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Heritage Alerts
September 2012

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The bells chime alongside

Known as the Sangam City, Allahabad is also home to some richly ornate and historically significant churches

Rarely will you find Allahabad quoted on the same lines as Canterbury. The two cities are divided by more than just 7,200 kilometres of land, sea and civilization, if not history. Their most apparent link today, however, could be their equation as pilgrimage sites for Hindus and Christians respectively.

But as one ambles in through the lush gardens of the All Saints Cathedral in central Allahabad, the likeness with Canterbury starts to show, one door at a time.

The Patthar Girja (Church of stones) as the All Saints Cathedral is popular here, is the most distinct figure of colonial architecture in the city. Its 240 feet by 56 feet Anglo-Gothic stone mass, with a 130 feet by 40 feet nave, resembles most the east end of Canterbury Cathedral in England which is the site of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the symbolic leader of the global Anglican Communion.

The Canterbury cathedral was founded in 597 A.D. but was completely rebuilt in 1070-77 A.D. Following a fire in 1174 A.D., its east end was enlarged and rebuilt in the present Gothic style.

That style was used elaborately by eminent architect Sir William Emerson, famous for designing the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, when he crafted thePatthar Girja in 1871. The stained-glass murals, resembling those in Fatehpur Sikri, and intricate designs on the marble altar have retained their originality even today. The Bishop's throne is engraved in the style of the Lahore School of Art.

The Girja is also known for housing plaques, which depict the deaths of British nationals during the colonial era. A passionate author has gone as far as comparing it to a peaceful coasting ship.

However, the Patthar Girja is not an aberration to the Hindu heritage of Sangam City. Besides the first church which was built inside the Allahabad Fort, the city has at least 14 other churches that pay tribute to colonial, neo-colonial, Indian, Roman, Greek and modern architectural designs.

The oldest one, built around 1840, the Holy Trinity Church is another sample of Gothic sculpture. It stands on eight pillars, each measuring 125 feet by 70 feet. For the scholar, the church has much historical value as it stores memorials from the Gwalior campaign (1843) and the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. But for the common eye, its brick and stone structure can be as thought provoking.

A similar gothic style is noticeable in the half moon bordered clock tower of St. Joseph's Church (1884). Its red brick and stone structure also showcases Roman influence.

The Medhodist Church, or Lal Girja due to its distinct red brick figure, presents a contrasting style. With stone pillars and a tinned roof structured on the Indo-Roman style, it can be easily identified in any collage. The oval window on its east wall is so finely placed that it allows the first rays of the sun to fall directly on the prayer spot. Its tiles are similar to the ones in St. John’s Church, and are unique in a sense that they present a curious blend of gothic and colonial art.

The Indo-Roman style is also used in St. Patrick’s Church, which is the only one here whose hall is built in a north-south direction; its entry is from the south. Most other churches are built in the east-west direction.

Stone carvings in Urdu and Hindi fonts welcome you to St. Paul's Church. Its eight pillars appear attentive like a formation of erect bananas. Constructed in 1856, it served as a school till 1881, when it was granted the status of a church by England. It has a high roof of finely laid stone slabs, with a tin shed and wooden pillars under an iron net. On the east end of the hall, a bell made of German silver hangs from the roof.

The Pentecostal Church, however, welcomes you differently. A wooden portico, whose upper half is hidden, strikes you at the entrance. If you stare long enough, you could even estimate its original shape. This church, built of stone and red bricks in 1840, was the first to be built on rented property. But today, the compound is scattered with encroached homes, leaving behind only a legacy of architectural finesse.

Nevertheless, such diverse architecture can definitely not go unnoticed. The Allahabad Museum, one of the four national museums in the country, has taken note and during Christmas last year, it hosted a 12-day photo exhibition on the ‘Churches of Allahabad’.

“It was to highlight the architectural vividness of the structures. And also to draw the audience’s attention to the intricate designs and architectural beauty within the city,” says Rajesh Purohit, the Director of Allahabad Museum.
 

The Hindu, 1st September 2012

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Report on ruins of mosque submitted

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Friday submitted to the Delhi High Court a status report on the ruins of a disputed archaeological site at Subhas Park in the Walled City of Delhi. Some people in the area believe the ruins to be of Akbarabadi Masjid of the Mughal period.

The ASI submitted the report on a direction by the Court. The Court is seized of a bunch of petitions and applications making claims and counter-claims on the ruins. As a “large number of people” were present in the Court and this prevented it from conducting the proceedings due to the disturbance caused, the Judge barred the public from attending the proceedings.

Adjourning the matter to September 7, the Court made it clear that “only the counsel appearing for the parties or the parties in person, apart from accredited journalists, would be allowed to enter the courtroom and attend the hearing”.
 

The Hindu, 1st September 2012

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Stop preying on our heritage

Allowing one community to worship in protected monuments will open the floodgates for similar demands by others

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) received a letter from the Jamiat-ul Ulama-e-Hind. The letter wanted 31 protected mosques to be opened for prayers. “Although the commission was not very keen that heritage monuments should be opened for prayers, it decided to suggest a joint survey for ascertaining the condition of these mosques.” Officials from the NCM, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Wakf Board will carry out the joint inspection according to the suggestion made by the commission in its letter sent to the Ministry of Culture towards the end of July.

This reference made by the NCM needs to be looked at a little carefully, because the issue is not likely to remain restricted to these 31 mosques nor will it remain confined to Delhi. The reference impinges on questions of law and will eventually inform our attitude to the wider question of heritage protection.

In 1958, Parliament enacted The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 in order to protect and preserve monuments, archaeological sites and remains that had historical or architectural value and were more than a 100 years old.

Among the provisions of the Act, it was stated that any place of worship which was considered worthy of protection but was being used for worship/prayers at the time of enactment of the law would continue to be so used. But if a place of worship, considered fit for protection, which was not being used for prayers/worship when the act came into force, will be taken over and preserved as a protected monument.

The implication of this understanding was that such monuments will not subsequently be used for worship but would be preserved as national heritage.

It is under this law that the temples of Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) Khajuraho and Konark, the caves at Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta, the Stupa at Sanchi and hundreds of other structures and sites have been taken over and preserved as historical monuments where no worship is permitted.
The mosque built by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak — the first mosque built in Delhi — falls under the same category as do all the 31 mosques including the Jamali Kamali mosque, the Sher Shahi mosque at Old Fort, the Mohammadi mosque near Siri Fort, the Neeli mosque near Hauz Khas Market, the Begumpur mosque near Vijay Mandal Enclave, the Khirkee mosque at Khirki Village, the Khair-ul-Manazil mosque near the Sher Shah Gate, the mosque at the Mausoleum of Isa Khan and the Afsarwala mosque, etc.

Implications
The question of law that is involved is rather basic — can the 1958 Act of protection of monuments be relaxed in the case of mosques? Will it not open up the floodgates for similar relaxations for a whole lot of other protected monuments? Having once made an exception in the case of one community, can the state afford to refuse it to others?

And what would happen in cases where there is a dispute with two or more communities claiming the right to pray at the same site.

The only solution to this issue is to follow the law uniformly for all and not to make any exception. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, the strange creatures that crawl out will be impossible to put back.

There is another dimension that you need to consider. What would happen to these monuments if they were ever to be handed over to those who are currently wanting to use them as places of worship or to those who might raise similar demands for other protected monuments in the future?
There are enough examples to demonstrate the excesses that would be visited upon these protected monuments once they were opened for prayer/worship. Look at the 14th century Kalan Masjid in the Turkman Gate area. Considered to be one of the most remarkable mosques to be built in Delhi, it has been painted and repainted so many times that it now looks more like a multi layered cake than a mosque. Go and see the arches of the Jama Masjid at Firozshah Kotla that have been painted a horrible shade of green. The arches at the Nizam-ud-Din Jama Masjid have met a fate which is not less heartbreaking — aluminium frames and glass panes have been fixed into the arches of this 14th century mosque.

Do not for a moment think that this strange rush to renovate and recast structures, to an extent that they become unrecognisable from what they were, is confined to the buildings mentioned. Far from it.

Go and see what has been done to Kalkaji Mandir and the temple of Yog Maya and you will see what I am talking about.

Our heritage is too precious to be handed over to those who claim to speak for entire faiths and entire communities. The protection of our heritage is a secular act and should be left under the care of secular institutions created for this purpose.

(Sohail Hashmi is a Delhi-based writer, film-maker and history buff.)
 

The Hindu, 1st September 2012

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Humayun’s Tomb back in form

Almost a century-old publication of the Archaeological Survey of India describes the wall and dome of the central dome chamber of the 17th-century Humayun's Tomb covered with striking gilding and tile work. Later on, seepage inside this main dome would prompt ASI to apply cement and whitewash on the tile work. The historic chamber is now being carefully restored in a unique conservation project at the Mughal monument, which will be opened for the public on Saturday after being closed for two months.

In partnership with ASI and with co-funding from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has been carrying out a major conservation project at Humayun's Tomb since 2008, and has now shifted its focus to the main hall chambers. "The 1919 ASI publication outlines the dome and chamber walls of the central tomb with intrinsic tile work. But in 1955, the central chamber had to be plastered with cement and whitewash due to seepage. This not only spoilt the historic character of the tomb but also lent a dark and dingy appearance to the tomb chamber,'' said Ratish Nanda, project director of AKTC.

Sources said though AKTC has carried out significant research, experimentation and training in making of Mughal handmade tiles, with no evidence of tile patterns on the interior wall, the surfaces tiles could no longer be restored to the inner tomb chamber. "Since June 2012, trained craftsmen have been carefully scrapping off whitewash and cement layers in the eighty-feet high dome chamber, which for two months has been covered with a web of scaffolding with craftsmen perched everywhere," said an AKTC official. Repairs using lime plaster have also been carried out wherever required. "The material has been covered with a 1mm thin layer of almost pure lime plaster mixed with marble dust and egg white — used by the Mughal builders to mimic the more expensive marble," said Rajpal Singh, chief engineer of AKTC.

ASI officials added that during the removal of cement layers, Mughal-era red polychromy was discovered in the webbing of the arches; it is still found in the spandrels of the arches and is being carefully restored. "The red and white contrast of the exterior of the tomb is effectively used also in the interior spaces,'' said an AKTC official. P B S Sengar, director (monuments) ASI, added: "The restoration of lime plaster to the interior surface will not only significantly ensure long-term preservation of the structure but also lighten up in the interior space.''

The tomb was not the only monument to decay for want of conservation in the earlier years. Experts say the awareness of use of historic materials was so poor in the 20th century, that cement has been similarly applied to almost all historic buildings of Delhi. Conservation works at Humayun's Tomb is likely to be completed by year-end, and the team is researching for an appropriate lamp in the central chamber as is thought to have been fixed there.
 

The Times of India, 1st September 2012

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When it's pug marks versus footsteps

Around 60 tigers have been killed, hundreds of villagers’ lives lost in human-tiger conflicts in Terai region of Uttar Pradesh

It is a commonly held belief in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh that no tiger meets a natural death in the jungles or in the farmlands situated on the fringes of the forests. Human beings are instrumental in the unnatural deaths of the feline which roams the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, the proposed Pilibhit Tiger Reserve, Kishanpur Sanctuary and Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Lakhimpur Kheri, Pilibhit, Shahjahanpur and Bahraich districts respectively in the Terai region bordering Nepal.

But then, what could be the cause for provocation on both sides of the human-animal divide? For the wild cat to attack and even kill humans, and the villagers to respond with an equally deadly effect? For the villagers, tiger conservation serves no meaning as they are out to avenge the killing of their livestock, or their near and dear ones by the big cats. Four tiger deaths in Haripur forest range in Pilibhit between May and August, the killing of a leopard in Katarniaghat in July and the recent fatal attack on a village woman highlight the age-old human-animal conflict in the region, notwithstanding the efforts and claims by the forest authorities to contain the incidents.

In a nutshell, efforts have been lacking on the part of the Uttar Pradesh government and the forest authorities to create awareness among the villagers, or to involve NGOs, or to increase the compensation for humans killed by the feline (in U.P., it is Rs. one lakh as compared to Rs. 5 lakh in Karnataka) in a bid to minimise incidents of human-animal conflict. More importantly, they have failed to address the main issues behind the conflict. Consider the recent incidents:

1. A full-grown male tiger was found poisoned to death in the Haripur forest range on May 24. The next day, another tiger was found killed in a similar manner.

2. A stray leopard was beaten to death in Kakraha forest range in Katarniaghat on May 21.

3. A third tiger death was reported in July, but the cause of death could not be ascertained by the forest officials.

4. In July again, a two-and- a-half year old male tiger attacked a person working in his field in Pilbhit’s Puranpur area.

5. In August, a carcass of an adult tiger was found floating in a canal in Pilibhit district and was assumed to have been poisoned.

6. Recently, a tiger killed a human being with the forest officials quick to describe the incident as “unfortunate”.

“The first two tiger deaths in May were retaliatory as the villagers were out to avenge the killing of their livestock and mixed a poisonous substance with the carcass of cattle, which was used as a bait," said Rupak De, the Chief Wildlife Warden of Uttar Pradesh.

But even as it is difficult to curb the predatory nature of the tiger, human behaviour can also lead to the big cat’s provocation. “Humans tend to provoke the beast with their foolhardy behaviour,” says wildlife enthusiast Rahul Shukla, who runs an orientation programme ‘Saving Men from Tigers’ to educate villagers in the Terai region (Kheri, hahjahanpur and Pilbhit districts). He started this voluntary programme in the 1980s in the memory of his two maternal uncles who were killed by a tiger in Lakhimpur Kheri district in 1966.

An ‘ecological disaster’ struck in and around Dudhwa National Park and Tiger Reserve in the 1980s when an estimated 400 people were killed by around 30 rampaging tigers. In 1986, 14 tiger carcasses were found around the sugarcane fields around Dudhwa — mostly killed due to poisoning. The tigers ate cattle carcasses laced with pesticides BG Gamma, Parardon and Lintoff. The same pesticides continue to be used till today to kill tigers. Till date, it has been estimated, around 60 tigers have been killed and hundreds of villagers’ lives lost in human-tiger conflicts in the Terai region.

“The main reason for the recurrence of the human-tiger conflict is that there are no corridors in Dudhwa circle, Kishenpur, Katarniaghat and Pilbhit forests. Instead there are large fragmented forests housing the wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves interspersed with farmlands. The sugarcane farms served as a conflict zone for man and tiger,” says Dr. Shukla, who is a former Honorary Wildlife Warden of Kishenpur sanctuary and Dudhwa National Park.

So, what compelled the big cat to venture out of their natural habitat and prey upon livestock as was the case with a tiger from Pilbhit forests that strayed right till Rehmankheda on the outskirts of Lucknow in March this year and roamed around the area for two months before being caged and sent to Dudhwa. It did not attack human beings but only killed cattle.

“Depletion of prey base in their natural habitat is one of the main ‘push factors’ for the tigers to move out in the adjoining sugarcane fields in search of food,” says Dr. Shukla. Large-scale poaching of its chief prey base comprising chital, sambhar, wild boar, black buck and swamp deer, degeneration of forests, lack of buffer zones, presence of stray dogs and cattle in the fringe areas and human inroads into tiger habitats are primary reasons for the conflict.

While forest authorities have brushed aside the four tiger deaths in Pilbhit as “recent aberrations”, fortunately the courts have been strict in dealing with cases of tiger killings. In June, the Pilibhit District Judge turned down the bail plea of two persons who had poisoned the tigers in the Haripur range. The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bahraich had earlier denied bail to two persons who had beaten a stray leopard to death in Kakraha.
 

