderson, according to records at the memorial hall

During the unveiling at the Queen’s Hall, compositions by J.S. Bach, Frederic Chopin and Franz Schubert were played in a short concert by students of the noted pianist Jyotishka Dasgupta, albeit on a piano far more modern

Made of rosewood with an ivory keyboard, Queen Victoria’s piano has an ornamental wooden harp on its base. “Our research suggests that the piano was probably kept in Windsor Castle before it was brought here,” said Piyasi Bharasa, Education Officer of Victoria Memorial Hall

A certificate from the French manufacturers of the instrument, S & P Erard, that confirms that the piano (N. 69) was made by them in 1829 “for the use of Her Late Majesty Queen Victoria, when a girl” is also on display

Although museum authorities have not been able to dig out any information on Queen Victoria’s abilities as a pianist, it is well known that she was very fond of music. She often accompanied her husband Prince Albert, who was a talented organist, Ms. Bharasa said

The piano, along with the writing desk and chair used by her for her daily correspondence at Windsor Castle, were presented to Victoria Memorial by her son King Edward VII. These personal effects occupied the centre of the Royal Gallery

The famed “Jaipur painting” that depicts the entry of King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) into Jaipur in 1876, believed to be the largest oil painting in India and the third largest in the World, and Queen Victoria’s last letter to India dated December 14, 1900, are among the exhibits lying in the Royal Gallery that is still closed for renovation

“At the time of the tercentennial celebration of the city [in 1990], several artefacts were moved around to make space in the museum’s galleries and many treasures lie locked up today. Some, like this piano, have been restored and brought back into public display, but there is an urgent need for modernisation of the museum,” said Professor Swapan Chakravorty, Secretary and Curator
 

The Hindu, 22nd June 2012

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Google sets out to save dying languages

In an alliance with scholars and linguists, the Internet powerhouse introduced an Endangered Languages Project website where people can find, share, and store information about dialects in danger of disappearing

"People can share their knowledge and research directly through the site and help keep the content up-to-date," project managers Clara Rivera Rodriguez and Jason Rissman said in a Google blog post.

"A diverse group of collaborators have already begun to contribute content ranging from 18th-century manuscripts to modern teaching tools like video and audio language samples and knowledge-sharing articles."

The website at endangeredlanguages.Com is designed to let users upload video, audio, or text files and encourages them to memorialize recordings of rare dialects.

Only half of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken today are expected to survive past the end of this century, according to an Endangered Languages video posted at Google-owned video-sharing venue YouTube.

"Documenting...Languages that are on the verge of extinction is an important step in preserving cultural diversity, honoring the knowledge of our elders and empowering our youth," Rodriguez and Rissman said.

"Technology can strengthen these efforts, by helping people create high-quality recordings of their elders (often the last speakers of a language), connecting Diaspora communities through social media and facilitating language learning."

Google's philanthropic arm seeded the project, leadership of which will be ceded in coming months to the First People's Cultural Council and the Institute for Language Information and Technology at Eastern Michigan University
 

The Asian Age, 22nd June 2012

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Clean India Campaign to kick off from Qutab Minar

To provide quality services to visitors in and around tourist destinations, the union tourism ministry will Tuesday launch a pilot project under 'Clean India Campaign' at Qutab Minar in the capital

The campaign has been initiated by the tourism ministry to increase tourist arrivals to the country and to improve quality of services and provide a hygienic environment in and around tourist destinations across the country

According to ministry, in the first phase of the campaign, 36 monuments have been identified by the tourism ministry and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)

Under the pilot project, all issues regarding the heritage site are taken care of including providing drinking water facilities, renovation of toilets, maintenance of parking lots at Qutab Minar, conversion of Qutab Minar complex into friendly zone for physically challenged persons

'Clean India Campaign' is a multi-pronged action and comprehensive strategy to ensure an acceptable level of cleanliness and hygiene practices at tourist destinations for an inclusive and sustainable development of tourism through ownership and involvement of private and public sector stakeholders

"This initiative aims to create a collective mindset that promotes cleanliness and hygiene by a balance of persuasion, education, sensitisation, training, demonstration, regulation and involvement of every individual," the ministry said in a statement
 

The Times of India, 22nd June 2012

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Sheila doubts CP facelift will be over by December

Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Thursday expressed “deep concern” over the slow pace of renovation work in Connaught Place (CP), saying it looked unlikely at the moment that the project would be able to meet its December deadline

She said Delhi’s Chief Secretary would meet officials in the petroleum ministry to discuss the issue. “Since project consultants, Engineers India Limited (EIL), comes under the petroleum ministry, the Chief Secretary and the NDMC chairperson are expected to meet officials in the ministry to discuss the delay. We will seek their advice. I have visited CP several times and it does not seem possible that all work will be completed by December 2012, as promised by EIL earlier,” Dikshit said

Stating that CP should be cleared of the mess as the area “is the heart of the city and has historical importance”, she said: “The renovation plan was supposed to be completed by the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Two years on, there has been little progress.

Her statement came amid protests by CP traders, who said the situation could go out of hand once the monsoon hits the city

“The monsoon is approaching. The sewage lines have not been connected in several places. This is going to compound the mess. Electricity lines are lying exposed,” New Delhi Traders Association president Atul Bharghav said

After six years of “digging” in the area, the NDMC has nothing to show but dug-up spaces, exposed electrical wires and pipelines, the traders alleged

NDMC officials, however, said they were hopeful that the majority of work would be completed by December
 

The Indian Express, 22nd June 2012

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Reviving nature steeped in history

Green activists in Delhi mobilize support to breathe fresh life into Hauz-e-Shamsi that has been part of Mehrauli’s heritage

Writing for this column last week, I had wrongly identified an organisation as the initiator for the citizen’s intervention in defence of the Neela Hauz, near Kishangarh. In fact the public interest group before the Delhi High Court was moved by the Neela Hauz Citizen’s Group. I have come to learn that the Citizen’s Group had approached the court once again to draw attention to the slow pace of work in the restoration of the hauz and the court has now fixed a deadline of February 2013 for returning the hauz to its original state

All concerned, including The Citizen’s Group, the Delhi Development Authority and the Delhi Jal Board, meet once a month to monitor the progress. The water hyacinth cover spread over the lake’s surface is likely to be removed towards June-end. There is hope that the Neela Hauz will be saved and if that happens, it will be a rare victory for the forum and all conservationists in the city

The mistake that I made last week has come as a boon for me, because interaction with the Neela Hauz Citizen’s Group made me think of another initiative at the Hauz-e-Shamsi (next on the forum’s list). Though not as organised as the Neela Hauz Citizen’s Group but certainly as well-meaning and as creatively imagined and executed as the Neela Hauz initiative

Abhinandita Mathur, a photographer by profession, and her husband Vishal Rawlley, an artist, live next to the Hauz-e-Shamsi and have over the last three years been running around, contacting various agencies and also trying on their own to prevent their neighbours from throwing their trash in the hauz. They have managed to get the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to build a drain that now carries domestic waste from the surrounding apartments away from the hauz. One of the projects that the couple developed struck a chord with everyone who has heard the story of how the hauz came into being. A recounting of the tale will help in appreciating the project better

The Hauz-e-Shamsi was built on the orders of Shams-ud-Din Iltutmish or Altamash (1211-1236). It is said that one day, he asked his nobles to accompany him to a site. Once there, he pointed to a stone and informed his nobles that the night before, Prophet Mohammad had appeared in his dream; He was astride his horse and the horse’s hoof rested on that stone. Altamash claimed that the Prophet then instructed him to build a hauz on that site in order to improve availability of water for the residents of Mehrauli

It is believed that the lake was then excavated with that very rock as the centre-point. A few rain-fed streams and perhaps now extinct tributaries to the Yamuna were diverted to fill the lake that at one time covered an area of more than five acres. Overflow from the lake was passed through a channel, called the Jharna, to a stream known as the Nau Lakha Nala. The Nala deposited the excess to the Yamuna

During the 16 century, a pavilion was erected above the rock and a pleasure palace known as the Jahaz Mahal was built on the eastern bank of the hauz. Mohammad Bin Tughlaq carried out repairs on the hauz, while additional buildings like a pavilion and a baradari were added near the Jharna by Ghazi-ud-din Ahmad, a commander of Aurangzeb and by Akbar Shah II, the father of Bahadur Shah Zafar. The Jharna and the Hauz are the sites around which the annual Phool Walon Ki Sair is organised

The locals treat the water as sacred and there is a tradition among both the Hindus and Muslims to release live fish in the hauz as thanksgiving for wish fulfilment

Drawing upon all these factors and the tale of the Prophet’s horse, Abhinandita and Vishal floated a talking horse in the hauz. The horse could be called on a mobile number and you could leave your messages about the lake, about pollution and about environment with the horse; the number was circulated through leaflets and the talking horse became a big hit with the youth of this part of Mehrauli, leading to many youngsters becoming protectors of the hauz

The Neela Hauz Citizen’s Group that can be reached at plans to mobilise opinion and support to save and revive the Hauz-e-Shamsi; in the meanwhile, the young couple that lives next to the hauz would certainly be a part of this campaign
 

The Hindu, 23rd June 2012

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Postcard from Churu

The hottest city in India seems unaware of the blistering heat and its vanishing history

Churu, floating on the surface of the sand bowl of Thar, is a modest town with immodest weather. The weather gods speak more for Churu than the townspeople. The twin peaks of searing heat and numbing cold have put this otherwise nondescript town on a map of notoriety year after year for being the hottest place in India, with temperatures dallying in the late forties. It is surrounded by other equally hot districts — Bikaner, Sriganganagar and Hissar, which experience intense solar radiation and sport temperatures northwards of 45 degrees Celsius for most of summer. The peak this summer at Churu was 49 degrees on May 31

Yet, there’s more to Churu than what meets the weathered eye. Under the veil of modesty lies a boiling and parched town containing valuable personal histories of important families — merchant classes that developed trade from a town that was once known as “Ajmer se Kabul ka chauraha”

The doors of Dr Bhanwar Singh Samaur’s house are open to anyone seeking to discover Churu. A local legend himself, Dr Samaur doesn’t waste any time on introductions before retelling Churu’s place in history

According to him, the origin of the town goes back to the Mahabharata. Samaur, the elder, receives us in a room decorated with his history. Here he is joined by his son who supplies Samaur with related threads and dates. At five-minute intervals, the door opens, a head peeks in to add a fact. By the end of the hour, the room is complete with S, the elder, his son, two daughters and three grandchildren with only the wife wedged behind the mesh door. Dr Samaur’s biographical sketch of Churu reveals the importance of merchants and trade. The first trader families to venture out from Rajasthan came from Churu. The town is littered with havelis built by these business families — Oswal, Bhagwandas Bagla, Goenka, Poddar — families that have succeeded and settled elsewhere