The Hindu, 2nd September 2012

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Terracotta treasures

Housing many peerless terracotta temples, Ghurisha in West Bengal has great potential of being a tourist destination for those who love to revisit history, writes Somen Sengupta

In the chronology of Bengal’s terracotta temples, Birbhum scores almost equal to Bankura as far as the number of temples and the quality of artifacts are concerned. There is a zone in Birbhum where at least a few terracotta temples exist in every village. Some of them are simply extraordinary in size and shape. Although many of them are in dilapidation, they all are pregnant with many unknown pieces of history.

One such village is Ghurisha. Falling under the police station of Ilambazar, a small town which also houses several peerless terracotta temples, Ghurisha has enormous potential of being a tourist destination for those we love to revisit history. The village has a rich past. Once it was a centre of Sanskrit learning. However, one will be disappointed if he goes to find any such thing today. Instead he can take a terracotta tour.

Start your journey with the bigger temple, locally known as the Gopal Lakshmi Janardhan temple. This is a massive navaratna temple of the Bengal school standing like a silent sentinel of a bygone era with its captivating artifacts embellished on its walls. Every ratna (tower) was once decorated with a metal chakra but now five of them have vanished.

Not much is known about its founder except that some Khetramohan Dutta, a trader who made money by doing trading with Europeans from Ilambazar, was its founder. The temple was founded in 1739 AD. The year sparks curiosity among historians because it was the time when this part of Bengal was ravaged by Maratha invaders from the west. In such a tumultuous period, a man showing off his wealth is little unusual.

The first thing that catches attention is the size and shape of its panels. Based on a plinth height of 3.6 ft, this 60-ft high temple has both covered and open verandah. Faced on the east like most of the Hindu temples, this piece of architecture invades your mind the moment you stand in front of it. There is a platform inside the garbhagriha. Here several icons are worshiped. These include anashtadhatu-made Gopaljee, two female goddesses called Tripurasundari and Mangalchandi, and one image of Lord Ganesh. The large size terracotta panels that decorate the front side of the temple are all blending of Shakta and Vaishnava cult.

Panel-curved statues of Sri Chaitanya and Nityananda performing religious dance and song with their followers are seen in the front. Such a prominent statue of Sri Chaitanya on the front side of the temple is rare in Bengal. Even the Durga motif found on the right corner is exceptional. The panel is big and here we find her not with her children but with two female companions — one on each side. They are known as Jaya and Vijaya.

On the right there is a sleeping shiva and from his navel the booming lotus goes upwards. On the lotus a female god is placed and there are many subordinate statues around. Many of them have weapons in hand. We can figure out a Vishnu with four hands in that group.

Some of the most interesting panels are on the right side of the front wall. Although the upper rows have vanished long ago, the remaining rows show us the social side of that era. They capture a domestic scene where a male is found to abuse a female. Apart from that, Radha, Krishna and girls gossiping are curved in the section. No one can ignore a panel showcasing Rama and Sita in their royal chamber surrounded with subjects. This row is on the top of the front wall. The back side of the temple is bare and left with no terracotta panel.

In the same village there is another gem. It is small yet captivating temple of Lord Rama. The foundation stone tablet is still there. From this one can say that one Raghunath Bhattacharya built this Charchala temple in 1633 AD as a token of respect to Rama. Charchala is a typical Bengal school temple that capsulate hut-shaped mudhouse with slopped roof.

This temple is fascinating in its richness and detailing of terracotta figures. Embellished with terracotta panels covering loads of Hindu mythology and epics, it is surprising to find no European figure or scene from social lives. A legend that famously circulates among the locals says that there was a gold image of Lord Rama in the temple, but was robbed by Maratha invaders Bhaskar Pandit and Raghuji Roa Bhonsle in the mid-18th century. Although it is a historical fact that the Marathas caused an unprecedented rapacity and loot in this part of Bengal in that period, but no historical data is available to support the legend. Interestingly, the story charges the Marathas, who were ardent Hindus, of looting a Hindu temple!

The 30-ft high temple is faced east-ward and there are stairs that go down from door to plinth. The verandah is not covered and it runs all four sides of the plinth which is nearly four-ft high from the ground level. Like many other temples of Bengal, this too dons war sequences from theRamayana where we find Lord Rama pointing his arrow towards Ravana. The front wall on the east side contains a folded-hand Garuda. One can also see the three avatars of Vishnu — Narasimha, Rama and Vishnu himself. One can also find the astonishing details of Krishna’s leelawith gopis. Next to that are intimate physical postures of loving couples. These figures are mostly on the back side of the temple and are quite vivid in details.

If your eyes are meant for terracotta and you are aware of Hindu mythology, you can also find Mahishasurmardini, Lakshmi, Balarama, Anantashayane Vishni, Baraha, Kurmi, and many more.

This temple was first renovated in 1964 by Rammoy Panchatirtha. Today it is being looked after by a Chowdhury family and the locals call it Chowdhury’s family temple. Till now neither the Archaeological Survey of India nor the State Archeology Department has shown any interest to protect this temple. Although the present condition is satisfactory, but mindless construction around the temple is a potential threat to it.

Spend few hours in this dusty village and go home enriched with something that you can cherish forever.
 

The Pioneer, 2nd September 2012

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The Narmada fossil files

When geologist Arun Sonakia accidentally discovered South Asia’s first ancient human remains at a place called Hathnora in the Narmada Valley one winter 30 years ago, the region came under the trowels and maps of archaeologists and paleo-anthropologists worldwide.

Three decades on, Indian and international scientists have turned up treasures that are slowly adding pieces to the puzzle—how and when did early humans come here, what were they like, and what other creatures did they share these lands with?

No other ancient fossil has been dug up yet, at least not one that can be definitively identified as a specific early human species, but scores of what appear to be stone tools used by these missing people have certainly begun to tell us more about them, as have the animal fossils, which range from bones of an almost complete Stegodon, the modern elephants’ extinct cousin, to ancient wild-dogs and wild-boars, cousins of the modern horse, hippopotamuses and ostrich eggshells.

The stone tools are as old as 800,000 years and as young as 10,000 years, spanning a large swathe of the stone-age. While some believe modern homo sapiens entered the Indian sub-continent from Africa through West Asia between 70,000 to 50,000 years ago, the archaeological site at Attirampakkam, near Chennai, is believed to be between 1.07 and 1.5 million years old and was possibly home to the pre-modern species, homo erectus.

So what happened in the hundreds of thousands of years that fall between these time-lines—who lived in the landmass between these regions, and was the Deccan region a passage from north to south?

As of now, archaeologists agree they need to dig deeper and wider in the Narmada Valley, and a team has been formed to do that, involving experts from the Stone Age Institute in the US, M S University in Vadodara, and Panjab University in Chandigarh and the Deccan College in Pune.

“In India, we do not know when modern human groups first arrived, how many dispersals there were and if they inter-bred with the pre-existing hominin groups in the region. We don’t even know if there were any other hominin species in India when modern humans arrived there. But it is also possible that within the last two million years, India was home to one or more unknown hominin species, fossils of which we have not yet discovered,” said Parth Chauhan, a researcher with the Stone Age Institute and Department of Anthropology (Indiana University) in Indiana, USA, who presented some recent findings at the IIT-Gandhinagar this week.

Chauhan was one of eight scientists to co-author a 2009 paper in the Journal of Human Evolution that listed a wide array of discoveries such as stone blades, flakes, choppers, hand-axes, picks, cleavers, micro-fossils and other fossil teeth and bones. Over two years of combing the Narmada Valley, the team found stone tools in ten places. Considering the mixed nature of archaeological and fossil material dated from the deposits, the team’s preliminary analysis suggests the “Narmada man” may be much younger than 250,000 years as earlier believed, maybe between 160,000 years and 50,000 years old.

Meanwhile, findings at another site called Dhansi, about three kilometres south of Hathnora and separated by the Narmada River, have been significant. No Acheulian elements have been found there so far, and whatever stone artifacts have been found there are simple flakes, cores and a chopper. These resemble those of Oldowan, the earliest of all stone tool technologies—existence of which has never been “properly proven” in South Asia. Based on the previously-dated age of the sediments here, the artifacts are at least 780,000 years old but require further scientific verification, the researchers say.

Until younger implements are found, the present lot seems to suggest non-modern humans indeed lived there as long as two million years back. Tentative archaeological evidence from northern Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s also suggests this.
 

The Indian Express, 2nd September 2012

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Word-of-Art

Calligraphy comes to the rescue of dying arts and crafts.

Bahadur Chitrakar has been painting all his life. Some might say it’s in his blood, considering his father, grandfather and all those before them were Kalighat painters. But to Chitrakar — a caste name derived from his profession — it’s a parampara (tradition) that must be ¬carried on.

Until a year ago, the 38-year-old native of Naya, a village of chitrakars in West Midnapore district of West Bengal, wasn’t sure how long he would be able to sustain living on the art form. With no education and only his art to keep him going, Chitrakar would travel across West Midnapore with his paintings — depicting folk tales and scenes from the Ramayana — and set up pop-up shops. He’d also sing the stories to regale his audience, who would enjoy his acts, but wouldn’t buy his paintings. “They would give us rice, grains and roti for our efforts. We would pack up and return home,” he says.

Just when Chitrakar was about to give up, he came in touch with Jaya Jaitley, politician-social activist when she visited his village last year. Along with 58 other karigars — craftsmen, artisans and weavers — from 16 states and speaking 14 different languages, Chitrakar was brought under the fold of Akshara, Jaitley’s project that promotes indigenous arts and crafts by teaching regional languages at the workshops it holds in different cities. It introduces the artists to different calligraphic styles of writing, instilling “a level of pride” in their regional languages, and in the process, helps promote their crafts, says Jaitley. She began Akshara in 2007; three years later, the first exhibition of the artisans’ works was held in Chennai. Now they are gearing up for their second, but much larger, exhibition — over 100 works of the artisans, with 21 different skills, will be displayed at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi between September 16 and 21.

Artists with Akshara incorporate calligraphic elements into their art. Chitrakar, for example, has learned to read and write Bengali, and uses the written word to narrate his paintings. After attending a six-day workshop by Akshara in Delhi last October, the painter has written and illustrated a children’s storybook called Amar Ma (My Mother), which has been translated into eight languages by Pratham Books. The original hand-bound copy of the book will be on display at the exhibition in Delhi. This has uplifted Chitrakar’s morale. “I want to do more storybooks and open a museum of Kalighat paintings for the world to see,” he says.

It’s interesting how words are helping dying art forms. Like the tradition of weaving the Hindi words “sada saubhagyavati” on the borders of bridal saris in Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh. Over the years, the weavers replaced the Hindi words with the English “Welcome”. With Akshara, Jaitley hopes to reverse the trend. “Many craftspeople believe they are uneducated because they don’t know English or can’t operate a computer. We want them to appreciate literacy but not at the cost of their skill,” she says.

Jaitley only guides the artists; they are free to use their interpretations of calligraphy in their works. Maqbool, a weaver from Varanasi, has woven Urdu words he identifies with the most — kapda (cloth), karagha (loom), kaagaz (paper) and kalam (pen) — in the form of birds on the pallus of Benarasi saris.

Ghaziabad’s Arshad Kafeel, who is a wood-carver, like his father, could read Urdu, but not write it. Ever since he learned calligraphy, he has been able to incorporate it into his works. One of the most stunning items in his collection is a wall hanging for doors that reads “Aana tera mubarak, tashreef laane waale” (Your presence is good fortune). The words are etched into the body of a peacock. “I never thought that words could add so much depth to my work,” says Kafeel, who has now started using Urdu calligraphy on coasters, lamps and paperweights. “I started with small words, and have now progressed to bigger words, even poetry. My favourite phrase I have written is ‘Taleem ne insaan ko farsh se arsh tak uthaya hai’ (Education has lifted a human being from the floor to the sky),” he says.

Jaitley hopes to get in touch with UNESCO, which is working towards preserving languages around the world, for Akshara. This project will also help these artists sell their works at fair prices — based on the amount of time, effort, materials and skill spent — a tree-of-life wall hanging in Kalamkari, for example, could cost Rs 60,000 whereas a cupboard depicting Kawad-style paintings from Rajasthan, could cost up to a lakh.

The works on display in Delhi won’t be for sale, but the exhibition will serve as a medium for those interested in getting in touch with the artists. Jaitley also hopes that the works will find a larger audience through commercial sources. “We want Akshara to have a spill-off effect,” she says. “Hopefully, designers will pick up on the idea and help promote it commercially to more people.”
 

The Indian Express, 2nd September 2012

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Fading from the skies

The vulture’s decline in India — due to a pain-relieving drug — has been well documented. But what about the other birds that also seem to be on the way out?

In the Ramayan, it was Jatayu’s excellent vision that helped Ram in his search for Sita. Today, however, the vulture population is the victim of short-sightedness, evident in policies that are destroying delicate eco-systems. The use of the pain relieving drug, Diclofenac, in cattle led to about 97 per cent of vultures — that fed on the cattle carcasses — being wiped out within a decade. The drug was then banned.

But it’s not just the vultures that are fading from our skies. Many birds, once a common sight, are rarely seen any more: eagles, magpies, kingfishers, owls, sparrows and many more.

O.W. Holmes said, “A goose flies by a chart the Royal Geographic Society could not improve.” If we acknowledge the skill and wisdom of birds, we can solve many a modern-day problem.

Back to Nature
Most of us want to live healthy and eat organic. But given that our water, food and air have been poisoned, given the lack of pesticide-free organic food and a sleeping political will, is this even a distant possibility? Perhaps it is. Only if a concerted effort is made to go back to Nature. Some people use creative methods to provide pesticide-free farming and creatures like birds use their natural instincts to provide us with organic food. Let’s see how.

The most prolific breeders in Nature are insects. Over 3000 species of insects are found in our country and more are being discovered every other day.

Take a pair of chinch bugs and breed it. In a single season, it develops 13 generations. In the 12th generation, if we can keep them in a single line — assuming there are 10 chinch bugs to an inch — this line would be so long that starting from one end it would take 2500 years to reach the other end, assuming we travel at the speed of light.

A pair of cabbage aphid can, in a single season, become so numerous that their weight would be three times the weight of all human beings on earth put together. In a 3300-acre farm in South Africa, locusts laid eggs. Almost all the eggs were dug out; they weighed 14 tonnes! If they’d hatched, there would’ve been 1250 million locusts.

How birds help
Insects do enormous damage to vegetation. Food eaten by a single silkworm in 56 days is 86,000 times that of its weight at hatching. Some flesh-eating larvae consume 200 times their own weight in 24 hours. That is the power of insects.

In Nature, several factors work together to check the growth of insects. The major factor is birds. Most birds are insectivores and prey on insects, their eggs and larvae. A pair of starlings was observed to bring food like caterpillars, grasshoppers to their nestlings 370 times a day. House sparrows bring food to their nestlings 260 times a day.

A German ornithologist estimated that single pair of tits and their progeny destroyed 120 million eggs of insects a year. An owl hunts 2-3 rats in a single night. A pair of house rats, bred in ideal conditions, can increase to 880 rats a year. Scavenging birds like vultures clean the environment by devouring dead animals.

Birds are equally important for pollination of flowers and seed dispersal. The dodo — the modern icon of extinction — was called a simpleton as it had no fear of humans. It approached humans too closely and finally died out due to excessive hunting.

With the disappearance of the bird, an indigenous tree also died out. The connection: the dodo ate the fruits and the hard shell dissolved in its gizzard. The seeds were then passed out along with its excreta and sprouted where they fell. Without the dodo, the shell of the fruit could not be removed and germination was not possible.

The song and flight of birds has inspired melodies, literature, science and inventions. Birds inspired men to fly. After World War II, when humans started to build wide-bodied airplanes, they were unable to land them on a short runway. They thought of vultures. Despite their heavy bodies, they land on a small space and take off just in a few steps. Scientists studied their landing and take-off in slow motion and learnt to build wide-bodied airplanes.

Human impact
Overall, the population of birds in India is declining. There are several causes for this: the most important being destruction of habitat and nesting site. Commercial exploitation of wetlands has resulted in the decline of cormorants, pelicans, darters and other birds that depend solely upon fish.

The collection of wild fruits and berries for human consumption has caused scarcity of food for frugivorous birds. The graminivorous birds are lethally affected by insecticides.

Game birds are hunted down for meat. Some migratory birds, which come to the Indian subcontinent, are hunted en route in countries where hunting is permitted. The disconnect with and apathy towards birds is so huge that, leave aside identifying common birds like house sparrows, we don’t even sense their decline. Neither the education system nor the government is taking this problem seriously.

A swimming pool is no substitute for a lake nor is an umbrella for a tree. An air-conditioner cannot replace the cool evening breeze just as a pesticide cannot replace its natural counterparts. Birds check the growth of insects and rodents on a massive scale. The native insectivorous birds of each region can be identified and bred around farmlands across India. This will not only serve as a powerful tool to control pests and reduce the use of pesticides, but also help birds flourish.

They say that birds will be happier without humans on earth, but humans cannot survive without birds.
 

The Hindu, 2nd September 2012

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A queen’s magnificent church

The rags-to-riches story of Begum Samru—from a nautch girl in Delhi to Sardhana’s warrior queen—may soon be the subject of a film by Tigmanshu Dhulia of Paan Singh Tomar fame. Regarded as the only Roman Catholic ruler in Indian history, Begum Samru is almost forgotten in Delhi where she wielded significant political and social influence in the late 18th and early 19th centuries during the twilight years of Mughal rule.

The Begum’s house in Chandni Chowk has turned into a bank and its adjoining area is the electrical goods market, Bhagirath Palace. Her palace in Gurgaon, built in Islamic style—she was born a Muslim—had survived in a ruined state till about 2008. It has since disappeared, swallowed up by gradual encroachment.

But in Sardhana, once her fiefdom, the Begum’s presence can be felt with almost all the buildings she built not just intact but also reasonably well-maintained. As one takes the bypass from Meerut to cross the Ganga canal, the steeples of her church come into view. A tarred road lined with mango groves and sugarcane fields leads to the shrine, the Basilica of our Lady of Graces.

Father George of Sardhana says the Begum’s palaces here have been converted into schools, college and hostels. The church is at the centre of a fair that takes place every November.

Built in the 19th century, the church had cost her Rs 4 lakh. It was a small amount for Begum Farzana Joana, who became the head of the prosperous Sardhana principality and that of a mercenary army after the death of her husband, Walter Reinhardt Sombre, a native of Luxemburg. Samru, as Sombre’s name came to be pronounced, came to India to join the French frigate only to change his loyalties to the British when he saw the French losing. After Sombre’s death, his Begum commanded his troop of 80-plus European officers and 4,000-odd soldiers. She was regarded as a benevolent ruler and a capable leader on the battlefield. An 1815 water colour painting by one Sita Ram, who accompanied Lord Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal, to a battlefield, depicts her army camp at Narela in Delhi.

In the church is a letter the Begum is known to have written to Pope Gregory XVI: “I am proud to say it (the church) is acknowledged to be the finest, without exception, in India.”

The exquisite semi-precious stone work, life-like statues, verandah of 18 Greek columns, elevated altar with stained glass inner dome, two spires and three Roman domes, all add to its grandeur. She wanted it to be similar to the grand churches of Rome and employed an Italian architect, Anthony Reghelini, who took 11 years to complete it. An 18-ft high edifice on the left of the sanctuary was carved by Italian sculptor Adamo Tadolini and sent by ship from Italy to Kolkata, transported on boats up the Ganga and to the church on bullock carts. Built on the tomb of the Begum who died in 1836 at the age of 85, it depicts the queen sitting on the throne, smoking hookah, with Europeans and Indians in audience. In her right hand she holds the scroll from Emperor Shah Alam II bestowing upon her the fiefdom of Sardhana after the death of her husband. Standing below, to her right, is her adopted son David Dyce Sombre. To her left is minister Diwan Rae Singh, Motilal Nehru’s greatgrandfather. The inscription is in Arabic, Latin and English.

Father George says the church was built to ensure Begum’s name remains permanently etched in history. However, she may not have imagined that the shrine she dedicated to Mother Mary would one day become one of the 19 minor basilicas of India. Her church was bestowed the status in 1961 by Pope John XXIII and is the only minor basilica in North India.
 

The Indian Express, 2nd September 2012

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Bamboo trade may open up for tribals

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan has overruled objections from her officials to break the forest bureaucracy's monopoly over the annual Rs 10,000 crore bamboo trade and declared it a 'minor forest produce' instead of a 'tree' under forest laws.

This will allow tribals, instead of forest departments, to harvest and auction bamboo, which is one of the major raw materials for the paper, pulp and board industry, from their community and private lands.

The forest ministry had for long classified bamboo as a tree despite its scientific description as a grass. The classification ensured that under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, fallen bamboo got classified as timber and remained under the firm control of the forest bureaucracy which harvested and sold it to the industry. The tribals got a pittance on some occasions even as the industry got bamboo at low rates over long lease periods.

With the introduction of UPA's flagship Forest Rights Act, the tribal affairs ministry pushed to get the fast growing species of grass out of the control of forest officials with the law providing that the right to harvest minor forest produce (products not classified as timber) grown on traditional forest lands would lie with the tribals.

But the forest bureaucracy refused to alter its regulations and classification of the species and put up hurdles in various states based on the Indian Forest Act and its existing rules.

Previous environment minister Jairam Ramesh too pushed the case for relaxing the archaic and incorrect classification of bamboo and easing the norms to ensure that tribals got their rights under FRA but met with only partial success.

Earlier this year, the tribal affairs ministry secured Cabinet nod to offer minimum support price for minor forest produce, including bamboo, to tribals through a new scheme along the lines of the support prices provided to farmers for major crops. The prime minister announced the scheme in his August 15 speech as a prominent part of UPA-2's pro-tribal measures.

But the tribal affairs ministry, in the last stages of transferring control of bamboo to tribals and finalizing the scheme, got a jolt when senior environment ministry officials stuck to the line that bamboo was a 'tree' under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and could not be harvested, transported or sold by tribals.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan then stepped in and overruled her officials and put on record that bamboo would be classified as a minor forest produce under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 as well.

The decision will pave the way for the tribal affairs ministry to launch the scheme though officials still expect a lot of resistance from state forest officials in handing over real control to the tribals. In some states, forest officials have blocked tribals from selling bamboo by using other regulations like working plans for forestlands being amended to permit the harvest. The tribal affairs ministry believes once the scheme is launched, the forest bureaucracy will have to fall in line.
 

The Times of India, 3rd September 2012

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Vanishing bird

Recently named Delhi’s ‘state bird’, the house sparrow needs our care R. Dhanya and P.A. Azeez

House sparrows are very intimately associated with our day-to-day life. All of us may have sweet childhood memories linked to these chirruping beauties. Undoubtedly, we still expect these chirpings from our courtyards; but in vain. Our high-profile lifestyle, sophisticated buildings, exotic gardens and pollution made the birds’ life complicated and failed to offer them a safe haven. But, unfortunately, it is not just sparrows that are declining; several other erstwhile common species show the same trend and we need to deflect it.

The House Sparrow (Passer Domesticus) is a brown bird about 15cm long and very common in human-made habitats. They usually feed on grains, seeds, and lately more on garbage and refuse from eateries. But the nestlings are fed mostly animal matter, especially insects. Usually, these birds make their nests with grass and suchlike they find nearby, in built-up structures.

A decline in the house sparrow population across the world has been reported for the past few decades. Long-term monitoring of the sparrow population is conducted by several organisations and individual researchers. In India too, the phenomenon is reported, although information is anecdotal and requires further investigation.

Several reasons seem likely. The suspected culprits are lack of animal matter in the diet, lack of nest sites, electromagnetic radiation, increased traffic, pollution, chemicals applied on seeds and cereals and perhaps disease. These factors would vary from place to place. Most of these causes are aftermaths of urbanisation, changing lifestyles and architecture. Rapid construction activity results in local habitat destruction. Similarly, urban gardens are being dominated by exotic plants which may not be very hospitable to the native insect fauna. Moreover, most urban gardens are manicured and groomed regularly, using agrochemicals. Hence, most such gardens would offer no ecosystem to sparrows. The sparrow population is positively correlated with the number of weedy patches, as they offer wild seeds or grains. The spillover of grains from provision stores was an important food source. Malls and departmental stores, with neatly packed (in plastic) grocery items, would also deprive these creatures of food. Competition with other bird species such as House Crow, Common Myna and Rock Pigeon can also be a reason for food shortage. Unlike these species, sparrows are apparently much less adept in adapting to rapid changes of urbanisation.

Architecture plays an important role. The mode of construction draped in thick and largely reflective glass repulsive to birds wouldn’t leave any room for constructing nests. The tiled ground outside the buildings would not leave a place for the sparrows to take a mud bath. Earlier, rolling shutter-hoods served as an important nest location. But shops in urban areas nowadays have mostly concealed shutter-hoods, which pose a risk for the birds.

In Spain, Everaert and Balmori conducted experiments on the impact of electromagnetic radiation from mobile masts. They concluded that it has a negative impact on bird population. Urbanisation involves homogenisation of landscape and formation of urban heat islands that could also be possible reasons for the decline. However, such causes need to be further explored. It seems the decline of sparrows is because of the cumulative effect of several factors largely associated with urbanisation, which may be location-specific. During the initial stages of human habitation the species actually increases in numbers, while with higher-level urbanisation it declines.

Being a bird closely associated with human habitations, measures for the sparrow’s conservation should start with citizens. It would be appropriate to maintain bigger public spaces, water baths, nest boxes, tracks and trails, and perhaps leave sufficient living space for such beautiful denizens of human habitations. In town planning, planting native flora in parks, on roadsides and in government complexes should be encouraged.

Azeez is officiating director and Dhanya a research fellow, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History
 

The Indian Express, 3rd September 201

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Choked Old Delhi to get three new parking lots

The North Municipal Corporation will build three new multilevel underground parking lots in the Walled City area, which has some of the most congested and busiest markets in the Capital.

Church Mission Road will get a parking lot adjacent to the existing facility in Fatehpuri. “The corporation has a 6,000-square-metre plot, currently used for surface parking. A multilevel parking with space for 2,000 cars will be built there,” a civic agency official said.

“This place was chosen because of its proximity to Chandni Chowk, Khari Baoli, Lajpat Rai Market and Bhagirath Palace. Thousands of traders and consumers visit these markets every day, but find no space to park their cars. This is one of the most commercialised parts of Delhi,” he said.

The second parking lot will be built in Dangal Maidan, 500 metres from the proposed Church Mission Road facility.

This underground multilevel parking lot, to be built on 6,000

metres of space, will be able to accommodate 2,000 cars.

The third one at a place close to Ramlila Maidan between Asaf Ali Road and Jawahar Lal Nehru Marg will be the largest - sitting on an area of 8,000 square metres.

“We proposed these parking lots to solve problems that traders and people visiting these markets face every day. These will, hopefully, ease the traffic congestions in the area. Narrow roads and heavy volume of traffic in these areas cause a lot of problems for the residents,” Ravinder Gupta, chairman of the corporation’s works committee, said.

“The parking lots will have two underground wings and three above the surface,” he said.

The councillor said the parking space near Ramlila Maidan would substantially cut down the chaos on the nearby roads, witnessed during religious and political events at the grounds.

“Moreover, those who visit Ramlila Maidan now park their vehicles far away from the venue. The new parking lot will help people overcome this problem,” he said.
 

The Indian Express, 3rd September 2012

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Delhi’s last chance to be a green city

The new areas of Delhi, categorized as 'urbanizable areas' in Master Plan 2021, are mainly tracts of farmland dotted with farmhouses. But now that they have been opened up for urbanization, city-based urban planners and architects want the government to take steps before the developers grab the land and turn these areas into another Gurgaon.

Planners see these areas as a "golden opportunity" to place Delhi on the global list of eco-cities. The opening-up of over 60,000 hectares for urbanization to accommodate about seven million people can be a real test for building an alternative city.

Urban planners insist on urbanizing these villages while maintaining an ecological balance. They say that without any guideline, real estate giants will raise huge skyscrapers but with no security for water or power or very less pedestrian space. There are reports of large areas already being bought, leaving little time to make interventions to design a better peripheral city. Planners suggest that the Delhi government prepare a set of guidelines that builders should abide by to create a "sustainable city".

"It is a great opportunity to rectify what has gone wrong. We are not talking about very expensive technologies here. It may actually cost far less if private and public developers adopt these technologies. But once the city develops, there will not be any room for change," says A G K Menon, architect, urban planner and conservation consultant.

Planner and architect Vinod Gupta also stresses that "The development of these fringe areas are the most interesting aspect of Delhi today. Here we have an opportunity to do what has not been done so far. We can study the topography and create norms for builders that will reduce the pressure on the environmental resources quite a bit".

According to Menon, all buildings should compulsorily develop rainwater harvesting structures in the building, orient the buildings depending on the location and use landscape to minimize energy consumption and ensure optimum density of population in the new areas so that the peripheral cities are less resource intensive.

"Rainwater harvesting has been made compulsory. But it should be inbuilt in every new construction in the new areas. Building materials are also important. Look at Gurgaon, they have used so much glass when it doesn't suit our environmental conditions at all. The guidelines should specify eco-friendly building materials that require less energy during construction and will help reduce the cooling or air-conditioning load later," adds Menon.

Planners are also concerned about the optimum population density. It should neither be low density, leading to use of more resources for very few people, nor can it be very high density as "we don't have the infrastructure to support it. We need to know what is optimum", says Gupta.

The director of Indian Institute of Human Settlements, Aromar Revi, also bats for optimum density. "A core principle of sustainable urban design is to plan and incentivize condensed urbanism and contain sprawl. This makes cities more livable because many parts are then walkable, which reduces traffic. It also increases access to jobs as poor people have to travel less, and increases water and energy efficiency because these services don't have to be delivered over long distances." Revi also thinks many parts of core Delhi are still low density. It will have an extensive Metro network connecting most parts by 2016 "This will enable people to use more public transport, leading to reduced congestion, air pollution and GHG emissions," he says.
 

The Times of India, 3rd September 2012

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Main entrance of Jeypore king’s palace collapses

The brick and mortar structure supporting the main wrought iron gate of the century-old Jeypore King’s palace in Orissa collapsed on Sunday after being in a dilapidated state for several years, the police said.

The Koraput district administration had recently declared the main entrance as “unsafe” and advised the people against passing through it, sub-divisional police officer (SDPO), Jeypore, Utkal Das said. However, no one was injured in the incident and steps were being taken to clear the debris, he said.

The palace, built by King Rama Krushna Deb, is the pride of the town and its main gate, a centre of attraction. After abolition of the princely states by the government, the royal family was unable to maintain the structure properly. The only occupant in the sprawling palace is Rani Rama Devi. The octogenarian queen’s other surviving relations, including grand children, stay at Visakhapatnam.