Thirty-six kilometer away from Churu, is the village of Dudhwa Khara. From the ramparts of the Nathani family seat, an old man waves at us vigorously. As we get closer, his waving gets more energetic. It’s not a welcome. It’s a get-off-my-property gesture. While we skulk around, the old man’s son appears. We persuade him to let us see the insides of the Nathani Haveli, saying that we’d read a lot on the internet about it. Reluctantly, he lets us in. There were three Nathani brothers — Hazarimal, Sagarlal and Rameshwar — then the viceroys of the region for the British. Three large havelis for each stand as desolate as the tijoris, Rangoon embossed trunks, four-poster beds, their personal histories settled with dust and time. Children from the village play cards outside and the caretaker knows precious little to show us around, comfortable in the white heat

In Churu, the haveli du jour is Malji ka kamara. It’s perhaps the first haveli to have restoration work done to it and will soon open for the benefit of firang tourists. Behind tall fortified doors lies a depressingly restored haveli clad in coats of mint paint. The very thought that this could be Churu’s “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the beautiful and elderly” is grotesque. Grander schemes to develop family seats into heritage hotels in Churu have seen some talking but little action, thankfully

In December, 2011, Pratik Agarwala had visited Churu to retrace his family’s footnotes in history. Son of Jyotiprasad Agarwala, the famous Assamese playwright, he left behind a thank you note to Nagarsri Museum, Churu for all the information it provided. Nagarsri is a family run trust, surviving to keep the numerous personal histories of this town alive. The museum-cum-library-cum-haveli has a large collection of photographs of the families, handwritten account books of the city, artefacts from Kalibangan, Ganjifa cards, and a predominantly Hindi library. Of the few English books that survive, Scottish explorer T George Scott’s ominously titled Burma as it was, as it is and as it will be catches the curious eye — a reminder of the trade ties that extended from Churu all the way to Rangoon. Three volumes of guest books are filled with touching testimonies, like Pratik Agrawala’s, some to the trust’s efforts, and some simply to the discovery of this charming place

As Geeta Samaur, the elder so rightly points out, Churu, in all its modesty, is a dwarf among Rajasthan’s historical destinations. It is a town that has benefited from the largesse of families that left its shores, but it has never bothered to preserve these family histories that give Churu its own story, and its own place in time. As the mercury docks another new high for the month of June, this modest town plods on slowly, almost safe in the comfort of heat and unaware of history

Across the Churu district, the dusty landscape is dotted with medieval water conservation structures called joharas to collect and preserve rain water. Locals bring their flocks and 400 litre tanks to these joharas to collect drinking water. The depth of the joharas can go up to 60-70 feet. When water projects fail, these joharas have become a source of constant drinking water, albeit dependent on rainfall. Situated on the shifting sands of the Thar desert, the town is subject to extremes in weather. Despite the burning heat wave conditions, people of Churu have coped with the extremities, even the gadha rehdiwallas don't mind the heat as much as the lack of work

Fifty, sixty years ago, these donkey carts were used for transport. The earlier camel carts were replaced by donkey and horse carts. Grain, metal, bricks and people, any load upto a weight of five quintals, all hitched a ride on this quaint little cart called “minister ki gaadi”. These gadha rehdis run on “hawai jahaaz ke tyres”. Second-hand, but airplane tyres nonetheless. The tyres have been bought in auctions for many years at markets in Delhi by businessmen from Ladnun and stocked by shopkeepers in Churu for the rehdiwallas. These airplane tyres suit the terrain, give good value for money, have longevity and add more bite to the title of “minister ki gaadi”. Still on the streets but no longer in vogue, these minister ki gaadis, like Churu itself, are fighting a tough battle to stay relevant. Upstaged by autos and not helped by the searing heat either, the 500 odd rehdiwallas in Churu have little work. Their days are numbered but they insist that their carts will always be plied, that their trade will continue as friendly shopkeepers call the rehdiwallas to cool their heels in the shade
 

The Indian Express, 24th June 2012

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The Begum no one knew

She was short and pale, yet stunningly beautiful. She danced like a dream and loved like a romantic but what people don’t know about Begum Samru was that she was one nautch girl who rose to be a hardened ruler, a strict administrator and a shrewd politician, managing her estate with an iron hand. Three centuries after her death, this unsung powerhouse of multiple liaisons and intrigue in Indian history is all set to reclaim lost territory in director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s next period film. DEEBASHREE MOHANTY visited her dilapidated haveli in Chandni Chowk to give you a peep into her life & times

At four feet-one inch, Farzana was not just another nautch girl born to a tawaif. She was charming and witty, someone who knew how to spin a web around her men; she was tactful and flirtatious. And, as she rose to become the ruler of Sardhana, a nondescript township near Meerut, she took over like a seasoned master

Rechristened Begum Samru, this 15-year-old ruler knew all the tricks of the trade — she was a perfect administrator, a keen accountant and a ruthless leader. She used brute force against all those who deigned to rise against her

Begum died at age 53, and her tomb is in London, but very little is known about this colourful personality. But now that Kareena Kapoor will be giving her screen life three centuries after her mysterious death, the Begum is back to rule yet again — and this time she has her sights set on public imagination

The Begum had a very long and lasting relationship with the gallis of the Capital. Ruins of her palace in Chandni Chowk bear credence to this. As you meander through the congested bylanes of what is now known as Bhagirath Place, enquiring about her from samosa vendors, furniture shop-owners and kiosk owners selling traditional lamp shades, no one seems to know what we are talking about

We ask around for Begum Samru’s palace which has since been renamed Bhagirath Place since and is now a hub for electronic goods. People have no idea whatsoever who Begum Samru was but they have heard of a haveli of the same name “somewhere”

Situated at the corner of this lane is a two-storeyed dilapidated building in urgent need of repair. The architecture is ageold, replete with traditional jharokas. Our rickshaw pulls to a halt. “Yeh baaki hai haveli ka... iss begum sahiba ka koi naamo nishaan nahin raha...,” he tells you

We find ourselves standing next to a board with very sketchy information about our subject — Begum Samru, a Muslim nautch girl Farzana, born in 1760, brought to Delhi from her birthplace some 50 miles away, by her tawaif mother. The mother died with giving birth but the child survived and was brought up and trained in a kotha in Chawri Bazaar

“A star pupil, Farzana grew into a rare beauty with flashing eyes, pearl complexion and lively wit. She performed at a mehfil and a day later was given away as a concubine to Austrian adventurer Walter Joseph Reinhardt of Luxemburg,” is how author John Lall describes Begum Samru in his book Begum Samru, published by Roli Books way back in 2005

Though Lall is now ailing and cannot remember much about his work, it is his friend and co-author Andrew William tells us how interesting a subject Begum Samru was

“I vividly remember how ecstatic Lall had been to have discovered Ishaa and Kamal Rani, twotawaif girls whose family knew the Begum. They were much younger than Farzana but had heard about her in detail. Lall spent days with these two girls to get the physical description of Samru in place. As for the emotional strains, Lall had to rely on the available background,” William tells you from New York, answering an email query

As history has it, Farzana finally married Reinhardt in 1765 AD and her association with him lasted for 13 years till his death in 1778. Meanwhile, her husband who had assumed the title of Sombre, had been granted a jagir in 1776. After his death, the jagir was transferred to Farzana by the then Mughal emperor Shah Alam in 1779. Ever since, Farzana came to be known as as Begum Samru, a variation of her husband’s title, Sombre

“She was a very complex subject to study. She was beautiful and, being a nautch girl, had mastered the art of using her charm on men. What most people don’t know is that she was equally good at administration. Land tariff had shot up during her period and farmers tell you it turned out to be the most fruitful period for her,” Bollywood director Tigmanshu Dhulia says about his forthcoming period film on Begum Samru. He adds that although nothing much has been decided about the movie thus far, the title is going to remain the same

“Begum Samru needs to be re-discovered because she was an exemplary woman and a great achiever,” he says, explaining why he felt the need to make a film around a subject as unknown as Begum Samru

Although Farzana had spent a good 15 years in her haveli in Chandni Chowk, very little information is there about her. The haveli has since then changed a lot of hands — from the Rajas to the Dhaliwals who have been owners of this property for the last 100 years or more. “Many generations of Dhaliwals have been coming to collect the monthly rent of Rs 1.5 lakh from the Central Bank branch office which operates from the haveli’s premises. Many years ago, the bank acquired this property for a paltry Rs 2 lakh,” Satish Kundu (66-year-old) who sells carbon papers just outside of it, says. Kundu is an old timer in this area having spent most of his days in the galis of Chandni Chowk

“My chacha told us that this haveli, at one time, was surrounded by nine ponds. The dungeon below leads all the way to Agra Fort. No one has ever travelled the length but, at one time, Begumsahiba would use this as her getaway,” Kundu tells you

Begum Samru had a very colourful life something that historians have enjoyed writing about. “Farzana was converted to the Roman Catholic faith in 1781. She was baptised as Joanna. An old church in Sardhana obtained by Reinhardt who wanted to rebuild the premises. After his death, Farzana completed the job and it has remained a monument in her memory,” history professor Asad Alam, who teaches research scholars at Delhi University, tells you

Prof Alam adds that Begum Samru would be an excellent ingredient for a movie. “She is the ideal heroine. She is pretty, smart and had no qualms about her character. She was very good to people of her estate,” he says

There was much more to Farzana than her eclectic kotha performances and her innumerous flings, including a marriage with Le Vasoult, a French cavalier, in 1793. This had led to a revolt by her officers and troops. She was captured and tied to a machine gun for several days before being saved by an old admirer

“She was a passionate queen. When she loved, she would go to any extreme. But the period between 1773-78 took a heavy toll on her. Her own troops turned mutinous and would no longer take her commands. There was a time when Farzana even considered running away from Sardhana with her French lover. However, it was her warrior bent that did not allow her to do so and she soon became the subject of much scorn. Farzana was thrown into a prison in her own estate and denied proper food and water for four months before an old admirer rescued her from that hell,” historian AK Akbar from JNU tells you. Akbar has studied Begum Samru extensively as a part of his thesis

But will the movie do justice to the complex character? “I really don’t know. We will try to bring forth all aspects about Farzana,” Dhulia says, earnestly

The director, who earned a lot of acclaim for his last movie Paan Singh Tomar, is relying heavily on research for this epic. “What I found most fascinating about this lady was the fact that she was a multi-talented persona. We know that the Begum was a good administrator. Her staff was always paid on time. She was interested in agriculture and, under her rule, the land revenue went up from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh. She was also known to be a hard taskmaster who dealt severely with rebels,” Dhulia tells you

Author Lall has cited innumerable instances of Farzana unleashing her brutal side too. In a chapter dealing with her administration skills, he writes that Begum once had two of her faithful slaves buried alive for intrigues against her. Then there are other instances of physical violence when she had commanded that her principal officers hand be severed because he had faulted in keeping accounts