In 2011, after noticing that the condition of the main entrance was in a bad shape, the Koraput district administration had issued notice to demolish it, while the remaining portions of the palace were said to be safe, official sources said.

However, the Queen had assured that the entrance portion would be repaired but the statusquo continued.

After the main entrance caved in on Sunday, sub-collector Birendra Kerkera met the Queen and her advocate and discussed as to what steps the royal family was taking now.

Seeking intervention of the district administration in the matter, the Queen gave it a free hand to take necessary steps for restoring the entrance, Mr Kerkera said. Mr Kerkera said personnel from Orissa Disaster Rapid Action Force and the fire brigade were being engaged to clear the remains of the structure.
 

The Deccan Chronicle, 3rd September 2012

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Memories of the Walled City

Through the 1950s and 60s, Azad Hotel in Urdu Bazaar was home to the most peculiar cast of characters

There was a rum place in the 1950s and 60s in Urdu Bazaar called Azad Hotel where cranks and intellectuals lived cheek by jowl with characters like the merry widow of Najafgarh. A big contrast to her was Tyagiji, a wreck of a man who was a Brahmin and occupied a room facing a big pipal tree with in-transit Mullahs and Khojas from Mumbai (headed by the glass-eyed qawwal, Firoz Kanchwala) as neighbours. The hotel was run by a man with multiple wives and a love for shayari.

Tyagiji did not mind eating mutton curry and chapatis for dinner, served by the waiter Rais to him every evening at 8 o’clock, after which, tired with the day’s exertions, he went off to sleep and got up only in time to attend the aarti at a temple in Esplanade Road. He then came back for his breakfast of two slices of bread and a cup of tea (served by Salamat) or, depending on the money in his pocket, settled down at a dhaba in Matia Mahal for nahari-roti. Thereafter he clutched an old, rumpled bag under his arm and caught a bus to Chanakyapuri, where he worked as translator in a western embassy.

Once he was asked by a young diplomat to translate Book One of Milton’s Paradise Lost into Hindi. Tyagiji took up the assignment in his usual nonchalant way but as he proceeded with the work, found it difficult to translate some passages of which he could not make head or tail. Among these was Satan’s speech to his fellow-fallen angels that had the famous line: “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven”. Tyagiji, his hair tousled and a big frown on his face, went to the other building of the hotel, adjacent to Jagat Cinema, and sought out a trainee journalist, secretly in love with the proprietor’s favourite daughter, who was quite conversant with Milton and other English poets. The youngster sat down and began explaining the difficult passages to Tyagiji who had to hold several sittings with him to get the hang of things. Even then it took six months to complete the translation, with help from other quarters too.

Next he was given Cleopatra, The Woman of Passion, a novel by Henry Rider Haggard. Tyagiji did not know a thing about Egyptian gods and goddesses and here he was confronted by the history of Harmachis, son of the High Priest, Amenemhat, with whom Cleopatra hadfallen in love while Antony was away from the Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt. Deities like Osiris, Isis, Sethi and Ra and the underworld of Amentia and Abouthi were quite alien to him. Since Tyagiji’s journalist friend was leaving for his hometown for Christmas, he introduced him to the European parish priest of St. Mary’s Church, opposite Old Delhi Station, who had earlier been posted in Cairo and was well versed in the Classics. The old Italian father helped him along until the friend returned and the novel was translated after three months. It later turned out that the diplomat who had assigned the work to Tyagiji did not really need the translations. He just wanted to create work for the poor man as there was not much else for him to do otherwise, and that would have meant loss of his contract with the embassy.

Like Tyagiji, Sydney Bellety, an Anglo-Indian from Kanpur, also stayed at the hotel. He used to be a good boxer in school and, though forced to limp after a foot injury, was still good enough to teach two sons of the hotel owner to box as they were street hectors and in sore need of the art of self-defence. Bellety had to tie up their feet sometimes so that they did not run away after getting a few punches from him. “Stand up and face it like a man or you will not be able to protect yourself”, he would shout in English and then repeat the same in broken Hindi.

Then there was a dimpled peacock dance artiste, Shanta Rani, who lived with her lanky Zamindar companion Latif Mian and nursed a grudge against sexy vocalist Naseem Bano, occupant of Room No. 4. Khan Sahib, who hailed from Saharanpur, would sometimes peep at her while she was changing costume for a performance. After losing his job as manager of an oil mill in Nuh tehsil, he decided to stay at the hotel and work as supplier of wines to hotels in South Delhi. Khan Sahib was very fond of fishing and the lovey-dovey singing duo of Anwar Sultana, holed up in Room No. 3. He was also on very good terms with Tyagiji who, like him, used to be reprimanded every month by the hotel owner for not paying his bills. Once Khan Sahib caught a big Rohu and presented the fish to Afzal Mian, which earned him a week’s reprieve. A sultry girl from a stranded Bombay drama troupe, patronised by actor A. K. Hangal, sang the then hit number, “Purva sohani aiya re, Purva” one breezy evening which earned her party a similar reprieve.

There was also a gay Eurasian dancer who lived next to the room of the divorced wife of a Colonel and was the butt of many a joke for “enticing the he-men” of the area. What befell most of these characters after they left is not known, but one of them is still around to bear witness to the crazy happenings at what was probably the most rummy place in Delhi some 50 years ago.
 

The Hindu, 3rd September 2012

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Linear designs

PRIYANAKA JOSHI traces the artform and history of Madhubani paintings at a recent exhibition being showcased at the Azad Bhavan

The geometric patterns and the intricate designs of the Madhubani paintings have a huge fan following across the world. The drawn lines and the patterns reflect the aesthetic tastes, religious learnings, Nature, appreciation for the female form and also lives of the people. An exhibition of Madhubani paintings is being showcased at the Azad Bhavan ICCR.

The exhibition features works by four artists who come from the town of Simri, Madhubani, Bihar. The exhibition began on the August 31 and is on till September 5.

Event organiser Srikanta Paul commented on the occasion, “Our target is to develop Simri as an artistic rural hub, which in turn will become a tourism destination.”

This art of Madhubani painting in its traditional style developed in the Mithila region, in and around the villages near Madhubani, Bihar.

Artist Vidyanath Jha, whose works have also been displayed at the exhibition said, “Madhubani art is now being used as a commercial art. It’s now being done on paper, cloth, and also the interiors of a house. This style of painting is very different from the others. The figures in these paintings are inspired from nature and mythology. They are adapted to suit the Madhubani style.” Painters of Simri also use their art to create awareness about developmental issues. They have painted the walls in their village with themes on environmental protection and bios-conservation. The art form is a potential tool for social communication.

These paintings are available in different themes and sizes. One of the artists from Simri, Ratneshwar Jha said, “The themes and designs that are widely employed are Hindu deities such as Krishna, Rama, Shiva, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati. The sun and the moon, tulsi, darbar and wedding scenes are also seen widely in our works. Apart from that we fill up the gaps in the painting by using floral animal motifs and geometrical designs. There is hardly any empty space in this style.”

The skill is handed down generation from generation, hence the traditional designs and patterns are widely maintained. Nature is at the core of this art form. Kalyani Devi informed, “we use cotton wrapped around a bamboo stick to work as a brush. And for the colours we use natural pigments and dyes. Black colour is obtained by mixing soot with cow dung, yellow from turmeric, pollen or lemon is added to the milk of banyan leaves. Blue is obtained from indigo, red from thekusum flower juice and also red sandalwood. The green is from the leaves of the apple tree, white is from rice powder or choona ( lime stone powder) and orange from the Palash flowers. And for the painting to last for a long time we spread the liquid extracted out of squeezing the cowdung. We spread this water on white handmade paper.”

The colours are applied flat on the surface. There is normally a double line drawn for the outlines, the gap between the lines filled by cross or straight tiny lines. In a linear painting, no colours are applied. Only the outlines are drawn. Meera Devi, another artist, from Simri said, “We drew the paintings on the walls of our home, as an illustration of our thoughts, hopes and dreams. With time, the paintings have become a part of the festivities and special events.”

We trace the origin of the artwork as Jha informed, “The first reference to the Maithili paintings of Bihar dates back to the time of Ramayana, when Janaka ordered these paintings to be created for Sita, his daughter’s wedding.”
 

The Pioneer, 4th September 2012

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J&K forest land encroached

Much to the chagrin of Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Jammu based social activist has brought to light factual details of land records confirming the fact that Rehmat-Ullah Bhat, son of Khizar Joo Bhat, had illegally occupied the State forest land measuring 10 kanals and 2 Marlas at village Sunjwan, Bathindi in Jammu district and also constructed a palatial house in gross violation of J&K Forest Act and Forest Conservation Act.

The social activist Prof SK Bhalla also served a notice through Sheikh Najeeb Ashraf upon Chief Secretary J&K, Commissioner/Secretary Forest Dept, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Chief Conservator of Forest Jammu and Divisional Forest officer Jammu seeking eviction of the encroachers from the aforementioned forest land.

In May 2012 Prof Bhalla had moved a RTI application to ascertain the status of land under occupation of Rehmat Ullah Bhat. Prof Bhalla received the RTI reply from the office of Deputy Commissioner, Jammu on September 1 which categorically mentioned that Rehmatullah Bhat has been recorded in the revenue record as illegal occupant (Kabza Najaiz) of the land.
 

The Pioneer, 4th September 2012

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Ram Sethu: Centre gets six weeks to convey its stand

The Supreme Court granted six weeks’ time to the Central government to communicate its stand on the Sethusamudram project. A Bench of Justices H L Dattu and C K Prasad accorded more time to the government after Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman said the Union Cabinet required to discuss the issue and take a decision.

In July too, the Centre was given two months to analyse the Pachauri panel report and convey to the court its decision on how did it propose to go about the project.

The panel, set up after a bunch of petitions reached the apex court against execution of the project because of possible damages to the mythological Ram Sethu, had opined that an alternative alignment was not economically and ecologically feasible.

The matter was adjourned amid indications that the Centre was contemplating to reject the Pachauri panel report and set up a new committee to re-examine ‘Alignment 4A’, as suggested by the Supreme Court, and have an alternative route that avoids Ram Sethu.

As reported by The Indian Express on Monday, the Ministry of Shipping has recommended that a new panel of experts analyse Alignment 4A with respect to its climate and environment impact and suggest ways that this could be minimised.

The Sethusamudram project aims to create a shorter navigational route around India’s southern tip, between India and Sri Lanka, to allow large ships to get to India’s east coast from the west without navigating around Sri Lanka, as they do now.
 

The Pioneer, 4th September 2012

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International experts to make heritage dossier

Majuli Islands, hill forts of Rajasthan, Shantiniketan and Qutub Shahi monuments — all of them have been pushed by the Archaeological Survey of India for Unesco's coveted world heritage tag. But all have missed it due to either incomplete dossiers or technical faults in drawings. To make sure that Delhi doesn't meet with a similar fate with its final nomination dossier for the world heritage city tag, INTACH Delhi Chapter has engaged international consultants.

The dossier, being prepared by INTACH, is likely to be re-named 'Capital Cities of Delhi' from the earlier 'Imperial Cities of Delhi' and will feature Lutyens bungalow zone (LBZ) and Shahjahanabad.

"We want to show Delhi's uniqueness that cannot be found in any other city. LBZ and Shahjahanabad are 350 years apart and represent two contradictory periods of Delhi. The Mughal rule in Shahjahanabad and the British regime in LBZ have contrasting lifestyles, architecture, culture and represent the intellectual highpoints of two opposing empires," said INTACH convener A G K Menon.

ASI had submitted the tentative nomination dossier to Unesco last year, and the capital now features in the list along with 20 other Indian sites/properties awaiting the prestigious tag.

One of the experts brought in by INTACH specializes in drafting guidelines for world heritage nominations, while another is a former Unesco official who was involved in the selection of nominations for the final inscription. A third consultant works in a specialized heritage body, which, along with an NGO, evaluates nominations from various countries. "We have to consult widely to ensure our dossier meets all the parameters and fulfills all the criteria outlined by Unesco," said Menon. The final dossier needs to reach the Unesco headquarters in Paris by February 1, 2013.

INTACH has set a deadline of September 30 to finish the dossier. It will then be examined by a number of experts and government bodies, which will also make their own suggestions. "The dossier will also have to be approved by the world heritage apex committee that was set up recently by the Centre to examine Indian nominations to Unesco following a series of rejections," said an official.

After Ahmedabad's nomination to gain the heritage city status in 2011, Delhi's nomination, the second such proposal from India, appears in the tentative list updated by the UN organization on May 22, 2012.

Each country can finally nominate two sites every year for inscription under the natural, cultural or mixed categories. "It will be a fight to make Delhi one of the two nominations to be submitted to Unesco by ASI next year as there are 20 sites on the tentative list," admitted Menon.

In the past five years, the only Indian additions to the Unesco heritage list are Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and the Western Ghats.
 

The Times of India, 4th September 2012

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Heed the call of the wild for protection

The Supreme Court’s directive to ban tourism in core tiger reserve areas for now has triggered a national debate on conserving wildlife. Unfortunately, a lot of that discussion is based on half-information

The recent order of the Supreme Court directing the notification of ‘buffer zones’ has brought the terms ‘core or critical tiger habitat’, ‘buffer zone’, ‘critical wildlife habitat’ and ‘eco-sensitive zone’ into sharp focus. With little clarity amongst the elected representatives, the media and even some officials, the prevailing state of affairs has created a fertile breeding ground for rumour-mongering and mis-information campaigns by vested interests to create uncertainty and fear of displacement amongst communities living around tiger reserves. 

Before the situation slides further, the implications of these and more specifically how or whether it affects local communities, must be clearly explained. In order to do this, it would be necessary to elaborate what each of these terms  means.

First, a tiger reserve includes a ‘core or critical tiger habitat’ and a ‘buffer zone’ around its immediate periphery. ‘Core or critical habitats’ of tiger reserves were constituted by issuing an overlapping notification to existing sanctuaries and/or ‘national parks’, with highly endangered tiger populations. This was done under the provisions of Section 38-V of the Wildlife Protection Act after an amendment in 2006. These have to be managed as ‘inviolate’ areas (meaning no incompatible human activity) to protect breeding populations of tigers and their prey.

‘Buffer zones’ on the other hand are immediately adjoining the core areas where a lesser degree of habitat protection is required. Even though several CTHs were notified, ‘buffer zones’ were not created. The Supreme Court is now insisting that States complete the notification process of ‘buffer zones’ in a time bound manner.

Core and buffer zones: The law allows for resettlement of people living within core areas subject to certain conditions. The question of unilateral eviction does not arise, as all tribal forest-dwellers who were in occupation of land as on December 13, 2005, are eligible for and can opt for a voluntary  resettlement package of Rs 10 lakh, including alternative land, housing and other amenities.

‘Buffer zones’ typically comprise reserved forests, protected forests, deemed forests and even unencumbered Government land contiguous with the ‘core area’. As against the ‘inviolate’ paradigm in ‘core areas’, ‘buffer zones’ are to be managed under a ‘co-existence’ paradigm. Therefore the bona fide rights of people within revenue enclosures of such forests will continue. So, the fear that the notification of ‘buffer zones’ will lead to displacement of people or curtailment of recorded rights is baseless.

Can buffers include villages? Not really, but in some States, the forest departments are attempting to notify privately-owned agricultural landscapes including entire village limits without any forest areas, as ‘buffer zones’ and even imposing some controls. This may lead to serious conflicts because the law is abundantly clear that a ‘buffer zone’ is also an integral part of a tiger reserve. A plain reading of the following legal provisions illustrates why private lands and villages should not be included in the buffer zone.