“Although it did not gel with the personality we had in mind, it was essential in her times that the warrior be tough. Women did not enjoy a great position in society and when they became rulers, they had to be fighters. Begum Samru was just that — she was a beautiful fighter. Lall had enough evidence from her past to make this conclusion in his novel,” William says

As for Begum’s conversion to Christianity, was it the result of belief? “We learn that the conversion made little difference to her. The court continued to be run in the Muslim style with some changes with respect to Christian rituals on special occasions. She observed all Muslim festivals with fervour and would not take in anything against her original religion. In fact, the church she did up in Sardana is ensconced in Muslim architecture and looks more like a masjid than a church,” Akbar points out

Today, however, all that remains of Begum Samru are two dilapidated palaces and some remnants of a mosque near Sardhana. Very little is known about her later years and death. “It is as if she disappeared into nothingness. Her entire clan is missing from any kind of records. She had only one friend during her nautch girl days but she also finds no mention in history books,” Prof Alam tells you

But one thing is indisputable. The Begum died immensely rich. Her inheritance was assessed at 55.5 Million Gold Marks in 1923 and 18 Billion Deutschmark in 1953. Her inheritance continues to be disputed till this day

An organisation called “Reinhards Erbengemeinschaft” based in London still strives to resolve the inheritance issue. Although officials of this organisation refused to share any details about this hefty inheritance, they did accept in an email that an account in Reinhards’ name exists till today and there have been no claimants so far

Back home and on the silver screen, whether Kareena Kapoor plays the Begum or will the director be able to flesh out history’s most elusive yet colourful woman remains to be seen. Historians though are rejoicing that a forgotten heroine is finally getting her due. And, William is the most excited of the lot. He says on behalf of John Lall: “Begum Samru’s name is not found in many history books. Her life and achievement were relegated to obscure records in archives in India and London. Her kin were scattered in distant lands. Even her great wealth became the subject of a famous law suit which gave it away to a scheming English woman by declaring her heir insane. All was lost and gone. A dark and even tragic legacy,” he tells you. It is believed that after her death her heir was not recognised and were denied the possession of the wealth. “We don’t have conclusive evidence but the Britishers tagged her as a mad woman and also didn’t recognise her heir,” Williams tells you

For those who stream into the church at Sardhana, and the thousands who gather at the adjacent majid as pilgrims for the annual urs on every second Sunday of November, wonder who the marble figure at the entrance represents — a ruler of yore, a forgotten heroine or just a great woman. They will find their answers very soon when Dhulia lifts the curtains on this historical figure, little known and totally unsung
 

The Pioneer, 24th June 2012

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A home for books

Agatha Christie sits next to Roget’s Thesaurus, and Japuji Saheb is placed next to a translation of the Torah. More than 3,000 books — both old and new — on subjects as diverse as ancient architecture, literature, geography, health, religion, metaphysics, hobbies and even journalism, are neatly stacked in a cosy library that also boasts of some replicas of ancient Indian art

It’s an excellent collection, and the man who manages the library is equally impressive — Dr Janki Ballabh Jha — a medical practitioner fluent in at least three languages has translated the Gita into archaic English verse that the US-based International Gita Society has uploaded on the Net. The most interesting aspect of the library is, however, its setting — an old age home

Godhuli, the senior citizens’ home run by the Servants of the People Society, has become a landmark in Dwarka. Neat and clean with modern amenities, facilities such as gym and parking, and pleasing environs, it is home to around 60 people, who, like 80-year-old Dr Jha, have chosen to stay here post-retirement

The library is located on the first floor of the building, next to a sitting area with comfortable chairs and sofas and overlooking a garden

“While most of the titles are in English, we have around 300 books in Hindi and 150 in Bengali — mostly literary works,” says Jha, who speaks all the three languages. He is self-taught in library science, and in literature his personal favourites are Shakespeare and Arthur Conan Doyle

Using the universal decimal code, he has catalogued the entire collection under various heads, including something as unusual as ‘Death, Funeral & Obituary’

“It is neither unusual nor morbid,” he counters. “It is a biological inevitability and also at a higher plane, the final question,” philosophises Jha, who retired as chief medical officer, CGHS, and practised in his native village in Jharkhand for a while before joining Godhuli. “I was the fifth resident to join this place,” he says while showing us a 1954 second edition Kemsley Manual of Journalism

The voluntary work of a resident-librarian is, however, not without regrets. The well-stocked place gets few visitors. “One of the residents, a PhD in Sanskrit, was a regular reader here, but now with failing health and poor eyesight she is unable to come to the library. A 93-year-old lady borrows books quite regularly. Apart from them, you can say that I am the sole reader and keeper of this place,” he says with a wry smile

Says Alka Mathur, Godhuli’s manager, “Health and interest are the two key factors; it’s up to the residents to use the library.” She adds that a large number of books have been donated by individuals. “We are careful not to accept too many old books as they are difficult to maintain,” she says

Perhaps opening the library to the general public or even local senior citizens, for a nominal fee, would have ensured that people use it. “But the library is meant for residents of this old age home, so that they can read in privacy and peace. Opening the library for others would also mean security and other related issues for Godhuli,” adds Mathur

Jha, meanwhile, is happy spending time in this little library when he is not surfing the Net for the latest medical news
 

The Indian Express, 24th June 2012

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On ASI list, but no upkeep for these monuments

It is the only structure from Babur's era in Delhi and is among the 174 monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the Capital.

The 16th century structure is an ancient mosque at Palam village and lies in a congested urbanised village. As per an inscription in

mixed Arabic and Persian on one of the three arches in the mosque, Ghazanfar built this mosque in 1528-29 during Babur's reign. The dome went missing during the Partition, local residents said. And over the years, the mosque itself has changed drastically (see box)

"None of the ASI officials come here. We have been living here for decades and carried out the additions with donation," said a person, who did not wish to be identified. The ASI's answer was that the mosque has "lost its antiquity value"

Another structure facing a similar situation is the tomb of Razia Sultan. Squeezed between modern buildings, the tomb of Razia (AD 1211-36), the only woman to have ruled Delhi's throne, can be reached by navigating a narrow lane in Bulbuli Khana mohalla near Turkman Gate.

But nothing can be worse than the fate of Jogabai mound on the banks of the Yamuna. Jamia's Zakir Nagar and Batla House colonies are located right on top of the mound, which had archaeological remains under it

The question that comes to the mind is that why isn't the ASI de-notifying these monuments and removing from the list of protected monuments if they have lost their "antiquity value"

The proposal for de-notification has to go from the circle office. "Our proposal for de-notifying Jogabai Mound is already pending," said DN Dimri, head of ASI's Delhi circle. "But we have not considered anything about Palam Mosque or Tomb of Razia Sultan.

"De-notification becomes an administrative necessity to re-strategise protection policies. The very fact that these have undergone so much of change means the ASI is not protecting them" said conservation architect AGK Menon
 

The Hindustan Times, 24th June 2012

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Prestige or preservation?

As Unesco's World Heritage Committee deliberates on 38 nominations for the World Heritage Site status at its fortnight long meeting beginning today in St. Petersburg, Russia, India is most likely to come out of it drawing a blank. The two Indian names that were up for consideration — the natural heritage site of the Western Ghats and the seven hill forts of Rajasthan — had failed to impress the respective evaluation bodies, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the ICOMOS (International Council of Monuments and Sites). While the decision on the former was deferred, the latter was not recommended for inscription in the list.

The heritage fraternity across the country has already begun nit-picking and trying to pin down those responsible for the failure. But then, the truth is that it's a tough call for any heritage site to make it to the list. Each country is allowed only two nominations annually and India already has 34 names in the tentative list. The dossiers for most of those sites are under preparation . Even if two Indian nominations were to be accepted each year, it would still take 17 years for all these sites to make the cut. And to say nothing of the new names jostling for nomination in the prestigious list

The immense international prestige that comes with the World Heritage Site tag cannot be overemphasized. But besides the prestige, what is it about this label that we must rush for it and spend enormous funds and manpower to prepare the detailed dossiers conforming to exacting Unesco standards? It's the guarantee of the preservation of these sites for posterity, argue most heritage experts. But that itself is debatable — can we not guarantee that without an expensive tag, which doesn't come easily any way

Author, filmmaker and heritage conservationist Sohail Hashmi says, "It's crucial to put our sites on the world heritage map as that spurs many people from India and abroad to visit those sites, makes our own people better informed and ensures conservation. It also prevents disfigurement of the site as happened with the Mahabalipuram temples which would have otherwise been disfigured by a flyover." Hashmi's illustration is seminal — it takes more than common sense in India to prevent obvious damages to anything historically important . If a site doesn't have a World Heritage Site label, it is most likely to be blemished by the lawless as well as those on the safe side of the law, often in the name of development

But the World Heritage Site status comes for a heavy price — a figure that none of the people involved with preparing the sites for consideration are willing to reveal. While one can only guess how much funds are needed for such an exercise, Saima Iqbal of INTACH Jammu & Kashmir, who is working on the documentation for the nomination of six Mughal Gardens of the state — Nishat, Shalimar , Achabal, Chashma Shahi, Verinag and Pari Mahal (on the tentative list since December 2010) — says, "Such projects are mostly supported by the government. We've been sending out funding proposals to both the central and state governments for further research and documentation." Often, it's the local government that funds the preparations. It is a heavy drain on the resources considering that when a site gets rejected, the money not only goes waste but more is needed to re-prepare

Abha Narain Lamba, Mumbai-based heritage consultant who was part of the documentation team for the nomination of three Qutb Shahi monuments of Hyderabad — Golconda Fort, Charminar and the Qutb Shahi tomb (on the tentative list since September 2010) — however, argues, "It's is not money wasted but invested. Even as a site is prepared for the nomination, a lot of improvement is undertaken in and around the site, which itself upgrades its status." Lamba has a point, but it's a pity that only a handful of sites that get pitched as potential World Heritage, get this makeover. The rest continue to languish in neglect and abuse

AGK Menon, convenor of the Delhi chapter of INTACH that is undertaking the documentation for Delhi's inclusion in the list as a World Heritage City (on the tentative list since May last year), says, "Of course, we must take care of our heritage even without the tag. But that is asking for a lot in a country where basic civic amenities too are not in order. The heritage status ensures that things improve at least around the site.
 

 The Times of India, 24th June 2012

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Chasing Rama

Settled outside Jaisalmer, in a village called Bhaiya, the Manganiyar community has an age-old tradition of men singing the story of the Ramayana through poetry of saints such as Kabir, Surdas, Mirabai and Tulsidas, which have been passed down orally through generations. In another world, London-based storyteller Vayu Naidu performs Vayu’s Ramayana, a reimagining of the epic in an English setting as a “transcultural experience through storytelling and music”. In Tamil Nadu, Kattaikkuttu Sangam, a residential theatre school in Kanchipuram for Kattaikkuttu performers, a theatre form practised in rural Tamil Nadu only by men, has merged the ancient story with a modern breakthrough. Its production, Ramaravana, for the first time, has women actors and the storyline recreates the epic with characters of Sita, Lakshmana, Ravana, Surpanakha, Hanuman and an absentee Rama

Now, an organisation based in Pune, Open Spaces, is documenting various creative retellings of the Ramayana in a website and an offline location in the city through a project called Kiski Kahani: 300 Ramayanas and Counting. Their documentation includes fine art, theatre, posters, calendars, films and photographs from India and abroad. Imran Ali Khan, the “Ramayanafied” head of the project, says, “Apart from being an archival project, we aim to reclaim the text. We want to open a way for new interpretations and tie-up with people who look at the Ramayana closely to recreate it in a more contemporary way.

A book on the project, with “around 200 pages of stories, essays, commissioned works, cartoon strips and academic writings from authors among others” will be released later this year. The project, which started in November, has on board Arshia Sattar, who translated Valmiki’s Ramayana in the 1990s as an advisor, and Ujwala Samarth as the programme coordinator. The team has dug into archives, libraries, the internet and commissioned works to ensure that the project includes both contemporary and traditional interpretations of the Ramayana. “We also look at folk stories which have a huge demographic and are mostly oral,” says Khan. One interesting story comes from Himachal Pradesh about how Sita was making laddoos in her kitchen when a crow flew away with one. He dropped it in Ravana’s lap in Lanka and, when he tasted it, he resolved to have this woman for himself. That, according to the story, is why she was abducted. “Many of these stories bring forward notions of the spaces of home, women and everyday life. I think that’s what the Ramayana really is, about people,” says Khan

Among the living legends is a Dalit community in Chhattisgarh called Ramnami Samaj who, when barred from the temple, tattooed themselves with the word “Ram” in Hindi. Another section talks about Montpellier (France)-based artist Hita Hirons who has created The Ramayana Clock, with the story painted on a circular sheet of metal. Yet another one comes from a Kolkata-based Kathak dancer, Ashavari Mazumdar, whose piece highlights the character of Surpanakha with several interpretations, from a vindictive demon to a young girl who challenged patriarchy. “At present, we’re trying to acquire material from the huge archive of the Oriental Institute’s library in Baroda,” says Khan, adding, “We have our ears to the ground for more. It’s a very small world, Ramayana’s.
 

The Indian Express, 25th June 2012

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Remnants of 4000-year-old bridge unearthed in UK

Archaeologists have unearthed what appears to be the foundation of a massive, ancient structure, possibly a bridge leading to an artificial island, in what is now southeast Wales

The strange ruin is unlike anything found before in the UK and possibly all of Europe, said Steve Clarke, chairman of the Monmouth Archaeological Society, who discovered the structural remains recently in Monmouth, Wales - a town known for its rich archaeological features

"It's a real mystery. Whatever it's, there's nothing else like it. It may well be unique," Clarke was quoted as saying by LiveScience. Clarke and his team unearthed the remnants of three giant timber beams placed alongside one another on a floodplain at the edge of an ancient lake that has long since filled with silt. After being set into the ground, the pieces of timber decayed, leaving anaerobic (oxygen-free) clay, which formed after silt filled in the timbers' empty slots, Clarke said

The team initially thought the timber structures were once sleeper beams, or shafts of timber placed in the ground to form the foundations of a house. However, the pieces appear to be too large for that purpose

While a typical sleeper beam would span about one foot across, these timber beams were over three feet wide and at least 50 feet long

The archaeologists are still digging and don't yet know how much longer the timbers are. Clarke said the structure's builders appear to have placed whole trees, cut in half lengthwise, into the ground

"One other thing that is striking that might be relevant is that the timbers seem to be lined up with the middle of the lake," Clarke noted, suggesting that the structures may have been part of a causeway to a crannog, or artificial island, constructed in the middle of the lake

Though they aren't sure when it was built or even if it came before or after the lake formed, the archaeologists said the structure, at its oldest, could date to the Bronze Age around 4,000 years ago

Beneath the beams the researchers also found a burnt mound of rock and charcoal fragments, alongside of which they found a hearth and trough. They believe people in the Bronze Age heated stones in a fire and threw them into a filled trough to boil water
 

The Asian Age, 25th June 2012

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Heritage tag for Western Ghats to be decided this week

India’s campaign renewed at the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee at St. Petersburg

Verdict soon:India has been campaigning for the inscription of 39 serial sites of the Western Ghats on the World Heritage List since 2006.— File photo: K. Murali Kuma

The campaign for the nomination of 39 serial sites of the Western Ghats as a world heritage site will be renewed at the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) which will begin at St. Petersburg on Sunday

A decision on the nominated sites will be taken by a 21-nation panel including India. The task of the panel will be to “identify the cultural and natural properties of Outstanding Universal Value which are to be protected under the Convention and inscribe them properties on the World Heritage List.

India has been campaigning for the inscription of the sites on the list since 2006. The 35th session of the WHC held in Paris last year had deferred its decision on nomination after considering a report of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which evaluated the sites

In its report, the IUCN had suggested that India “review and refine the scope and composition” of the sites and consider the recommendations the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP). It was asked to “further refine the boundaries” of the sites to ensure the “exclusion of disturbed areas” and “enhance the contiguity and buffer zones of the nomination” based on the WGEEP recommendations

India will take the position that the WGEEP recommendations shall not be linked to the evaluation of the ghats as the government has not taken a final decision on the report, which is kept in public domain for consultation. The recommendations on land use and controls on development would be applied to the sites once the decision is taken, according to a dossier to be placed before the WHC

It will be stressed that the panel has not made any recommendation to refine the scope and composition of the nominated sites, which include national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, tiger reserves and reserved forests. Hence the question of compliance with the panel recommendations does not arise, the document said

The Indian delegation to Russia include Jagdish Kishwan, Additional Director General (Wildlife), and S.K. Khanduri, Inspector General (Wildlife) of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, and V.B. Mathur, Dean, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun

Sans settlement

On the IUCN suggestion for exclusion of disturbed areas from the nominated sites, India will take the stand that “the existing reservoirs, plantations and surrounding agriculture lands are in no way impairing the identified Outstanding Universal Values (OUV) of the nominated property and it continues to be an evolutionary ecotone.

The continuous and purposeful engagement of the local communities and indigenous groups has been ensured at all phases of the nomination. The exclusion of the existing settlements from the nominated property would “lead to their displacement and would work against the bona fide interests of the local communities,” it will be argued

It will be stressed that a “comprehensive three-tier mechanism for the improved coordination, integration and management of sites and safeguarding its OUV” is in place. The mechanism “fully meets the intended requirement of the overarching management framework proposed by IUCN” and “ensures continuous and increased engagement of all stakeholders including the local communities” in the management of the sites, according to the dossier
 

The Hindu, 25th June 2012

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India seeks $30m World Bank loan for wildlife

The environment ministry’s bid to seek US $ 30 million from the World Bank to checking poaching in around 600 national parks and sanctuaries could mean making India’s wildlife laws compliant with the bank’s norms.

The Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF) for the proposed

project circulated by the ministry speaks about the need to review relevant environmental and land acquisition legislation comply with World Bank’s environmental and social safeguard policies

“Adhering to the principles and procedures and using the checklist of potential environmental and social issues laid out in this ESMF will help the implementing agencies to ensure compliance with the World Bank’s environmental and social safeguard policies,” the ministry has said in the document

India is seeking a loan of US $ 30 million from the World Bank to adopt an integrated national and international approach to checking wildlife poaching, which is now rated as third biggest illegal trade in the world after drugs and weapons. Nepal and Bangladesh have taken funding from the bank for adopting similar approach.

The bank is emphasizing on integrated wildlife protection for entire South Asia, which accounts for 13- 15% of the world's biodiversity and is considered a lucrative target of the trade

Illegal wildlife trade from South Asia is perceived to be on rise. “Victims of the trade include the iconic tiger and elephant, the snow leopard, the common leopard, the one-horn rhino, pangolin, brown bear, several species of deer and reptiles, seahorses, star tortoises, butterflies, peacocks, hornbills, parrots, parakeets and birds of prey, and corals,” the ESMF document prepared joint by the ministry and the bank said

Within south Asia, Nepal has emerged as a hub for illegal wildlife trade destined for China. Myanmar is another important route for transporting wildlife body parts to Laos and Vietnam, two major global transit hubs for illegal wildlife trade.

The ministry is seeking a loan of US $ 30 million from the bank to strengthen wildlife protection measures across 600 national parks and sanctuaries in India, many of which share boundary with neighbouring countries

The funds are likely to be used for cross border landscape management approach between the countries, relocation of people living in parks and sanctuaries to create inviolate wildlife areas and satellite based monitoring approach. India would also use the funds to strengthen Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, setting up of Virtual Regional Center of Excellence (VRCE) for wildlife conservation and research projects in wildlife conservation

“The project will focus on a selected set of country-specific initiatives as well as key mutually agreed regional activities that are crucial to attaining the regional strategic goals,” a ministry official said

The ministry, however, admits that the World Bank funding can impact implementation of environmental laws such as Environment Protection Act of 1986, National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007, Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 with applicability of bank’s five policies on environmental protection, natural habitats, forestry, involuntary resettlement and indigenous people
 

The Indian Express, 25th June 2012

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National Monuments Authority nod to new bridge near Salimgarh Fort

Northern Railway's plan to build a new bridge near world heritage site Salimgarh Fort will take off after being held up for almost a decade. This will be the first public project in Delhi to get a no objection certificate (NOC) from the National Monuments Authority(NMA).

The authority gave the railways the go-ahead taking into consideration the heritage value of the old iron bridge. It said the rail portion of the old bridge should be preserved as a museum.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Northern Railway got embroiled in a long-drawn battle as work on the new bridge would have caused damage to portions of the Salimgarh Fort. The project was given approval only after the bridge was realigned to ensure that construction took place outside the 100m prohibited zone.

Railways sought ASI's permission to build a new bridge in place of the 150-year-old iron bridge connecting Shahdara and the Old Delhi railway station. However, ASI refused permission as construction of the proposed bridge involved demolition of a portion of the ancient fort. The railways was asked for a revised plan. In the meantime, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010, was passed and National Monuments Authority came into being— which would now grant permission.

By this time, railways had a heritage impact assessment report prepared by Intach, which also proposed an alternative alignment in which the rail track through Salimgarh Fort would be diverted to north, passing over Yamuna through the new bridge. The diversion, which was outside 100m radius of the monument, would have ensured that the new construction was in regulated zone. "The construction will now be carried out 30m upstream, parallel to the existing road-cum-rail bridges over the Yamuna,'' said an official.