Section 38-V (2) clarifies that the provisions of Sections 18(2), 27(2), (3) & (4), 30, 32 and 33 (b) & (c) of the Wildlife Act apply to a tiger reserve as they apply to a sanctuary. These sections impose restrictions on littering the grounds of a ‘buffer zone’; causing or kindling a fire and use of injurious chemical substances. They also empower the chief wildlife warden to take measures for improvement of any habitat and enforce ecologically compatible land uses in the ‘buffer zones’.

On the ground, this may well translate into preventing farmers from burning of land after cropping, prohibition on the use of pesticides and imposition of prescriptions on changing cropping patterns.

It would, therefore, be prudent to leave out private lands and villages not encompassed within forests from the purview of ‘buffer zones’ even if this means the buffer does not fully wrap around the core. 

Critical tiger habitat vs Critical wildlife habitat: There is huge confusion on this issue as well. While a CTH is notified under the provisions of Section 38-V(4)(i) of the Wildlife Act, a CWH is constituted under Section 4(2) of the Forest Rights Act. While there are differences in the provisions under the two laws, there is one important similarity, which is that both CTH and CWH are to be constituted by notifying ‘national parks’ and sanctuaries that qualify to be treated as inviolate for the purpose of tiger/wildlife conservation based on scientific and objective criteria.

Even in these areas, the preferred strategy rightly being adopted is voluntary and incentive-driven resettlement and not forcible eviction as is often portrayed by some activists and elected representatives to whip up public sentiment against notification of new areas. 

Eco-sensitive zone: In order to ensure the integrity of the landscape around sanctuaries and ‘national parks’ and create a transition zone from highly protected areas to other areas that require lesser degree of protection it is now mandatory to notify an ESZ under Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act. This could extend up to 10km and even beyond if required. Activities in an ESZ are classified under three regimes: Prohibited, regulated and permissible. Mining and large hydel projects which destroy habitat integrity come under the prohibited regime. However, all ongoing agricultural and horticultural activity are in the permissible category and can continue unhindered. More importantly, acquisition of land or resettlement is not envisaged in these ESZs.

Is it realistically possible then to have a large core fully surrounded by forested ‘buffer zones’ and an eco-sensitive zone? Most reserves in India have convoluted boundaries and hard edges abutting highways, agricultural lands and villages. The reality, therefore, is to recognise ‘core areas’ are not encircled fully by other forest lands which then gradually merge into farm lands and human dominated areas. In most landscapes this goal may remain a utopian dream. 

So, what’s the way forward? A practical strategy could be to first notify ‘buffer zones’ comprising only contiguous forests and un-encumbered Government land while simultaneously constituting ESZs of appropriate width around ‘core areas’ through a site-specific approach. This will synergistically operate to provide the necessary cushion to the ‘core areas’ to absorb shocks and prevent fragmentation of habitat.

Another innovative strategy could be to encourage tourism companies to forge equitable profit-sharing agreements with local communities/panchayats to convert farm lands immediately adjacent to reserves into viable buffer areas over a five to 10-year period. This could be feasible around many reserves, particularly in the Western Ghats. 

While we continue to debate this important issue, there is an immediate and urgent need for elected representatives, officials and NGOs to reach out to local communities living in the periphery of tiger habitats and reassure them on why a ‘buffer zone’ or an ‘eco-sensitive zone’ will not lead to displacement or disruption of their bona fide agricultural activities. This will be crucial to minimise hostility and ensure success of this vital conservation strategy to secure wild landscapes — and not just small islands called tiger reserves.

The Pioneer, 5th September 2012

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Metro’s Sarai Kale Khan Station under Phase III runs into ‘green’ trouble

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s (DMRC) request for land at Millennium Park near Nizamuddin Bridge, for construction of entry and exit structures of the Sarai Kale Khan station, has not gone down well with Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

According to sources, the land agency has raised objections to construction of some portions of the station in this green belt.

Both the agencies have been in discussion over the matter, sources said. The Sarai Kale Khan station is supposed to come up as part of the Mukundpur-Yamuna Vihar corridor under Phase-III. The Millennium Park was developed by DDA and is spread over 20 acres.

“A recent meeting was held and certain issues were raised over DMRC’s request to construct part of their Sarai Kale Khan station in Millennium Park. DDA has raised objections as they feel that any construction by DMRC will ruin the green cover,’’ said a source.

DDA officials say the construction of the Nehru Place station has taken away from the beauty of the Astha Kunj Park, which is located near the station, to validate their point.

The Mukundpur-Yamuna Vihar corridor is one of the longest under Phase-III and will run almost parallel to the Ring Road.

DDA spokeperson Neemo Dhar said: “This matter is at a very preliminary stage of discussion and nothing concrete can be said about it.”

The DMRC, meanwhile, said they only require a small portion of land in Millennium Park to ensure integration of the Metro station with the Sarai Kale Khan ISBT, which is to be upgraded soon.

“At present, we will only construct the entry and exit points to the station in Millennium Park. The construction of a station near this area is necessary for integration of Metro services with the Sarai Kale Khan ISBT,’’ said a DRMC spokesperson.

According to the DMRC, they have had several discussions with the Transport department over these integration plans. Similar integration plans have also been taken up near Kashmere Gate ISBT.

Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Center (UTTIPEC) had recently taken up the matter of integrating ISBTs with other modes of transport in the surrounding areas to ensure optimal use of public space and proper amenities.
 

The Indian Express, 5th September 2012

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Celebration of our heritage

Virasat series 2012 features classical exponents like Rama Vaidyanathan and Teejan Bai. Ila Sankrityayan speaks to Kiran Seth, chairman of SPIC MACAY, on an interesting line-up

It can be credited for bringing the traditional arts to the otherwise restless youth of the country. SPIC MACAY stands true to its name. It is the perfect platform where Indian classical music and dance is combined to the best formula. They have brought together stalwarts like Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Birju Maharaj, Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra together on one platform. Virasat series 2012, starting today, will continue till December 20. Workshops in folk and classical arts, literature, crafts, talks, theatre and yoga would be a part of the series. Films by cinematic geniuses like Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa and Charlie Chaplain will also be screened. About 3,500 programmes will be organised in Delhi and other parts of the country in the next four months.

“We started this festival 34 years back with an aim of popularising Indian classical dance and music amongst the youth. And we have achieved a lot of success in Delhi. Now we want to reach the interiors of the country and are planning to cover about 17 lakh institutions by 2020 in the states like Bihar, Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. We are organising it in Jhumri Telaiya of Jharkhand and other small cities,” said SPIC MACAY chairman Kiran Seth.

He continued, “For achieving our goal we have made certain structural changes. Those who were associated with us for part time, are now devoting their full time to SPIC MACAY .”

He added, “You will see artistes like Teejan Bai an exponent of Pandavani. We also have craft workshops about Madhubani, Patua, Patachitra and others. Apart from this we will offer the students food from different parts of the country.” The main motive behind the festival is to establish close relationships and facilitate interactions between students, artistes and craftsmen.

Virasat will begin with the performances by Girija Devi (vocal) and Malavika Sarukkai (Bharatanatyam). Malavika Sarukkai said, “Classical music and dance takes one to a different level. Even if you don’t understand the ragas or movements, its the impact that is long-lasting. As an artiste, we have to handle this art carefully,” she said.

Malavika stressed on including classical music and dance as an extra-curricular activity in school.
 

The Pioneer, 6th September 2012

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Weaving the nation with melody

Gandhi Jayanti will be celebrated on October 2 as World Melody Day by dozens of Veena maestros and professors in universities who will play the ancient musical instrument in different parts of the globe with the objective to usher in peace and harmony.

As a tribute to the Apostle of Peace, Mahatma Gandhi, accomplished Veena players in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Mysore and Thiruvananthapuram besides overseas will play their favourite instrument which “represents the confluence of the science of musical sounds and the Indian philosophy of harmony and tranquillity”.

Violin legend T. N. Krishnan will be honoured with the prestigious Sangeetgyan Tatwagyan at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan here.

On that day, Veena will reverberate in the auditorium as noted Veena players Saraswati Rajagopalan, C. Balasubramaniam, S. Radha Krishnan, Uma Balasubramaniam and Aishwarya Lakshmi will give separate performances.

Saraswati Rajagopalan, a top-ranking Veena player at All India Radio, says she was one of the founding members when the event started seven years ago. “I have been performing every year. This year I am giving the main performance. Through this festival, we want to propagate the need to have world peace.”

Noting that the long history of Veena is a magnificent saga of innovation in science, culture and art of music, Veena Foundation Secretary-General V. Raghurama Ayyar says: “Let us pledge ourselves to the cause of Veena so that the Ganges of our divine music may flow through the resonance of Veena from the South to the North to reinforce national integration. The Veena has been lovingly dedicated by maestros to express the music of the spheres and to establish communion with the Supreme Being. Veena recitals will be a unique and momentous celebration of the ancient acoustic innovation and the musical sound and resonance of India.”

Mr. Ayyar says the event to celebrate Veena is basically aimed at fostering harmony among the people cutting across religions, castes and man-made artificial boundaries.

The event is in memory of former Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts Trust president and Veena Foundation founder L. M. Singhvi.

Chennai will celebrate the birthday of the Father of the Nation at Sri Krishna Gana Shabha. N. Ramani (flute), Alepey Shri Venkatesan (vocal), Padmavati Anathagopalan and Jayanti Kumaresh (Veena), T.C.A. Sangeetha (veena), Revati Krishna (veena) and Jeyraaj Krishnan and Jeyashree (veena) will play.

Violin maestro L. Subramaniam will inaugurate the show at National Institute of Advanced Sciences in Bangalore. Prof. Visweswaran will play in Mysore. Kalyani Sharma and disciples, and Bhagwati Mani and disciples will play in Mumbai.

The musical prayer will start from Melbourne, Sydney and continue daylong to end in San Francisco, US, travelling through Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and sarod centres in India and Europe.

Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt will play Mohan Veena in San Francisco. The famous Iyer Brothers – Ramnath and Gopinath – will play in Melbourne and Malathi Nagarajan in Sydney.
 

The Hindu, 6th September 2012

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NBWL meet strategises on reducing wildlife deaths

The meeting of the National Board For Wildlife (NBWL), on Wednesday, presided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first ever since its reconstitution two years back, considered several proposals including measures to check wildlife deaths due to linear infrastructure and diversion of CAMPA funds for conservation purposes among others.

No decision was, however, taken on subjudice issues related to eco tourism, import of cheetah or relocation of lions in Kuno Palpur reserve in Madhya Pradesh from Gujarat. According to well-placed sources, all the agenda lined up for the meeting was discussed. Stressing on the importance of wildlife and bio-diversity, the PM said additional funds would be provided for their protection.

The members raised the issue on the use of CAMPA funds for voluntary relocation from Protected Areas. They also called upon the need to review the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) and reminded on the impending amendment of the Wildlife Protection Act.

The meeting noted with concern the rising number of wildlife deaths in the wake of linear infrastructural projects in the country. The PM assured that he would write to the respective ministries of power, irrigation and surface transport to consider the proposal of mitigation fund that can be used to tackle such emergencies. The issue of bringing important wildlife corridors and Elephant Reserves under the purview of the Standing Committee of NBWL was also discussed. The members stressed on the need to send such diversion proposals to SC-NBWL for approval. This, they pointed out, was as per the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) and Wildlife Conservation Strategy-2002 that clearly state that there can be no diversion of forestland for non-forest purposes from critical and ecologically fragile wildlife habitat.
 

The Pioneer, 6th September 2012

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Legal cover for elephant corridors soon: Jayanthi

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan told the National Board of Wildlifemeeting on Wednesday that a committee had been set up to review the eco-tourism guidelines. She also announced that the government would amend the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 to provide legal cover to elephant corridors and look at covering other wildlife corridors which remain only as scientific concepts at the moment.

In what turned out to be a relatively mute affair compared to the excitement generated by moves of the non-official wildlife experts in the run-up to the meeting, Natarajan noted that several of the agenda issues - eco-tourism, safeguarding lions and the introduction of cheetah -- were sub-judice and the government could not give any commitments at the meeting.

She also pointed out that in her tenure, the ministry had approved 18 of the projects that had gone before the standing committee of NBWL and committed to work closely with the ex-official members in future.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "The increase in the number of protected areas carved out from forest areas identified as potentially rich wildlife habitats is a welcome step. But we have the responsibility to safeguard the livelihoods of local communities dependent on forest resources."

Several non-official members had run parleys over several days in an attempt to raise concern about alleged violations by the ministry, as well as other contentious issues like tribal rights. They had discussed writing a letter to the PM against the functioning of the ministry which could be used later against the government in the apex court.

Conservationist Valmik Thapar, who had got the eco-tourism issue put on the NBWL agenda, noted that he was only concerned about the process by which guidelines were dealt with. He did not reflect his strong, publicly held views at the meeting that lasted a bit over an one-and-a-half hour though some others did make comments including Karan Singh on the chaos caused by tourism in Corbett.

The letter in work by the non-official members against the ministry too did not materialize and neither did members raise concerns about tribal rights as they had earlier suggested.

Natarajan said the eco-tourism committee would hear all stakeholders before taking a decision on the issue and presenting its report to the Supreme Court. The PM also referred to the tourism issue indirectly and said, "Proper utilization of natural resources by promotion and adoption of non-invasive livelihood options can go a long way in supporting socio-economic development of our forest dependent communities, including tribal populations."
 

The Times of India, 6th September 2012

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Wildlife Protection Act to get more teeth, says PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said that the government would bring in amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 to make it stringent and increase its penal provisions for wildlife crimes as well as introduce roles for the gram sabhas and the panchayats in the declaration and management of protected areas.

“We hope to approve these amendments soon and introduce a Bill in Parliament,” the PM said at the sixth meeting of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL).

Singh said a proposal for expanding the number of regional offices, field units and forensic labs of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is under process as is the creation of a national database on wildlife crime and criminals.

“I would advise that the Ministry of Environment should strengthen its regional offices by inducting wildlife experts in these offices not only to monitor the implementation of wildlife schemes, but also to ensure strict adherence to conditions of wildlife clearances,” he said.

Contentious issues like eco-tourism in protected areas, especially tiger reserves, could not be discussed because they were sub-judice, sources said.

Sources said Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan told the meeting that the NBWL was not a “clearing house’’ and that during her tenure, there had been three meetings of its standing committee in which out of 14 projects considered, only three were private projects. And that she deliberately postponed a fourth meeting only to give the members more time to read the proposals before taking a decision.

The sources said some of the NBWL members had the contention that around 40 projects was cleared at a meeting that did not happen during the present minister’s tenure.
 

The Hindu, 6th September 2012

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Apathy, shoddiness come full circle

Seventy years was what it took for the British-built Connaught Place to show signs of ageing. But the newly ‘refurbished’ Connaught Place seems to have grown old in merely two years. Despite all modern techniques and materials, the NDMC project has still failed to match the standard set by the British in 1932.

One can see paint beginning to peel off and window panes starting to fall apart in the blocks restored before the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2010. Moreover, the green buffer zone, which had eaten up a lot of space and money, has almost dried up and serves as parking lots.

Incessant delay and missed deadlines apart, experts are also questioning the method used in the restoration work of the Capital’s premier business district. Many believe that the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) and stakeholders have done a shoddy job.

“Not only has the agency compromised on the façade restoration work but even the pavements and roads are suffering due to the poor quality of work and materials used. They should have stuck with the traditional material to restore the market. But clearly they sacrificed quality for completing the work quickly,” said AK Jain, heritage expert and author of the book Lutyens Delhi. “Whenever a heritage building is restored, a lot of care goes into preserving its original look. But in this case, the work has been slipshod,” he added.