"The new plan is in line with the Act as construction would take place outside the 100m prohibited zone; the heritage impact assessment report also supported the plan,'' said an NMA source
 

The Times of India, 25th June 2012

A tribal history made personal

This book is a collection of 10 essays that aims to provide an understanding of tribal history and narratives.

The chapters are in a sequence from overarching material, such as the possible constructions of the word ‘tribe’, and the implied existence in mainstream texts, to the intricacies of problems, patterns and conflicts that have affected many people of tribal communities.

The essays, by different authors, thus do not seem disjointed. The changes in the topics discussed are rather gradual, with many chapters often containing the same names. For instance, John Hoffmann wrote the detailed and still referred to Encyclopaedia of Mundica (based on his observations of the Munda community) and he is also featured in chapters that concern negotiation with the British government for improvement in agrarian aspects of tribal life as well as the setting up of schools for the Santhal parganas.

While at first it feels repetitive, sometimes with different chapters using the same quote, this form points to the inextricable interweaving of the different issues. Agrarian reforms, education, land rights, conflicts were all connected, influenced, acted upon and suffered/reaped benefits of by the same people.

Given that a topic’s discussion is restricted to a certain geographical area, any other analysis of an issue related to the place follows the same references by and large.

This is history made personal to the reader, often by way of anecdotes. A Christian missionary is asked by an elderly tribal if Christianity permitted one to get drunk twice a week. To this the missionary said no, and the manjhi turned heel and said: “Teach our children, but leave us alone!”
Power relations and absorption of each other’s cultures by the defeated and the victorious are seen in the chapter concerning Rajputs and Bhils. In other places an attempt to understand the point behind the painful logistics involved in large scale migration is made, where the ease of control over an uprooted people is seen as the reason for tea plantation owners preferring migrant workers.

Debunking stereotypes
While it is of essence to mention the constant debunking of stereotypes in the chapters, the authors’ research stays faithful to facts. Adequate mention is made of narrow-mindedness, the ill-advised use of Victorian morality in interpreting a tribal community’s customs, ruptures, fall outs and finally an antipathy that came to exist between groups by way of rebellions and uprisings.

While a large part of the book is dedicated to the colonial era, some of the later chapters examine the same myths that were debunked by the British researchers as now being very prevalent in post-independence India.

Finally, there exists a steadfast self-awareness in the writing that is underscored in the penultimate chapter that tries to create links between the importance of these findings of the past with adivasi movements of the present.

NARRATIVES FROM THE MARGINS: Edited by Sanjukta Das Gupta and Raj Shekhar Basu; Primus Books, Virat Bhavan, Mukherjee Nagar Commercial Complex, New Delhi-110009. Rs. 995.
 

The Hindu, 26th June 2012

Walk through Indian history online

A recently-launched first-of-its-kind Virtual Museum, takes the viewer through aspects of temple architecture and other examples of local heritage. Its director,Vandana Sinha, spoke to Ila Sankrityayan

The Centre for Art and Archaeology, and the Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology, both departments at the American Institute of Indian Studies, recently developed a virtual museum of Indian heritage, music, culture and temple architecture.

“Virtual museums are still new. Their very definition is evolving. But already, the term contains different meanings. The Indian virtual museum is not different from those in parts of the world . While most Indian museums are in the process of digitisation, and many don’t have their own website, several sites have been created to virtually showcase materials of museum collections,” explains Vandana Sinha. She is the director, (academic), at the Centre for Art and Archaeology, AIIS.
The virtual museum includes sculptures, paintings, drawings, sketches, coins, photographs, recordings, video shoots, articles, publications, transcripts and other items.

“It features 10th century material. Like drawings, photographs of monuments, sculptures, architectural fragments and an exhibition on temple architecture. Some materials were contributed by collections from Delhi’s National Museum and UP’s Allahabad Museum, UP.”

She adds, “The Virtual Museum of ‘Images’ has four wings — Exhibition, Collections, Sites (Timeline) and Resources. There is for example, art and architecture from 10th century India. It is exhibited to provide an overview of the artistic and cultural environment of that period. All the wings are connected to each other, though easy navigation paths, designed to provide a sense of virtual walks.”

Exhibition: This wing shows 12 panels on, ‘What Makes a Temple,’ that were digitised for creation of the online version. “Three dimensional models of temple structures are used to describe parts of the building and placement of sculptures on temple walls. A walk through the temple, helps visitors gather interesting details. The visuals and drawings used, are drawn from the CA &A’s collection of a 10th century Ambika temple in Jagat in Udaipur,” she explains.

Collections: This has pieces dating as far back as the10th century, from museums collaboration with the Virtual Museum. “One sees Carmel Berkson’s documentation of Ambika temple for instance.

The section allows visitors access to reserve collections/artifact galleries of the Virtual Museum.

“Each holding is labelled with brief information about its geographical and historical context,” says Vandana.

Sites: These allow one to view monuments and artifacts in chronological, historical and geographical contexts, through interactive maps. “The larger context of world art in the same era is shown within a timeline in ‘sites’. For example, while visiting Sarnath, one will view monuments at the site with sculptures, inscriptions, coins, pottery and textile, preserved in museums across India. Any sculpture taken from Ambika temple at Jagat and housed in a museum in India, or outside, will be accessible to visitors there, through the virtual museum,” she tells us.

Virtual Museum of Sounds: “We plan recordings, accompanied by visuals that show the background of these traditions – with text and images. So its more attractive than when you merely access archival holdings,” states Vandana. She compares the virtual museum with traditional ones,commenting, “While possible to show the actual setting of ceiling sculptures stolen from Bahu temple in Nagada in, Rajasthan, in the virtual museum where both subjects can be juxtaposed virtually, one will not get the same experience one goes through in a traditional museum.”
 

The Pioneer, 26th June 2012

NDMC fixes December deadline for CP facelift

The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) on Monday decided to extend the deadline of the Connaught Place redevelopment project to December 31, 2012, and revised the administrative cost estimate to Rs 477 crore. However, NDMC did not suggest any remedial measures so that the consultants, Engineers India Limited (EIL) can meet the new deadline.

The decision was taken in a council meeting on Monday, a few days after CM Sheila Dikshit voiced her concern over the slow progress of the project.

The council approved the redevelopment proposal, but did not approve the district cooling system (centralised air-conditioning) which would have cost Rs 55.75 crore.

“The scope of work is reduced by scrapping four proposed subways at Yusufzai Market, Estate Entry Road, Chelmsford Road, P Block SBS Marg, few new mouths proposed at existing subways and the proposed 27-lakh litres underground water storage tank at Shivaji Stadium. The council has also fixed a revised administrative estimate of Rs 477 crore for the work executed through EIL and to extend the agreement up to December 31, 2012,” reads the council meeting document.

Earlier, Dikshit had directed Chief Secretary P K Tripathi and NDMC chairperson Archana Arora to monitor the project and take up the matter with the Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry. NDMC spokesperson Amit Prasad said there was no information on any meeting between NDMC Chairperson and Petroleum ministry officials regarding EIL.
 

The Indian Express, 26th June 2012

Blaze destroys Kashmir’s 206-year-old Dastgeer shrine

A suspected short circuit triggered a fire that destroyed one of Kashmir’s most revered shrines, the 206-year-old Peer Dastgeer Sahib, at Khanyar in Srinagar’s old city on Monday. Police did not suspect foul play, but the Jammu and Kashmir government ordered a probe by the divisional commissioner to ascertain the cause of the fire that broke out around 6.15am during prayers and gutted the wooden structure in two hours. The damage to the shrine of the 11th century Islamic preacher, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Geelani, set off protests in which 69 people, including 30 police officials, were injured. Though officials said the holy relics of Sheikh Qadir were saved, tension gripped the old city, posing a worry for the state in peak tourist season. Chief minister Omar Abdullah said the Waqf Board was “committed to rebuilding the shrine” and the “tragedy must not be exploited”. Law minister Ali Mohammad Sagar said, “The digital images of the shrine’s old design are with the Waqf Board and the work will start soon.” Witnesses said the fire started from one of the top minarets of the shrine. Protesters clashed with the police, alleging that fire tenders came late and with insufficient water. Separatists called for a strike on Tuesday over the gutting of the shrine.
 

The Hindustan Times, 26th June 2012

Sheila set to take charge of Shahjahan's Delhi

It was set up with an aim to conserve the culture and heritage of the historical Walled city of Delhi six years ago. With no tangible improvement — neither in the civic infrastructure nor the way the heritage structures are looked after — being showed by the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC), Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit has decided to take up its reins.

Highly-placed sources in Delhi government said Dikshit will soon take over as the chairperson of the corporation. This position was so far being held by the chief secretary of Delhi. However, with little work to show to the residents of the Walled city, who were promised better civic infrastructure with the setting up of SRDC, Dikshit has decided to herself become the boss of the body.

With assembly elections due in 2013, sources said, Delhi government is going all out to make the electorate happy. While on one side the government is trying to legalise settlements, Walled city is set to become another priority area for the government.

Dikshit had earlier decided to make Chandni Chowk MLA Prahlad Singh Sawhney the chairman of the Corporation. However, objection from other stakeholders forced her to take up the job herself.

The SRDC was initially formed to preserve, maintain and restore the natural heritage in the Walled city. The government later brought preservation and maintenance of heritage buildings, historical landmarks under it. The body also took over more than 50 monuments from the Archaeological Survey of India under its wings.

"The SRDC failed to maintain those monuments and returned them to the ASI. It has done little apart from heritage walks and running awareness campaigns," said a senior official associated with the project.
 

The Hindustan Times, 26th June 2012

Another fire, another shrine

The destruction of the Dastgeer Saheb in a blaze underlines the need for a comprehensive plan to preserve Kashmir’s historic khanqahs

Kashmir’s shrines, mosques and khanqahs are the milestones of the Valley’s spiritual environment, transcending the barriers of time. Their influence and resilience in the face of the hostility, and of natural and political upheavals lends the Firdause-e-Bareen, or the Paradise on Earth, its other enduring sobriquet of reshi waar — “the garden of saints.” These spiritual centres of millions of Kashmiris can be seen arguably as the most vibrant and visible manifestation of their faith. For Kashmiris, these also serve as a reminder of the inspiration, creative genius and building technologies of their ancestors who relied on local materials and skills and created these marvels of wood, brick and stone.

Many styles
While spiritual requirements remained the core consideration, architectural styles of the Buddhist and the Hindu periods were treated as a common resource in creating these monuments. Thus the numerous shrines and khanqahs dotting the landscape of Kashmir represent a uniquely syncretic architectural style incorporating local features, elements from sub-continental plains, as well as from the larger Central and middle Asian cultural landscape — from as far as China, Iran and Mawrau-nehar.

Besides their archaeological and architectural significance, they are an intrinsic part of the Islamic heritage. Associated with numerous Sufi orders in the land, they attract devotees from all religions and shades of different faiths and beliefs. Urs organised at these shrines are a remarkable synthesis of worship, prayer and festivity. They also serve as a rich representation of the local cultural ethos and the enduring influence of various Rishi and Sufi orders.

Spread all over the Valley, the shrines also serve as a unique example of Kashmir’s ornate wooden architecture — monumental or vernacular. Given its urban character and political pre-eminence, it is no wonder that the capital city of Srinagar has the largest concentration of these monuments. These include the historic khanqahs of Mir Sayyed Ali Hamdani, Naqshband Saheb, Makhdoom Saheb, Dastgeer Saheb, Madeen Saheb, Jamia Masjid, Aali Masjid, Imambara Hassanabad and many others.

The story of the over 200-year-old khanqah of Dastgeer Saheb starts much earlier with an Afghan traveller in Kashmir. There are historical references to him presenting the then subedar (governor) of the State, Sardar Abdullah Khan, with a holy relic of the renowned 11th century Sufi saint, Sayyid Abdul Qadir Jeelani.

The subedar gave it into the custody of the local Qadri saint Sayyid Buzarg Shah. Later, a repository for the relic was constructed at Khanyar by Sayyid Ghulam-ud-din Azad in 1767. He introduced the tradition of displaying the relic for multitudes of pilgrims on particular festivals every year.

The khanqah went through an expansion in 1877, aided by Khwaja Sanaullah Shawl, a local handicraft merchant. Since then a number of ancillary buildings have been added on to the main khanqah, which include a mosque, a hammam and a shrine. Other relics preserved in the repository include a manuscript of the Koran believed to be penned by Hazrat Imam Ali, the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad, in Khat-e-Koofi in the Sixth century.

Reverentially known as Dastgeer Saheb and Gaus-ul-Aazam, Sayyid Abdul Qadir Jeelani, in fact, had never visited Kashmir or any other territory in the Indian subcontinent. He was born south of the Caspian Sea in today’s Mazandaran Province of Iran on March 18, 1077, and died in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad at the age of 88 on January 15, 1166 A.D. He succeeds the spiritual chain of Junaid Baghdadi and has been one of the most revered saints for his devotees in Kashmir over the last eight centuries. Many from the Valley visit his tomb at the grand mausoleum in Baghdad.

Spread over an area of more than 8,000 sq.ft, Dastgeer Saheb’s shrine was a unique representation of the Kashmiri building traditions and the associated crafts depicted in various decorative and ornamental elements. Given its location on a key tourist path, the shrine also acted as a major urban landmark that had, over a period of time, carved an image for itself — as a visual representation of Kashmir in travelbooks, magazines, calendars and postcards.

The structure
The original khanqah consisted of seven linear traditional taq double height buildings aligned along a north-south axis. A number of ancillary buildings were added in a linear manner to the main khanqah on its northern and southern side. Immediately to the east of the double height khanqah stood the main burial chamber which contained the cenotaphs of some prominent saints associated with the Qadri order. The khanqah itself was preceded by a two-floor block, comprising a mosque and a hammam, which also adjoined the burial chamber on its northern side. All the buildings could be approached from a wide corridor, running along the entire length of the complex on its eastern side. Along the south-eastern corner of the khanqah, an open pavilion, the Noor Khana, covered with a multi-tiered roof, was reserved for the use of women pilgrims. The main khanqah building and the shrine block were topped by the traditional Kashmiri style multi-tiered chaar baam roof surmounted by a wooden dome and a stupa style spire. The khanqah block also had two octagonal hubs along the corner ends of the main western facade which was dominated by an arcade of pointed arched openings.

In its destruction in a blaze on Monday, this khanqah joins a long list of others that have perished similarly: the Khanqah-e-Faiz Panah of Shah-e-Hamadan at Tral, the shrine of Rishi Moul Saheb in Anantnag, and the world-famous shrine-cum-monastery of the 14th century saint and founder of Kashmiri’s Rishi order, Sheikh Noorud-din Noorani, at Chrar-e-Sharief.

Issue of protection
It seriously brings to the fore the issue of the preservation of Kashmir’s hallmarks of faith and cultural heritage. History is replete with threats to these structures from nature as well as man. Despite a chain of devastating incidents, neither a foolproof security system nor a preventive and quick reaction fire fighting system has been in place at these highly vulnerable sites.

As most of these heritage and pilgrimage sites are located in densely occupied downtown Srinagar, their protection requires a number of measures. A comprehensive preservation plan needs to be put in place; houses and land in the crucial radius shall have to be acquired; addition of new structures must be stopped to maintain both adequate breathing space and the skyline; the preservation plan must include a safety audit for assessment of fire and structural risks. Present maintenance and management practices at khanqahsare abjectly lacking in expertise and basic awareness of disaster management and mitigation.

A vigilant, round-the-clock team of volunteers, preferably from the khudams and the local community, with participation and overall supervision of the Wakf Board needs to be set up. There has to be an emphasis on fire prevention rather than fire fighting. The laissez-faire attitude at the shrines is shocking — any devotee can add or alter an electric or architectural fixture without any consideration to safety issues. Just 10 days ago, it came to our notice that some fire extinguishers have been installed at the most significant shrine of Shah Hamadan in Srinagar, nominally declared as a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Nobody in or around the shrine knows how to operate these extinguishers in the event of an emergency. Management systems have to be put in place so that all protection and prevention issues are tackled in a coordinated manner.

Coming back to Dastgeer Saheb, the Waqf Board and the State Government have announced that the reconstruction of the gutted shrine shall be undertaken immediately. One would hope that during the reconstruction of this historic shrine, the original character of the site and its architecture will be given due consideration.
 

The Hindu, 27th June 2012

For Heritage tag, city dials Japan expert

After a string of Indian nominations to the World Heritage Site list was rejected by UNESCO, Delhi is looking to international experts in its quest for the World Heritage City tag.

In an effort to make a strong case in favour of its nomination, international experts are being consulted to help interpret and contextualise the guidelines that need to be met as part of the nomination dossier.

Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a heritage panel that has been entrusted with the responsibility of preparing the dossier for Delhi’s Heritage City nomination, has drawn up a list of experts whom it will consult before giving the final touches to the nomination dossier.

Convenor of Delhi Chapter-INTACH, A G K Menon, said: “We have a bad record of nominations being rejected. So this time, we are consulting as many experts as possible. We hope to build a case that is infallible.”

Menon said the guidelines to draft the nomination dossier are often misunderstood and, therefore, misrepresented in the nomination. In order to get this right, INTACH sent an official last week to Hiroshima to meet Duncan Marshall, a noted heritage consultant who has written a detailed interpretation of the operational guidelines by UNESCO.

“The meeting was an eye-opener for us, as there were several points in the guidelines which we would have misinterpreted. For instance, there is a clause wherein the nomination has to prove that it is an ‘outstanding example of a type of building architecture or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history’. Earlier, we had dropped this clause as we thought our nomination did not meet this criteria but, according to Marshall, Delhi is an apt example for this,” Menon said.

Menon said there was no clarity on yet another clause where the nomination has to show an “interchange of human value”.

“We thought we qualified under it as we could prove the birth of a syncretic culture (reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief) and architecture but was told that here we have to prove how we have been a crucible of change across civilizations.”

Following the interaction with Marshall, INTACH has made a few changes to the final dossier. Instead of the four nominated areas — Mehrauli, Lutyens’ Delhi, Nizamuddin and Shahjahanabad — it is now proposing only two — Shahjahanabad and Lutyens’ Delhi. The dossier will peg the city as showing significant stages of town planning and will link the two nominated areas as “Capital Cities”.

INTACH is also planning to meet noted professor of urban design and planning at the Harvard University Rahul Mehrotra and Prof Jyoti Hosagrahar, founder-director of Sustainable Urbanism International in Columbia University.

Both are in the high-level world heritage committee set up by the Ministry of Culture last year to review all nominations.

Members of advisory bodies to the UNESCO such as International Council on Monuments and Sites will also be consulted.
 

The Indian Express, 27th June 2012

Dredged silt drips back into Yamuna

The recent dredging exercise at the Okhla barrage to deepen the Okhla pond was welcomed by environmentalists till they figured out that all the silt pulled out was being dumped along the banks and allowed to flow downstream with the river. "For one thing, it is a complete waste of money and time to desilt the river and then allow the silt to flow back into it. For another, the silt would have contained high levels of toxins considering how polluted the river is, so it was the government's responsibility to ensure that it was dumped at a safe location," said Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.

Uttar Pradesh irrigation department officials say the original plan was to leave the silt along the banks since transporting it would have increased the cost of the project. "The project cost, which is about Rs 12 crore right now, would have gone up to about Rs 17 crore if it was decided to move the silt. Also, it would have been impractical as there is a lot of traffic on the Noida road from where the trucks would have moved. A technical committee comprising chief engineers took this call based on financial and technical aspects," said an official. He added, "In any case, where else could we have left the silt if not in the river? We could have disposed it of downstream but to cut costs left it from where it was taken out."

The argument failed to convince environmentalists who are now asking for an environment impact assessment of such activities. "This is no way to carry out desilting. Allowing silt to flow downstream would make sense only in case of rivers that have a good flow. Yamuna is a completely sluggish river and the reason these silt islands formed in the first place is because the water flow is not sufficient to carry the silt further down. Heavy monsoon flows in the river are still a few months away and either the silt will get deposited downstream or dissolve right here again," said Ravi Agarwal, director, Toxics Link.

Mishra, who visited the site last week, added: "If the silt is clean, then it can be used like ordinary mud. If not, then it has to be disposed of safely or used for construction. In order to know how toxic it is and what possible impact it can have, it is imperative to carry out an EIA. By allowing the silt to flow downstream, the UP government has put several people in potential danger. The most likely scenario is that it will get deposited downstream where farming takes place, the toxins will find their way into vegetables and subsequently into the food chain. And all through this neither the government nor the farmers will even realize what is happening. How can the government free so much toxic material and let it loose?"
 

The Times of India, 28th June 2012

Religious sect leaders reject short-circuit as cause of shrine fire

Tension in Srinagar was palpable on Wednesday with leaders of religious sectsrejecting short-circuit as the cause of the fire that gutted the 200-year-old Dastageer Sahib shrine in Khanyar area of old city. The chief of one of the sects, Maulana Ghulam Rasool Hami, rebutted the short circuit theory saying the fire occurred at a time when there was power outage in the area.

Maulana Ghulam Rasool Hami of Karawan-e-Islami said the fire due to a short circuit was inexplicable because it erupted at a time when there was a power cut in the locality. "For such reasons, there should independent probe. The state announced that a bureaucrat of the rank of divisional commissioner will probe the cause of the fire. We can't expect fair-play from bureaucrats in such a sensitive incident," said Maulana Hami.