Experts are also concerned about the methods used to restore the building. “Connaught Place’s restoration has been a victim of poor craftsmanship. The planners obviously tried to beautify the place. What they failed in achieving was to conserve the exterior of the original structure,” said AGK Menon, a heritage expert.

It was in 2005 that the need to restore the market was first felt as the structure had started to show signs of deterioration with time. Initially what the planners wanted was to give a mere facelift to the market. It was only later that the NDMC decided to go the whole hog and develop the entire Connaught Place area, including subways, while preserving its British architecture. The plan boomeranged, rather badly.

Traders now complain that even in blocks where façade restoration has been completed, the contractor has not provided an outlet for rainwater to flow from the rooftops. Also, due to a tunnel being bored in the Middle Circle, the drainage of a few blocks has been affected causing massive waterlogging in the corridors.

“CP has weathered so many storms, yet its corridors have remained dry during the heaviest of rainfall. But this year was different. Because of the modification in the slant of some of the roofs, water started collecting in the corridors this monsoon, making it difficult for people to walk,” said Sunita Dahiya, one of the shopkeepers.

And now that Diwali season is round the corner, the shopkeepers are a worried lot. The façade restoration work in some of the blocks is being carried out now. “We don’t want to miss out on the upcoming festival season so we have asked the authorities to take up one block at a time and finish all the work, so that at least some portion of CP is complete,” said Atul Bhargava, president of New Delhi Traders’ Association.
 

The Hindustan Times, 7th September 2012

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Safety focus in Khan Market spruce-up plan

Khan Market is set to wear a new look with uniform facade, more parking space, wide walkways and alleys for emergency exit — key features of the redevelopment plan made by New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC). The plan was presented at the first meeting of the stakeholders and NDMC on Thursday.

Fire safety gets due importance in the plan as, traders say, the present mechanism is not adequate for a large-scale emergency. NDMC plans to construct a metal platform on the first floor with 14 collapsible ladders on both sides of the middle street. Shops on the first floor will be asked to make provision for a fire exit, which will open onto the metal platform. S e c o n d fl o o r shops will have to keep the front veranda open to sky and provide fire exits bet we e n t wo flats on the parapet wall.

Utilities like Prith electricity and telecom cables, AC units etc will be shifted from the middle street to make room for the emergency exit alley. At present, AC units, especially of ground floor shops, are installed in the middle street. The plan is to shift all units to the rooftop and officials say shops on the ground and first floors have agreed to this.

Calling the meeting a success , Sudhir Vohra, urban planner and consultant architect for the project, said, "The redevelopment plan was well received by all stakeholders. All agreed to discuss the plan and explore means by which issues related to shifting of AC units and other services can be worked out."

The plan also proposes increase in the floor area ratio (FAR). But traders say there will be legal issues as FAR should be equally divided between ground and first floors. "They want us to take our AC units to the rooftop. This is possible only if we get legal rights to the rooftop from the owners. Increase in FAR should be divided between traders on ground and first floors,'' said Sanjiv Mehra, president of Khan Market Traders Association.

With almost all residential areas here being put to commercial use, the plan proposes to change the land use of the area to commercial. But a decision on the conversion of residences on first and second floors is pending before the Supreme Court, as Environment Pollution Control Authority is studying the matter. "Since the matter is pending before the SC, conversion is out of the question,'' said a trader. Vohra said: "Whatever change in H a m u y n u R building use is proposed will be subject to scrutiny and clearance from SC."

Traders have largely agreed to

the basic plan. Sources say NDMC secretary DS Pandit had proposed a common effluent treatment plant and traders accepted it. "The proposal has got an inprinciple approval from us. We will work on the feasibility of the project. We have asked traders to submit their suggestions in two weeks,'' said a senior NDMC official.

Welcoming the redevelopment plan, Arjun Kapoor, president of Khan Market Welfare Association, said, "We will cooperate with the civic agencies as the market is in need of upgradation."

Vohra said work on the project will start after the proposal is approved. "We have to carefully plan the execution of the project so that market activity is least affected."
 

The Asian Age, 7th September 2012

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Rosy apples and snowy mountains

Kotgarh, a charming little hamlet nestled in the hills of Shimla, is a dream destination for those who want to enjoy their time in the lap of nature. Just 16 km from the national highway that heads into the valley through Rampur and Kinnaur, Kotgarh offers magnificent views both of the snow-clad Himalayan peaks above and the mighty Sutlej 1,800 metres below.

Kotgarh and the adjacent areas of Thanedar are famous for their world-class quality of apples. August to September is the apple season when the whole place comes alive with activity.

The first crop was cultivated in 1919 by Samuel Adams Stokes, an American social worker and philanthropist, and later a member of the All India Congress committee. Son of a Quaker millionaire from Philadelphia, Stokes arrived in India in 1904 to volunteer in a leprosy home in Sabhathu, Shimla. Later he moved to Kotgarh and built his remarkable house named ‘Harmony Hall’ at Thanedar.

He married a local Christian girl named Agnes and worked endlessly for the welfare of the local people. The couple later converted to Hinduism and changed their names to Satyanand and Priya Devi Stokes. Their house still stands strong amidst the apple orchards planted by the owner. It is an architectural delight, with a charming mix of local overtones in the wooden beams and dressed stone harmonised with western influences in the high chimneys and big windows, woven as if into one entity.

St. Mary’s Church at Kotgarh built in 1872 is an interesting landmark in this town. It is located in the premises of the Gorton Mission School and bears testimony to the Christian legacy in Himachal Pradesh. The rugged terrain and the apple trees in the area complement the Gothic structure with its apse and tower bell.

Mailan Devta Temple is just two kms from Kotgarh and it is constructed in the splendid shikhar style and is the abode of the Deota, the most powerful God of the hills. He is the family god of the Kotkhai chiefs and the Thakurs of Karangla.

On the other hand, the Parmjyotir Temple was built in the pahadi style architecture by Stokes at Barubag, on the ridge at Thanedar. There is a Havan Kund in the temple where a sacred ceremony was attended by Stokes every morning and a fire was lit amidst chanting of holy mantras.

Winter brings in heavy snow and it is a popular destination for many skiing enthusiasts, who revel in both the adventure of the sport and the beauty of nature. At the top is the revered Hattu Mata temple where many worshippers present their wish lists, sealing them with red-gold cloths tied at the entrance. The magnificent Himalayas can be viewed in their glory and splendor from here.

May is the month of joyful festivities, and the spring fair held every year attracts visitors in large numbers.

Kotgarh offers everything that a nature lover would wish for, the tranquility and also access to the local gods in their temple abodes, and you can’t resist making a wish that you are able to visit this Shangri-La again and again.
 

The Asian Age, 7th September 2012

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Letters and beyond

Akshara, a week-long exhibition, combines calligraphy and crafts from across India to celebrate the power of the written word. Founder Jaya Jaitly speaks toEktaa Malik about it

There is nothing more permanent than the written word. There is something very concrete about it. Celebrating that very permanence is Akshara an exhibition crafting Indian scripts. It will bring to the fore extensions of the languages and the scripts into various artforms and scripts. From weaves, paintings, wooden artefacts, jewellery and jugalbandi of dance with scripts, this exhibition will present Indian scripts in a new light. It begins from September 16 at the Indian Habitat Centre.

With 22 official languages and equal number of scripts India is indeed a rare treasure in terms of linguistics. “With such a strong presence of languages and scripts, why do craftpersons feel that they are illiterate and uneducated? Is it because they are not familiar with English? That means something has gone wrong some where. We have some of the oldest languages and scripts in our country, then why do we still need the stamp of English as a validation point? We are champions at undermining ourselves,” shared Jaya Jaitly whose organisation, The Dastkari Haat Samiti, is spearheading the project.

For Akshara Jaitly has used 14 of the 22 official languages. She visited many artisans, some came to Delhi and there was a lot of back and forth happening — with the ideas and the concept.

“This exhibition will be a display of how calligraphy can be a part of almost every thing. Be it a sari, with saubhagyavati bhav woven on the pallu or Kabir’s jhini chadariya painted on a wooden screen”, informed Jaitly.

Calligraphy traditionally has been part of the Chinese and Persian cultures. “But look at out languages. Even if one can’t read Tamil, Telugu or Gurmukhi, it’s beautiful to look at. We have used letters from those languages as motifs,” added Jaitly.

“No matter how important English is today, given the context of globalisation and what not. But now one can undermine the relevance of our regional languages which are our mother tongues. I am angry at my mother, that I can speak fluent French but not Malayalam, my mother tongue. I can speak Hindi fluently, given my politics but I cannot give a speech in Malayalam”, said Jaitly.

The exhibition will also see the release of the book which is a visual journey into the art of calligraphy and how its being used in multiple crafts.

A documentary film Aksharakaaram-Meditations In Calligraphy and Dance, will also be screened during the opening.

Apart from Kalamkari which has a visible influence of calligraphy, there are also other artforms that use calligraphy as part of their art. Gita Govinda by Jayadev has been painted on a mirror in the Kangra style of painting. There are duvet covers which have inscriptions in Tibetan. And they are not just meaningless words strung together, they also impart wisdom of the ages.

“These are expressions of a larger cause. The artisans also learn. Who couldn’t read and write, can now inscribe their name on the products that they themselves have made. And those who can read and write they help with the designing and idea of the craft,” said Jaitly.

The exhibition will be a showcase alone, where people can come and see the products. “We would be very happy if people come and place large orders. The craft persons would be demonstrating their skills. We are sowing a seed and then it’s up to anyone to take it forward,” concluded Jaitly
 

The Pioneer, 7th September 2012

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Ministry bats for endangered island bird

Takes side of conservationists fighting for survival of 300-odd Narcondam hornbills

The Environment Ministry has taken the side of conservationists fighting for the survival of 300-odd Narcondam hornbills, threatened by a Coast Guard plan to set up a radar surveillance system on the tiny island in the Andamans where the birds make their home.

On August 31, the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued an order rejecting the proposal, suggesting that the Coast Guard explore other options, “like installation of off-shore structures and several other viable options…which can spare the unique habitat of Narcondam Island from disturbance,” pointing out that “there is no such option available for the hornbill whose survival may get seriously threatened if the establishment of proposed radar is allowed on the Narcondam Island.”

The island in question spans less than seven square kilometres, and its mixed tropical forests are the only place in the world where these colourful birds are found. During the time of egg-laying and chick-rearing, the female birds shed their flight feathers, rendering them as vulnerable as the now-extinct — and similarly flightless — dodo.

Conservationists had raised a red flag after the Coast Guard asked for the diversion of a little more than half-a-hectare of forestland, to set up a static radar sensor unit as part of a chain of similar units all along the coast for remote monitoring.

When the proposal was taken to the National Board for Wildlife last year, member A. Rahmani was asked to carry out a site inspection. His report recommending that the Coast Guard’s proposal be rejected was submitted in June. The final decision has now been announced by the Ministry, much to the delight of conservationists.

“Scientifically and ecologically, rejecting a project on Narcondam is fully and entirely defensible,” says Neha Sinha of the Bombay Natural History Society. “But it is also the romantic notion — of helping an island endemic species with no ‘other place to go’ — that also seems to have triumphed.”

The Coast Guard has now been asked to set up an expert committee to “study and explore other alternatives like aerial, satellite, off-shore, ship-based or land-based surveillance systems at other islands, for ensuring the defence and economic security of the country.”
 

The Hindu, 7th September 2012

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A splash of tribal art and colours

She came in contact with tribal folks while studying drought conditions in Rajasthan, and this association led her her to study their ancient art forms.

Noida-based artist Hansa Nyati has now used the traditional tribal art forms in her mix-media works at a three-day exhibition which opened at India Habitat Centre’s Experimental Art Gallery in New Delhi on Friday. Titled “Fusion”, the exhibition displays over two dozen mix-media works, predominantly in 3D, including five paintings. They depict the myriad facets of tribal folks’ day-to-day life.

Explaining her interest in the subject, Hansa says while pursuing her M.Phil. in Economics she travelled to Banswara district of Rajasthan where tribals welcomed her with open arms and showed her how they create Dhokla art. Interestingly, the tribals in the district were not apprehensive at finding a stranger in their village.

Not a stranger among tribals
Moreover, Hansa, whose hometown is Udaipur, was familiar with the customs, rituals and way of life of the Adivasis in Rajasthan. She used her past experience to get friendly with them. “Tribal art exemplifies simplicity. The tribals use their creativity in producing art works from natural products. Their art gives a glimpse of their culture and way of life and they excel in producing desert motifs and sand dunes.”

During her association with them in 1990s, Hansa found the tribals full of life. “They celebrate life in its different manifestations and one of them is channelising their creativity in producing a wide array of art works,” she says.

Tribals are born artists
“Sadly, they have not been able to commercialise their art forms. They are extraordinary artists who have never been to an art school. When their work is on display one is mesmerised. Unfortunately, they are not good in marketing themselves,” she adds.

Inaugurating the exhibition, veteran theatre personality Arvind Gaur said tribal art forms have a unique role to play in both traditional and contemporary contexts. “Hansa’s ingenuity lies in the use of diverse natural material drawn from mother Earth as has been the tradition among tribal people. She adopts a methodical approach in merging two diverse forms and choosing the colours to make the sculptures in the foreground.”

A part of proceeds from the exhibition will be used by Hansa to disburse funds among underprivileged children living in Noida Sector 50 to purchase crayons, water colours and sketchbooks. “I give classes to children of maids living in Noida. They derive more creative satisfaction from drawing on paper rather than studying.”

Warli arts, Dhokra metal works and Rajasthani traditional folk are the notable tribal art forms depicted by Hansa in her 25 works displayed at this exhibition.

The trademark stick-like figures painted in white ink against a background of earthy colours like brick red, henna, indigo and black are beautifully depicted in Hansa’s mix-media works in clay and natural colours.

According to Hansa, a few delicate gestures of limbs and head can be easily modified to symbolise any movement, be it a lady dusting with a broom or a young mother carrying her child to the fields. “This is the simplicity of Warli which makes an immediate connect with not only the discerning art lovers but also the most naive viewers.”
 

The Hindu, 8th September 2012

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‘MoEF, Assam failed in their duties’

The Union environment ministry and the Assam government were apparently "unaware" of the proliferation of illegal industries in the no-development zone around the Kaziranga National Park, drawing a scathing observation from the National Green Tribunal that they had "totally failed in their duties".

When Assam-based activist Rohit Choudhury filed a petition before the tribunal against rampant development near park, it emerged that the environment ministry could not even trace its 1996 notification which had banned industrialization around the Numaligarh Refinery and the park. The tribunal bench had to ask the ministry to collect it from the petitioner's lawyer, Ritwick Dutta.

In an embarrassment for the ministry, its wildlife division had claimed it was unaware of any industries in the restricted belt. For the Assam government, there was worse in store when it was discovered that the state had even notified an industrial zone — Bokakhat Mini Industrial Estate — over 10 hectares for saw mills, stone crushers, steel fabrication units, hotels and guest houses in the same no-development belt.

The Central Pollution Control Board was tasked to report on the situation and it found that 64 industrial units were functioning within the no-development zone with impunity. The board presented a scathing report on the industries functioning around the park which is famous for its one-horned rhino.

"We are of the opinion that the MoEF and the state government of Assam have totally failed in their duties with respect to implementation of the provisions of the 1996 notification and due to the callous and indifferent attitude exhibited by the authorities, (a) number of polluting industries/units were established in and around the no-development zone of Kaziranga," the tribunal's bench of Justices A S Naidu and G K Pandey said.