While there were reports of stone pelting in south Kashmir's Anantnag town by youth at police and security forces, down town Srinagar remained under curfew for third day running. Stones were also hurled by protesters in Reshi Bazaar and Kadipora, and a couple of places along the Khannabal Pahalgam road. At least 10 people were injured in the clashes, the police said.

Normal life was disrupted across the Valley on Wednesday. Business establishments and government offices were shut for the third day running whereas the call given by religious leaders was for a one-day strike in mourning of the gutted shrine.

Heavy deployment of policemen and CRPF troopers in full battle gear in various parts of the Srinagar contributed to the tense atmosphere. Stone pelting was also reported from Ram bagh and some areas in civil lines area in Srinagar in the afternoon on Wednesday.

Union minister for health Ghulam Nabi Azad and PCC chief Saifuddin Soz separately visited the shrine on Wednesday. Azad expressed his deep anguish at the tragedy but expressed satisfaction over the preservation of the holy relics. Soz stressed on the early reconstruction of the shrine.

A day earlier, however, the people of Khanyar were not so receptive: senior Hurriyat leaders Shabir Ahmad Shah and Nayeem Ahmad Khan were heckled by a group of youth when they visited Dastageer Sahib. The shrine in Khanyar locality is considered the bastion of Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

"As soon as soon the two leaders reached the site, a group of youth with iron rods attacked them and even tore Shabir's robe and painted his face with black charcoal from the fire site," said an eyewitnesses.

The two separatist leaders were rescued by people of the area. Protests also greeted the cavalcade of law minister Ali Muhammad Sagar, the local MLA, who was also chased him away. Sagar later visited the site with chief minister Omar Abdullah under tight security on Tuesday.
 

The Times of India, 28th June 2012

Western Ghats’ heritage status to be decided on Thursday

The World Heritage Committee, which is meeting at St. Petersburg in Russia, will decide on Thursday the heritage status of the Western Ghats. The discussion, originally scheduled for July 1, has been advanced. Western Ghats is being considered under the category “review and approval of retrospective statements of Outstanding Universal Value.”

The fate of India’s persistent campaign for 39 serial sites will be decided by a 21-nation panel. The committee, at its previous meeting in France last year, “deferred the examination of the nomination of the Western Ghats to the World Heritage List” for one year.

India will try to convince the panel that Western Ghats should be considered because they “represent two Global 200 priority eco regions that aren’t yet represented on the World Heritage List, and that have been identified as important gaps on the World Heritage List.”

Endemic species
Western Ghats has been seeking nomination under criteria 9 and 10 of the Operational Guidelines of the World Heritage Convention.

The Indian delegation will also draw strength for its campaign from the extracts of the technical evaluation report of the International Union for Conservation (IUCN).

Listing the exceptional species’ richness and endemism of the Ghats, as pointed out in the IUCN report, it will be stressed that the region is home to “some 5,000 vascular plant species, 228 freshwater fish species, 179 amphibians, 157 reptiles, 508 birds and 139 mammal species,” and a large number of them, endemic.

According to a dossier to be presented before the panel, “even if the nominated areas were to include only half of these species, their species richness and endemism would exceed that of most existing natural World Heritage properties in the region.”

Regarding the legal status of the nominated sites, it would be stated that all the 39 component parts of the “serial nomination fall under protection regimes ranging from tiger reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests.”

The Indian delegation will also argue that the nominated sites are “also key to the conservation of a number of threatened habitats.
 

The Hindu, 28th June 2012

Making these slopes less slippery

Rather than seek to impose inflexible solutions, the expert panel on conserving the Western Ghats has suggested guidelines for consulting people right down to the level of villages for the right answers

The report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), uploaded on the Ministry of Environment and Forests website as of May 23, has triggered a vigorous public debate on several vital issues before us; issues relating to environment — development choices and the proper roles of people and government authorities in deciding on these choices.

The report, kept away from public gaze for almost nine months, was finally released on the orders of the Central Information Commissioner who observed: “It is claimed by the government that the policy is being formulated and hence the report cannot be disclosed. The law requires suo motu disclosure by the public authority “while” formulating important policies, and not “after” formulating them. Obviously, the thinking was that our democracy is deepened by public participation in the process of decision-making, and not when a policy is finalised and then merely announced in the name of the people. MoEF’s unwillingness to be transparent is likely to give citizens an impression that most decisions are taken in furtherance of corruption resulting in a serious trust deficit. This hampers the health of our democracy and the correct method to alter this perception is to become transparent. Such a move would only bring greater trust in the government and its functionaries, and hurt only the corrupt.”

Need for feedback
The report is now in the public domain with feedback invited by July 5, 2012. It would obviously be desirable for the public to take advantage of this opportunity, study, dissect, agree to or disagree with the contents of the report and contribute to guiding the policies of our nation in this important area. Naturally enough, those who were attempting to keep the report away from public scrutiny are now engaged in projecting a distorted version of the contents. Many of them are doing so without reading the report. Those of us who were on the panel feel that it is our responsibility to communicate to the public what is actually in the report; obviously we cannot deal here with all the complex issues covered in the report, but will focus on some key issues. We believe it unlikely that any Indian would find reasons to quarrel with these key propositions. We urge people to examine the original text of the report to make sure that we are indeed correctly representing the spirit of the report and then formulate their own feedback as they see fit.

The distorted picture of the report being projected portrays it as a part and parcel of the standard practice of imposing all priorities from above. So our proposals are being wrongly portrayed as “Conservation by Imposition” as if the Panel has prescribed rigid boundaries for Western Ghats and for zones with different levels of ecological sensitivity, or as if WGEEP has come up with a set of inflexible restrictive prescriptions.

Provisional boundaries
Quite to the contrary, WGEEP has clearly stated that what is proposed are only provisional boundaries and provisional guidelines, both to serve as a basis of informed deliberations through an inclusive process reaching down to all gram sabhas/ward sabhas throughout the Western Ghats region. Our using talukas to draw boundaries of eco-sensitive zones was forced on us by the lack of readily available detailed information, and the report recommends that these must be immediately redrawn taking the gram panchayat boundaries and watershed boundaries into account. We not only suggest regulatory measures, but also promotional measures such as payments to farmers for building up carbon stocks in farm soils. These measures too are meant to be taken up for consideration by people going down right to the grass-roots. The report suggests that an excellent precedent for this exists whereby the Goa government placed the database prepared for Goa Regional Plan 2021 before all gram sabhas for correction of any errors as well as suggestions.

Reaching out to people
An important action point that emerges from this approach is dissemination of the information and understanding contained in the report in regional languages, and soliciting feedback from the gram sabhas/ward sabhas as a first step in a down-up planning process. It is suggested that the State governments should follow up on this by taking appropriate actions to implement devolution of powers to local bodies as required by the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution, and ensure that all levels of the government are properly involved in implementing such proposals of WGEEP report as are found to be acceptable through a broad based democratic decision-making process.

We believe that there are many proposals in the WGEEP report that should find acceptance all over the country, within and outside the bounds of Western Ghats, and regardless of any assignment of ecological sensitivity levels. We list below a series of such suggestions.

Governments should initiate a series of steps to remove deficit in environmental governance as pointed out in the WGEEP report:

  • Strictly enforce environmental laws such as Air and Water Acts to control pollution

  • Facilitate, not suppress, freedom of expression and assembly of people drawing attention to issues of environmental degradation

  • Empower local bodies, i.e. gram, taluk and zilla panchayats and nagarpalikas and mahanagarpalikas to take decisions on environmental issues

  • Put in place Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC) in all local bodies, fully empowered under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, to regulate use of local biodiversity resources, and to charge Collection Fees

  • Initiate registration of crop cultivars as called for by Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, and give grants to panchayats to build capacity for in situ conservation of crop genetic resources

  • Implement fully the Forest Rights Act

  • Reinstate the system of empowering citizens to monitor the status of environment under the Paryavaran Vahini scheme

  • Carry out a radical reform of environmental clearance process through (a) assigning preparation of EIA statements to a neutral competent body that does not depend on payment by project proponents, (b) making mandatory involvement of local BMCs in the process of EIA preparation, (c) making mandatory taking on board all information submitted and suggestions made during public hearings, (d) making mandatory periodic environmental clearance requirement, preferably every five years, (e) making mandatory involvement of BMCs in the process of monitoring of implementation of conditions laid down while granting environmental clearances, (f) make mandatory preparation of regional Cumulative Environmental Impact Analyses

  • Enhance the scope of regional development plans to include key environmental concerns and make mandatory involvement of local BMCs in the process of preparation of regional plans

    Governments should initiate a series of steps to build a transparent, participatory database on Indian environment:

  • Promote full access to all pertinent information, for instance, through freely making available the currently suppressed Zonal Atlas for Siting of Industries (ZASI).

  • Take action on organising an Indian Biodiversity Information System (IBIS) in line with the proposals before the National Biodiversity Authority since 2004.

  • Organise a public transparent, participatory database on Indian environment by drawing on student environmental education projects as recommended by the Curriculum Framework Review, 2005 of the National Council for Educational Research and Training.

It is our fond hope that our fellow lovers of nature and democratic values will seriously consider these propositions and take advantage of this opportunity to mould the environment and people-friendly development strategies.

(Madhav Gadgil, a former Professor of Ecology at the Indian Institute of Science, is Member, National Advisory Council. He was on the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel)
 

12

In times of shortage, Delhi suffocating its water bodies, says survey

The city is eating up its water bodies, reveals a survey by Campaign for Preservation of Commons (CPC) that comprises several NGOs. The survey, carried out on nearly 214 water bodies across 50 villages in southwest Delhi, found that 23 of them have been encroached upon or acquired by government agencies. Three have been encroached upon by private organisations.

There are a total of 629 water bodies in Delhi.
A government affidavit filed in the Delhi high court a few years ago mentioned that there were 168 water bodies in southwest Delhi. But the CPC felt the affidavit did not mention the actual number. So it filed RTI applications with various government departments. “These revealed that 25 water bodies had not been mentioned in the affidavit,” said a CPC member.

The campaigners also found that 128 water bodies in the area had boundary walls and 133 needed desilting and/or deepening. “Slopes should ideally not be concretised. Also, desilting should be an annual affair. The traditional method of harvesting is holistic as it improves water table and sustains biodiversity,” said Professor Vikram Soni, an environmentalist.

However, the survey found that 131 water bodies had little or no vegetation around them. Said Diwan Singh, one of CPC activists, “What is paradoxical is that Delhi has been demanding more water from its neighbour states but neglecting and abusing its own resources.”

The reasons, Singh claimed, have more to do with not managing the catchment areas. “Water flows to storm water drains or evaporates where it falls. This wastage of natural resources is no less than a criminal omission by government agencies,” he added.
 