In 1996, while giving the nod to the Numaligarh Refinery near Kaziranga, the central government had declared a no-development zone in a 15-km periphery. The notification said no extension of the existing industrial area, township, infrastructural facilities and other such activities which could lead to pollution and congestion would be allowed within the prohibited zone, except with prior approval of the central government.
 

The Times of India, 8th September 2012

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Novartis chief to gift Indian sculpture collection to Mumbai museum

A treasure trove of ancient Indian sculptures is headed back to the country thanks to an unlikely donor. Swiss pharmaceutical group Novartis’s chairman Daniel Vasella will be gifting his entire personal collection of Indian sculptures and other art work to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya, sources told The Indian Express.

Novartis, incidentally, is fighting India’s patent laws in the Supreme Court over a cancer drug. Vasella is credited with turning around the pharmaceutical company.

Over 800 bronze sculptures collected over time by Vasella may be transferred to India. Novartis officials were not willing to comment on the issue till the transfer process gets the go-ahead of the Indian government.

“These are ethnographic pieces. Most date back to the 1930s, so while these are not ancient works, they are quite interesting and well maintained. The Novartis chairman expressed his desire to bring back the collection to India and our trust accepted the proposal. We have sought that Customs duty be waived and the Ministry of Culture is at work to facilitate the transfer,” an official at the museum said.

Vasella is said to be quite keen that the transfer goes through as early as possible and the sculpture collection is reportedly already at a shipping warehouse for transportation to Mumbai. All that’s needed is a duty exemption certificate from India. However, the Customs can give that only after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) completes a valuation and issues a certificate. The certification process is on, sources at the Culture Ministry and ASI said.

The wait also means that the consignment is attracting demurrage charges. Novartis’s India office is said to be coordinating with the Ministry of Culture.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya, which will house the sculptures, was earlier called Prince of Wales Museum of Western India and was founded in 1905.
 

The Indian Express, 9th September 2012

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Craft and calligraphy

Akshara attempts to link two of India’s crucial cultural properties — language and crafts — and energise them in unusual ways.

The richness of Indian crafts and its many languages come together as a powerful idea in Akshara: Crafting Indian Scripts, a multi-faceted crafts project with an exhibition conceptualised by Jaya Jaitley, founder and president of Dastkari Haat Samiti, which has worked for the economic and social development of traditional craftspersons since 1986. The effort aims to reveal the knowledge and beauty embedded in India’s many scripts through the skill of fine craftsmen who are often unlettered. As a part of the project, the principles of calligraphy were shared with skilled craftspersons who were then encouraged to extend them to various regional scripts, as they fashioned a range of products.

“The idea of Akshara began with the knowledge that craftspeople are not widely literate and feel a lack of self-worth when the world around them is going the English-speaking and computer way,” says Jaya Jaitley. “Also, we have a great civilisational history involving scripts. We have 22 official languages and hundreds of dialects. But we do not respect and preserve them as an important part of our culture. Combining these two aspects I thought of exploring letters, scripts and calligraphy through the many wonderful skills of our craftspeople who are rooted in the vernacular culture.”

Treating the scripts as design entities gives “unlettered” craftsmen a wonderful way to establish their presence in contemporary India. The project also reinforces the great need for Saaksharta or literacy, a critical factor in India’s development story, with remarkable sensitivity.

Over 140 museum-worthy exhibits will be mounted at the Visual Arts Gallery. Three years in the making, the Akshara project involved 58 producer-groups, 13 languages and scripts and 15 craft, textile and art forms covering 16 states. The exhibition will be accompanied by a host of cultural presentations that strengthen its central theme. These include a film made by Kalpana Subramaniam showing the connection between calligraphy and dance. Six dancers explore movement with an emphasis on the abstract. The film, choreographed by Navtej Johar and Justin McCarthy, will be shown at the exhibition. An art book, written by Jaya Jaitley and Subrata Bhowmick, highlighting the use of Indian scripts on crafts in the past and cataloguing the exhibits of the Akshara exhibition will be published by Niyogi Books. Diverse musical forms and concerts will also be organised to underscore the cultural plurality suggested by the range of scripts and crafts.

Among the products are saris combining the artistic doodles and poems of Tagore handcrafted by a weaver and kantha embroiderer, papier-mâché art on kalamdaans, imitating newspapers, clocks, and wooden door handles with hidden messages like ‘welcome to the person who enters’. Also on display are stoles with calligraphy motifs, jewellery with letters, painted cupboards and screens, wall panels, and the last handwritten newspaper in the world, produced in Chennai.

Akshara: Crafting Indian Scripts
When: September 16-21
Where: India Habitat Centre, Delhi
 

The Hindu, 9th September 2012

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Out at Sambhar Lake, watching Flamingos, Greater and Lesser

As gossamer clouds enveloping the surrounding hills got washed down by intermittent showers, the day out to Sambhar Lake turned out to be a brine-full of nature expedition to observe a good number of birds amid increasing growth of salt manufacturers all around this largest natural depression in India known as “playa”.

Thousands of water-fowl at the Phulera wetland came as a surprise as these migratory species have reported a bit early for the season. Almost all the Northern Shovelers were in sub-adult plumage with hundreds of Pied Avocets, some Little-ringed Plovers, and a handful of Black-tailed Godwits -- all found engrossed feeding at this shallow lake having a healthy aquatic vegetation. The resident River Terns flew over them as if to provide aerial cover.

Both Greater Flamingos ( Pheonicopterus ruber ) and Lesser Flamingos ( Phoenicopterus minor ) appeared in their finer hues. Sambhar Lake received about one-foot-deep water this season; therefore, they turned up almost in time – a couple of thousand so far.

“The Greater Flamingo is considerably larger than its cousin, the Lesser. Its neck is longer, the larger bill is less prominently kinked, bit more banana-shaped. There were many immature or sub-adults with them showing off graying shades,” said eminent conservationist Harsh Vardhan, who happened to visit the wetland, some 75 km from Jaipur, on the same day along with WWF-India Director Parikshit Gautam.

“Sambhar and some other water bodies in Rajasthan play host to these domestic species of Flamingos which fly long distance annually, reaching as far away as Point Calimere in Tamil Nadu -- to return to their breeding grounds in the twin Ranns of Kutch in Gujarat,” noted Mr. Vardhan.

WWF–India has come out with a rather scary report titled “Sambhar – a Dying Lake”. Dr. Gautam toldThe Hindu , “The salt manufacturing around Sambhar has increased manifold. Hindustan Salts Ltd is a public sector unit but more salt is extracted by private entrepreneurs who have sunk tube-wells to extract groundwater and spread it over their enclosures to extract salt – about 74 per cent of illegal salt pans are located within one kilometre of the lake’s core area”.

“After Sambhar was declared a Ramsar Site wetland in 1990, the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests designated a 240 sq. km area of the lake but it could not be substantiated without reference to lake water level contour. The lake boundary would have to be demarcated,” said Dr. Gautam.

The WWF-India report seeks no further water obstruction to the rivers. “The salt production has to be regulated; firm licence regulation has to be introduced with increased cess. This amount needs to be spent over Sambhar’s conservation,” it says.

The Sambhar Lake, held by the British for long, and the adjoining township coveted by the kingdoms of Jodhpur, Jaipur and Kishengarh, have a recorded history of conservation. As Mr. Vardhan pointed out, R. M. Adam, the British Salt Commissioner posted at Sambhar during 70s of the 19th Century, recorded the presence of 244 species of birds at this lake.

“In his report, he has acknowledged the founder of Indian National Congress and an ornithologist of great eminence, A. O. Hume, saying, ‘Mr. (A.O.) Hume has kindly revised the nomenclature and identified all doubtful birds’. He has mentioned having ‘shot’ both the flamingo species – Greater and Lesser – in order to take their measurements,” Mr. Vardhan pointed out.

“The report scripted by him said ‘Dense masses of flamingos are to be seen everywhere swimming or wading in the lake-bed, bearing the rich hues of all glorious things….all wagging their down-bent heads in search of the animalcules with which the brackish water abounds’,” said Mr. Vardhan.

“Mr. Hume mentioned the average out-turn of salt from this lake as ‘about 1,400,000 maunds (one maund is about 40 kg), or 51,420 tons.’ The price varied from 8 annas (half a rupee) to Re.1 per maund (40 kg),” said Mr. Vardhan, an ardent admirer of Mr. Hume as an ornithologist, as the velvet clouds melted away into light showers creating soft ripples in the lake.
 

The Hindu, 9th September 2012

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Bangladesh to hand over Tagore houseboat replicas

The replicas of the famous houseboat extensively used by poet Rabindranath Tagore to inspect his family estate and to pen some of his works in an area now in Bangladesh would be handed over to India next week.

The replicas would be handed over to the Vice Chancellors of Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata and Visva-Bharati University in Bolpur by Bangladesh Information and Culture Minister Abul Kalam Azad at separate functions on September 12.

The houseboat occupied a key part of Tagore's life as he used the vessel to sail along the Padma river, carrying out his managerial duties for the Tagore family's estates in Silaidah, Shahzadpur and Patisar for a decade from 1890 and enjoying the breathtaking beauty of rural Bengal which inspired so many of his compositions.

Azad arrives here on September 10 for a four-day visit to India and will have separate meetings Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni and Culture Minister Selja the next day.

The visiting minister will be accompanied by two singers from Bangladesh.
 

The Hindu, 9th September 2012

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Modernity pierces fort link

It is a classic case of how increasing urban demand has gnawed at an ancient causeway to facilitate the modern traffic.

The Mehrauli-Badarpur Road has pierced the ancient stone wall at the entrance of the 14th century Tughlaqabad Fort. It used to be a causeway connecting the fort with the tomb of Ghias-ud-Din Tughlaq — the architect of the fort town of Tughlaqabad, the third city of Delhi — across the road.

The Gazetteer of Delhi published in 1912 provides a picturesque description of the then surroundings.

“It is situated in the midst of an artificial lake, fed by the overflowing of the Hauz Shamshi and by a lot of natural drains, which flowed into the base of the fort and which at one time must have formed one of its natural defenses. It is connected with the fortress by a causeway 600 feet in length, supported by 27 arches.”

There was a kuchcha road running below the arches. “I remember cycling to the school on the barely 20ft wide kuchcha road passing below the causeway,” said Ramesh Bidhuri, a resident of the ancient village of Tughlaqabad and an MLA from the area.

He also recalls how the area to the south of the fort was rocky terrain and during rains, brought silt flowing towards a nullah that flowed below the causeway, parallel to the road, flowing towards the Yamuna.

Over the years, layers piled upon layers increasing the height of the road, which has ultimately resulted in the truncated causeway.
 

The Hindustan Times, 9th September 2012

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Absence of heritage bye-laws leaves people, agencies in fix

It has been more than two years after an amendment in the archeological act but heritage authorities have yet to come up with heritage bye-laws for even a single protected monument in the city. Delhi has 174 Archeological Survey of India (ASI) protected monuments, part of the list of more
than 3,500 such monuments across India.

The Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010 mandates that monument-specific heritage byelaws be prepared so as to regulate construction activity near ASI-protected monuments.

The amendment prohibits any new construction within 100 metres of the monument and puts several restrictions for construction between 101-300 metres. Every single individual and even public agencies need to get a nod from the National Monument Authority (NMA) for any construction and/or public utility work. In absence of heritage bye-laws, the NMA is clearing proposals resorting to the emergency clause.
 

The Hindustan Times, 10th September 2012

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Old Delhi faces hammer

North Delhi Municipal Corporation is all set to demolish unauthorised constructions in Old Delhi. According to sources, Commissioner of north corporation PK Gupta passed the order to start the demolition process on Saturday. Usually, demolition teams of the municipal corporation spare the City zone consisting of Chandni Chowk and Daryaganj because the lanes are too narrow for demolition vehicles to ply. The houses are also tightly packed, which makes it difficult to demolish an unauthorised building without harming the adjoining house.

However, in view of the complaints coming from the area about unauthorised constructions, the corporation has decided to act.

"To overcome the problem of narrow lanes, we will seal those premises which cannot be demolished. The commissioner said that unauthorised construction must either be removed or sealed. He also warned that action will be taken against those who do not comply with the orders," said a senior official of the north body.

The decision comes after several building collapses were reported from the city due to unauthorised construction. In September 2011, a building in Chandni Mahal had collapsed, killing seven people.

The city zone is also known for its old buildings, many of which are structurally unsafe. To tackle them, the corporation is conducting a survey to identify the structures and ask the residents to carry out retro fitting to strengthen them.

Taking a cue from its north counterpart, the East Corporation too has decided to conduct surprise visits from next week to check sanitation and unauthorised construction. At present, the commissioner's office intimates areas where visits are scheduled.
 

The Hindustan Times, 10th September 2012

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Birds’ eye

Bharatpur’s Keoladeo National Park is still spellbinding though Siberian cranes no longer visit

For me, the charm of the Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan has not diminished a bit although it is no longer graced by the migratory, and highly endangered, Siberian cranes as it used to nearly a decade ago. The bird sanctuary was once so identified by the Siberian cranes that you could hear people speculating whether they would come this year or not? Sadly, it still remains a favourite guessing game for the locals. During our brief visit to the park recently, our rickshaw-puller-cum-guide Charan Singh pointed at a tree in the middle of a brown patch of land, “I saw a Siberian crane there. Now, we pray each year for both the rains and Siberian cranes to visit this parched land.” Both still elude the once thriving sanctuary.

For the uninitiated, the Keoladeo National Park is a very popular bird sanctuary, much revered by both Indian and international birdwatchers. It was declared a protected sanctuary in 1971 and is a World Heritage Site. This is not only a home for many birds but a wintering ground for many that are rare and highly endangered and come from places as far away as Siberia and Central Asia. Approx 230 is the count that we are told by the guides — Siberian crane being the most desired of the visitors.

India is a wintering ground for the gorgeous Siberian cranes who fly nearly halfway across the globe from Siberia to reach India via Afghanistan and Pakistan. But of late they are poached by gunmen in these two countries. The Siberians haven’t been spotted for nearly a decade.

Unlike other protected areas where your only mode of transport to navigate the jungle is a jeep or a canter, here you are free and have access to almost all areas. Thanks to Mr Tiger’s unavailability, you can choose to cycle the length or walk the route — and the lazy ones like me can hire a rickshaw. We opted for Charan Singh’s rickshaw and were slowly peddled into the park.

The view was spellbinding — painted storks dotted the kikar trees on both sides of the road. You could catch the young ones getting flying lessons from their hyper and enthusiastic parents. The birds appeared like white cotton spread over the horizon. It was a pleasure to be inside the park.

Below, ducks such as shovellers, spotbills, pintails swam aimlessly from one end to another and ducked sharply in the water for an occasional fish, emerging with it dangling in their beaks. It was their prize catch. But the water appeared scanty.

According to a news report, the park, plagued by unending water problems and poaching, is fighting an elephantine battle to retain its status as a UNESCO heritage sight to protect the world heritage status of the Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary. The chief minister Ashok Gehlot has ordered the Bharatpur city administration to ensure a regular flow of water from Pachna Dam to the dried up lake within the sanctuary.

Our guide, offering a vital piece of information that is becoming an old joke, said “Madam, the only way to distinguish between the male and female of the species (of sambar) is that male is horny and female is not horny.” I couldn’t control my laugh and said to myself, isn’t it true for all species?