The Hindustan Times, 29th June 2012

Survey reveals encroachment, neglect of Delhi’s water bodies

A new survey of water bodies in just one district of the Capital has thrown up alarming results -- encroachment, neglect and even disappearance. This, when the Delhi High Court has instructed the Government to step up efforts for water body preservation and restoration. Also, government agencies that are mandated to preserve these water bodies are actually responsible for encroachment in several areas.

The study that was conducted by Diwan Singh of the non-government organisation Natural Heritage First in South West Delhi between December 2011 and May 2012 assessed the present condition of water bodies in the city. It revealed 214 water bodies in 50 villages. Of these, 183 water bodies exist on ground, 168 are shown in the affidavit filed by the Delhi Government in the High Court, four are missing on the ground, and 29 are present on ground but find no mention in the government’s affidavit.

“These 29 water bodies need to be included in the list for protection and rejuvenation. The four missing water bodies need to be compensated. Out of the 183 on ground, seven are acquired for some project by the government and need to be protected from any acquisition,” said Mr. Singh.

“Seven are partially encroached and three fully encroached by private parties. Five are partially encroached/acquired and 16 are fully encroached/acquired by government agencies. In total 10 are partially encroached and 20 are fully encroached. In addition to 16 water bodies that are fully encroached by government agencies, seven are being acquired for some project that is pending. The comparison of private vs. government encroachment leads us to a ratio of 3:23,” he pointed out.

The condition of these water bodies was assessed on various parameters, especially using the Government’s own guidelines. “The results are pathetic. Catchment area management listed in the guidelines as the most important perquisite has been ignored by all water body-owning agencies. All the work that has been done is more of a civil engineering exercise than a hydrological one,” said Mr. Singh.

“We have also tried to record the ground water levels in the study area and found that the levels have been falling in all these areas. This, to our understanding, directly relates to the functioning of these water bodies. The urban areas have seen a greater fall in water levels, as well as deterioration of the water bodies,” he said.

In two instances, the study found that cases against encroachment on the water bodies have been won by litigants, but the encroachments have not yet been removed. “A hundred and thirty-three water bodies need de-silting and deepening, which is necessary because this improves the storage and recharge capacity. In the case of three water bodies the area on ground is different from what is shown in the government records even though there is no sign of any encroachments. Ground water levels in all the villages have fallen by approximately 15 to 40 feet in rural villages in the last 10 to 15 years. In urban villages, the fall is approximately 50 to 100 feet. In some cases, like Kapashera and Samalkha villages, it has fallen by more than 200 feet,” the study points out.

Recommending steps for preservation of these water bodies, Mr. Singh said: “It is necessary that we first identify all the stakeholders. In the case of water bodies, the immediate stakeholders are supposed to be the village community or the local residents who need these water bodies for their livelihood and survival, particularly in rural areas. There is also need for buffers within the fast urbanising city. These water bodies are almost evenly spread through out the city and it would serve a great purpose if the survival of these water bodies is identified with the need to maintain ecological balance in the city.”

He also suggested preparation of a catchment area management plan in agreement with the local residents, minimal concretisation of the water bodies and pillared fencing to secure the areas to preserve the water bodies.
 

The Hindu, 29th June 2012

U.P. to push wildlife and eco tourism

UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav plans to promote eco-tourism in the state in a big way.

The chief minister has asked the state forest department to prepare a plan for the development of National Chambal Sanctuary, Katar-niaghat wildlife sanctuary, Sarsai Nawar wetland and Sita Dwar — all of which have immense untapped potential as tourist hubs.

The development of these places of tourist interest would not only bring in more revenue for the state but would also provide employment opportunities for the people.

The chief minister had also directed officials to prepare a development agenda for the Lakh Bahosi bird sanctuary in Kannauj and the Nawabganj bird sanctuary. He said that facilities for tourists in these places must be upgraded at the earliest.

The state of Uttar Pradesh has ample scope for eco-tourism and wildlife tourism but lack of adequate infrastructure has warded off tourists.

According to a forest department official, it has been decided to renovate forest rest houses in Dudhwa National park, along with roads and other interiors of the park.
 

The Asian Age, 29th June 2012

Talks still on to buy Gandhi Memorabilia'

The government is in intense negotiations with Hermann Kallenbach's family to buy back memorabilia related to Mahatma Gandhi for which auction house Sotheby's London had invited bids for a July 10 auction.

"Negotiations are on and we are very keen to acquire it," Union culture minister Kumari Selja told HT, denying reports that the government has already acquired the items for $3 million (R4.5 crore).
"We won't participate in the auction as the Indian government doesn't enter into bids. We are going in for a buy because of the tremendous national importance of these items. But there is a price ceiling we cannot exceed," she said refusing to name the figure.

Sources said the issue is being dealt with at the PMO level.

Meanwhile, Kallenbach's grand niece Isa Sarid, who wrote a biography of Hermann Kallenbach, passed away on Wednesday in Jerusalem. Isa's son Eli Sarid had led negotiations with the Indian government. Sotheby's had valued the thousands of priceless letters, documents and photographs relating to Gandhi valued at between R4.3 crore to R6.06 crore.

After the auction announcement, the government had sent in a five-member team to London under Mushirul Hasan, director-general, National Archives of India, to examine the genuineness of the items. The team, which included historians and manuscript experts, had submitted a three-page report certifying the items on offer as 'priceless'.

"The documents and pictures, if we can acquire them, will open up another chapter of our history and allow greater access of our heritage to scholars and the public," the minister said.

The memorabilia, arranged in 18 files, also include a previously unpublished body of 13 letters exchanged between Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach, a successful East Prussian architect settled in Johannesburg. He met Gandhi in 1904 and became fast friends from then on.
 

The Hindustan Times. 29th June 2012

Heritage body seeks report on KG Marg parking

The fate of the multi-level parking lot on KG Marg will be decided by a heritage impact assessment report. The parking project, which lies within 300 metres of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected Ugrasen Ki Baoli, has been pending since 2010. With a planned capacity of 1,500 vehicles, the lot has been touted as essential to take off load from Connaught Place roads.

The National Monument Authority (NMA) has decided to ask the company, which will execute the project, to come up with the heritage impact assessment of the big infrastructure project.

In 2010, the ASI had slapped a stop work notice on the project after an amendment in the act, which mandates permission from the NMA for any construction within 101-300 metres of a protected monument. The 600-year-old Baoli, a step well, shows the traditional method of harvesting rainwater through ground recharge.

“NMA members felt that an assessment needs to be done in view of the heritage structure in the vicinity. Whether or not the increased number of vehicles will affect the heritage ambience of the Ugrasen Ki Baoli, what impact the digging for construction will have on the water table of the area - all such things need to be studied,” said a member, who attended the meeting.

Once the minutes of the meeting are finalised, the NMA will write to the company to get the ‘heritage impact assessment’ done for the project, said a senior NMA official.

The Delhi state level competent authority had cleared the proposal last year, but it is still pending at the NMA level.
 

The Hindustan Times, 29th June 2012

Debris on Yamuna bed: No action yet

Government agencies have failed to stop dumping of construction material onthe river bed along Yamuna Pushta Road despite orders from LG Tejinder Khanna and National Green Tribunal. Flimsy barriers and a notice asking people to desist from throwing debris on the river bed have done no good as fresh piles of rubble can be found there even now.

"We cannot imagine what stops agencies from taking action. The barriers put up in the area are so inadequate that they can't even stop a truck. The water body lying behind mounds of rubbish has almost disappeared," said Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.

With appeals to the government yielding no result, Mishra filed a plea with NGT. GK Pandey, expert member of the tribunal and Justice A Suryanarayan Naidu, acting chairperson, issued an order to the ministry of environment and forests, Delhi government, DDA, Delhi Pollution Control Committee, UP irrigation department and Yamuna River Development Authority (YRDA) on March 12, 2012 to stop encroachment and dumping of solid waste on the river bed within seven days.

The land in question, even though it is within the territory of Delhi, belongs to the UP irrigation department. Initially, Delhi government had claimed its helplessness to take action as the case was outside their jurisdiction. UP irrigation department officials had said they would look into the appeal once the state elections were over.

"It is absolutely appalling that despite instructions, dumping continues. We will look into the matter and take immediate action. The agency at fault will also be brought to book," said sources in the LG office. In January, the LG wrote to MCD, PWD and irrigation and flood control department to ensure that none of their construction debris is dumped on the river bed.

Farmers living in the area have claimed that each day, hundreds of trucks carrying malba arrive at the Pushta and dump tonnes of waste along the road. A stretch of about 80-100m from the road leading to the river bed has been raised by 6-10 feet. Radhu, a farmer, said that till a couple of years ago, the area would be under water during the floods. When the water receded, the land would be used for rice cultivation.
 

The Times of India, 30th June 2012

41 animals killed in Kaziranga floods

Nearly 70 per cent of the Kaziranga National Park was flooded in the current spell of rains, which claimed the lives of two rhinos and 22 hog deer. Speeding vehicles killed 17 hog deer till Friday. The park authorities have so far rescued and released 56 hog deer and eight swamp deer.

KNP Director Sanjib Kumar Bora told The Hindu that the magnitude of the flood in the park this time was higher than that of 2004, but all efforts were on to protect the wild animals from the flood fury.
 

The Hindu, 30th June 2012

Delhi durbar tiara glows at Queen’s diamond show

The Delhi durbar tiara made in 1911 for Queen Mary to wear at the Delhi durbar same year will be shown to the public for the first time as part of a special exhibition of Queen Elizabeth's diamonds at the Buckingham Palace from Saturday. The exhibition — Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration — will showcase more than 10,000 diamonds, including a number of the Queen's personal jewels and pieces from the Royal Collection . The exhibition runs from June 30 to 8 and from July 31 to October 7.

The Delhi durbar was held in 1877, 1903 and 1911. The 1911 Delhi durbar was held in December to commemorate the coronation in Britain of King George V and Queen Mary, and their proclamation as Emperor and Empress of India. It was attended by almost every ruling prince, nobleman, landed gentry and other persons of note in India.

The Delhi durbar tiara was part of the Queen's parure of emeralds and diamonds made for the occasion by Garrard & Co Ltd. The parure included a necklace, stomacher, brooch and earrings . King George V referred to the Delhi durbar tiara as 'May's best tiara'.

Queen Mary loaned the tiara to Queen Elizabeth I in 1946 for the South African Tour in 1947, and it remained with her until her death in 2002. In 2005, it was loaned by The Queen to The Duchess of Cornwall. Exhibition curator Caroline de Guitaut said, "The exhibition shows how over the past three centuries monarchs have used diamonds to display magnificence or as statement of power ." She added: "Each piece demonstrates breathtaking workmanship and ingenuity in design. Diamonds have of course long been associated with endurance and longevity , so this is a very fitting way to mark Her Majesty's 60 years on the throne."
 

The Times of India, 30th June 2012