Frustrated at not being able to set my eyes or my ‘binoculars’ on any new bird species, I was ready to bribe the rickshaw-puller. Totally unethical in the book of bird watching ethics and I am sure many of my bird watching peers will disown me or maybe dismiss me with “Here goes another one…”. But I feel everything is fair in love and bird watching. The deal was that my rickshaw-puller would ride slowly and look under different trees to spot birds. He asked me if I wanted to see the Collared Scops Owl.

Rs.50 was all I could spend for an owl, a species I was dying to explore. I have only seen one, the Spotted owlet. Utterly cute they are, but quite common.

Charan Singh propped the rickshaw like a Formula 1 driver but there was a speed restriction we needed to obey. We saw a group of people hungrily eyeing a palm tree. Maybe they had spotted the species. We stopped only to be told that they were staring at a parakeet pair while the second group was busy photographing the antler deer, I started yawning and gave Charan Singh a mean look. To make up for the lost time, he shared some trivia: An owl can rotate its head 360 degrees. We moved on. He decided to check out at a deserted route. And I told myself this better be the moment else I am never returning to Bharatpur. He whistled and signalled to me to leave the comfort of my rickshaw I dragged myself out. And the next thing I knew, I was staring right into the eyes of the Collared Scops Owlet.

I was in a trance. It was the most beautiful species I had ever seen. It was a pair and probably trying to catch a wink or two — they didn’t move. But I could see their ears. The pair camouflaged perfectly with the browns. I could have stayed under the tree the whole day. And asked myself, when am I coming again? Bharatpur with or without Siberian cranes is thriving and I hope it will continue to do so. We have to take care of what we have and ensure good conditions for those species to thrive and breed and return again, again and again.

Maths in the jungle
The rickshaw-pullers charge a fee of Rs.70 for an hour to show you around inside the park. But for some reason the final bill never comes to less than 250. Even if you spend an hour and a half.
 

The Hindu, 10th September 2012

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Portraits of a City

An exhibition by French photographer Manuel Bougot captures the various facets of Chandigarh — Le Corbusier’s architecture in the city, its people and their lives.

During a visit to Neuilly — a suburb near Paris — photographer Manuel Bougot came across a building that changed his perspective on architecture forever. Known as the Jaoul Houses, the building — consisting of modest brown structures — was designed by Swiss-French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier. Something in its “rigid simplicity and modern functionality” got Bougot to embark upon an expedition to Chandigarh, where Le Corbusier had worked in the late ’40s at the invitation of Jawaharlal Nehru.

At the opening of his exhibition titled “Chandigarh: Portrait of a City” at the Photoink gallery in Delhi on Saturday, Bougot said, “These are the pictures I took during my two trips to Chandigarh — one in January 2009 and the other in January 2010.” The collection of 75-odd works portray various aspects of the life in the quiet city — portraits of government officials, long shots of buildings by Le Corbusier and even the interiors of a local cinema hall. One particularly interesting shot is of the back entrance of the Legislative Assembly in Chandigarh. Taken in the soft lighting during the winter of 2010, the picture is composed of three horizontal layers — a garden, the building and its parking lot.

However, Bougot insists that what started as an experiment to shoot Le Corbusier’s works evolved into a profile of the city itself. “I realised that along with shooting the buildings, I was also interested in shooting its people and their lives,” he says. For example, his picture of the Panjab University’s boys’ hostel in Sector 14 — a long shot of the red brick building with clothes hanging out to dry on various terraces and a student studying in the sun — throws light on the simple student life in Punjab.

Thoroughly charmed by the Punjabi hospitality, Bougot intends to travel to Chandigarh again some day. “To begin with, I’m planning to hold a small exhibition of my works there, as a small thank you to the warmest people I’ve met,” he says.

“Chandigarh: Portrait of a City” is on at Photoink, Jhandewalan, till October 27. Contact: 28755940
 

The Indian Express, 11th September 2012

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Day out at the village

Hansa Niyati’s works are a tribute to the tribal arts of India

Using folk art like Warli and Dokra in citadels of corporate India, be it on the bottle of software majors or as murals on public walls, has made them the stuff of urban chic. The recent exhibition,Fusion, by Hansa Niyati at India Habitat Centre, is one such experiment.

The artist has not only reinterpreted Warli but has recorded her interactions with the tribals and her understanding of this ancient art form through her display.

A professor of economics from Rajasthan, Niyati learnt of Warli after she met tribals of Banswara district.

“Most of them are nomads who keep travelling from one place to the other and have some temporary huts. But even these mobile homes are so well-decorated with natural colours and beautiful paintings. It is their way of maintaining a diary of their social life. So these paintings describe their daily chores, the lives of women and even plant and animal life. The most interesting part of Warli is that they use earth basics like limestone, clay, mud, flower dyes and henna,” says the artist who has combined some items of Warli with Dokra metal art.

“I did an extensive study and research on the tribal arts in India and I found Dokra, metal casting using the low wax techniques, really interesting. Many artists have taken inspiration from Dokra and come up with interesting sculptures. I decided to put them in frames and in certain cases emboss them,” says Niyati.

The artist was simply mesmerised by the power of simplicity of stick-like figures.

“In Warli art, you never get to see the expressions of each figure but even in their facelessness, they share an indescribable joy and togetherness. Also, a few delicate gestures of limbs and head are all that are required to symbolise any movement, be it a lady dusting with a broom or a young mother carrying her child to the fields,” explains Niyati.
 

The Pioneer. 11th September 2012

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30-year-old Okhla tree gets new life

It is a fully grown Mulberry tree but a massive termite infestation had left it completely hollow. Two weeks earlier, Jayati Sharma moved to an office right across the road from this tree in the Okhla Industrial Area and decided that it needed urgent help. Recalling an earlier story on tree surgeries she had read in The Times of India, Sharma searched for the NGO, Green Circle of Delhi, which had been involved in the previous operation. On Monday, this 30-year-old tree was given another chance at life.

"The tree was completely hollow and could have collapsed at any moment. I tracked down the Green Circle officials and they came with an NDMC team on Monday and performed a tree surgery. Hopefully the tree will recover and live on for many more years," said Sharma.

Suhas Borker, founder member of Green Circle of Delhi said that recently, while the pavementon which the tree is located was being revamped, a JCB machine had hit the tree and partly broken one branch. "The tree is next to a wall and was resting partly on it. Under the impact, the tree turned slightly and is now leaning towards the road. To bring about a balance, we had to saw off the broken branch. Once that was done, we realized just how massive the termite infestation was as the tree was completely hollow," he said.

The surgery was carried out by the city's only tree ambulance, which is operated by NDMC. The joint-operation by NDMC and South Delhi Municipal Corporation took a few hours as not only did the branch have to be axed, the resultant hollow had to be treated and filled up again in a bid to make the bark regrow. "The hollow that was created by removing the branch was first washed with water and then sprayed with an insecticide to kill all the termites. This cavity was then stuffed with cotton, thermocol and sponge to provide support to the tree. Once completely packed, the opening was then sealed off with a wire mesh, plaster of paris and cement. Within the next 10 days or so, the wood will start growing again," said sources.

Till now, more than 50 trees have been operated upon by the tree ambulance. However, since NDMC is the only agency with such a service, most trees are located in these areas. Borker said that there was an urgent need to have such ambulances all civic and land-owning agencies.
 

The Times of India, 11th September 2012

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Old Lutyens bungalows may finally be demolished to build new ones?

Union Urban Development Ministry preparing Cabinet note to move ahead Structurally unsafe and a huge drain on the exchequer, nearly 600 bungalows in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone here in the Capital need to be razed, refurbished and replaced with new constructions, the Union Urban Development Ministry has assessed.

The Ministry is preparing a Cabinet note on the demolition of these old bungalows in the LBZ built between 1920 and 1935. A proposal to raze the old to pave the way for the new has been hanging fire for a long time.

The issue came up for review after an increase in complaints from occupants about seepage, cracks in the walls and arches, rundown facades and other deterioration of the structures. “There are about 600 bungalows of Type VI and those above that which have been identified as structurally unsafe. Most of these are old and there is a lot of money that goes into their maintenance. In the past six years, the Government had spent about Rs.25 lakh to Rs.35 lakh (one-time expense) on their aesthetic up-gradation and improvement. This is in addition to the annual maintenance that is carried out,” said a Ministry official.

Not earthquake resistant

The bungalows, which are home to senior Ministers, Members of Parliament, party offices and senior bureaucrats, are not earthquake-resistant and there have been periodic demands for building new lodgings in their place.

“A decision to undertake the construction rests with the Union Cabinet. But the proposal has been pending for a long time. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called for replacing the old bungalows with new and modern dwellings way back in 1999. Subsequently it was decided that the work will be carried out in a phased manner,” said the official.

The Central Public Works Department, which is responsible for the maintenance of these buildings, was asked to carry out a fresh survey this past year to identify the bungalows that have become decrepit and the interventions that need to be carried out. The CPWD also suggested carrying out construction of new bungalows and refurbishing the old ones in a phased manner. The cost of the project, which would be spread over 10-15 years, was pegged around Rs.3,000 crore.

Signs of age

“Most of these buildings are showing signs of age; they were built at a time when mud and mortar were used for construction. The roof of these buildings is especially not very strong. Besides, most of them have outlived their utility. We often get requests from MPs and Ministers for construction of an additional room, or utility services, because they find the space in the old bungalows inadequate,” the official said.

Another reason why the Ministry is keen to pull down the old structures is the pressure of finding space for new houses. With land in short supply in the LBZ area, the Ministry wants to make the best possible use of the existing land.

The old bungalows are spread over three to four acres of land with large tracts being used as lawns and kitchen gardens. Over the years the Ministry has received suggestions to use the additional, vacant space for construction of new bungalows.

“As for maintaining the aesthetics of the area, the bungalows can be built using the original drawings, with modifications to accommodate the needs of the occupants. Given the age of these buildings and the extent of wearing away there is a need to speed up work related to the sanction and construction,” the official said.

The Hindu, 12th September 2012

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Pelicans may lose their paradise

New notification excludes considerable land from Kolleru sanctuary limits

Only two acres will be left for the Pelican Paradise at Atapaka in Krishna district out of the 260 acres in which the wildlife division of the Forest Department developed the eco-tourism destination.

In Atapaka village on the outskirts of Kaikuluru, the winged visitors will be left with only two acres that will be in the possession of the department if the disputed 7,600 acres are distributed to the poor.

The exclusion of three villages in the notification for the Kolleru Bird Sanctuary has given scope for vested interests to claim that some land within the limits of these villages and surrounding areas are not included in the sanctuary.

While the line connecting 11 villages on contour 5+ marked the boundary of the lake, three villages - Pillipadu, Nutchumilli and Takkellapadu - in Kaikaluru and Mandavalli mandals were omitted in the notification for the bird sanctuary.

The Grey Pelicans which populated Kolleru lake disappeared from there with large-scale encroachment of the Ramsar site for aquaculture.

The birds returned to the lake to nest after a considerable gap only after the Forest Department erected iron stands on an experimental basis. Environmentalists saw the return of the pelicans to Atapaka as the first step towards reviving Kolleru’s past glory.

The locals call the Atapaka part of Kolleru lake as ‘Pittala Doddi’ (Bird Compound). After the return of the pelicans, the locals who saw their tourist potential in the birds changed the name of Pittala Doddi to ‘Pelican Paradise’.

The Forest Department argues that the omission of the three villages does not matter because the line connecting the dots was still the same. The dispute came to the fore again when Krishna Collector Buddha Prakash Jyoti asked Wildlife Division officials to demarcate the land.

 
The Hindu, 12th September 2012

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Hydel projects proving fatal to riverine species

Great Indian Bustard, White-bellied Heron on the brink

The White-bellied Heron, the Great Indian Bustard, the Peacock Tarantula and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper of India are among the 100 most threatened species of the planet and “closest to extinction.”

The Javan Rhino and Sumatran Rhino — considered extinct in India — are also present in the list compiled by scientists of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).The list was released by the Zoological Society of London and the IUCN at the World Conservation Congress being held in the Republic of Korea.

Experts feel that “the list of 100 species, from 48 different countries, are first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done to protect them.”

The population of the White-bellied Heron, a.k.a. the Imperial Heron, is estimated to be between 70 and 400. The species is “known from the eastern Himalayan foothills in Bhutan and north-east India to the hills of Bangladesh, north Myanmar and, historically, across west and central Myanmar,” according to BirdLife International. It is primarily found in small or large rivers, usually with sand or gravel bars, often within or adjacent to subtropical broadleaf forests, says the IUCN Red list.

The destruction of habitat due to the development of hydel power projects has been identified as the cause for the falling numbers. SSC experts have suggested “development of captive rearing and release programme and elimination of adverse uses of riverine habitat” for bringing the species back from the brink.

The habitat of the Peacock Tarantula, found in the Reserve forest between Nandyal and Giddalur of Andhra Pradesh, is “completely degraded due to lopping for firewood and cutting for timber. It is under intense pressure from the surrounding villages as well as from insurgents who use forest resources for their existence and operations.”

In the case of the Great Indian Bustard - estimated to number between 50-249 mature individuals - the habitat loss and modification due to agricultural development have proved near fatal. The “establishment of protected areas and community reserves and realignment of the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project” are the possible measures for saving the birds, it was recommended.

The breeding population of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper of India is roughly equivalent to 240-400 mature individuals. Trapping on wintering grounds and land reclamation are matters of concern for the species.

Hunted for its horn, which is used in some traditional medicines, the Sumatran Rhinoceros has been reduced to around 250 individuals worldwide. The species was earlier reported from the foothills of the Himalayas in Bhutan and north-east India.

 
The Hindu, 12th September 2012

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Study to cut Taj, Ajanta burden may cost Rs 65L

What is the “carrying capacity” of the fragile Taj Mahal and Ajanta Caves, which are witnessing around 50,000 footfalls every day during the tourist season?

To assess the stress caused by the visitors and take steps to protect the two renowned heritage sites, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has roped in the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).

“This is the first-of-its-kind a year-long scientific study to be conducted in any monument in the country. It will be kicked off from Thursday when NEERI scientists will start doing their job simultaneously on the two monuments,” says a senior ASI official.

The aim is to ensure that we have adequate plans in place including regulating the visits if required before pressure takes its toll on them. The structures need long-term plan for long life, the official told The Pioneer.

The study cost has been estimated at around Rs 65 lakh.

The two monuments are on the list of over 3,600 protected monuments of the ASI and figure on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

“The Government research agency will conduct study of four seasons including the peak period when the footfall is at the maximum at the two sites.”

The scientific study is to be done simultaneously at the two historical sites on levels of atmosphere, temperature and humidity caused by the regular flow of the visitors, the official added.

The 17th-century Taj Mahal, India’s white-marbled monument to love topped the list of Agra circle monuments with 41,81,228 domestic tourists and 6,23,944 foreign tourists in 2010-11.

“No doubt footfalls are indeed a major pressure on the monument but our major concern is the white platforms in the main mausoleum which is bearing the major brunt of high temperature and humidity due to human presence,” the official said. The measures may include regulated visits as has been done by France in cave of Niaux located in its south-western region.

The ASI is also worried at the increasing human load on the 1,500 years old Ajanata Caves in Maharasthra. These caves are rock-cut cave monuments dating from the second century BCE, containing paintings and sculpture considered to be masterpieces of both “Buddhist religious art” and “universal pictorial art”. Though time-to-time steps have been taken to control the visits, a lot remains to be done.

More such studies in other monuments will be conducted depending on the recommendations from the NEERI.

 
The Pioneer, 12th September 2012

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INTACH to make dossier for UNESCO tag

The Delhi government is making a pitch for the capital to be declared as a UnescoWorld Heritage City. The cabinet has given nod to the tourism department to appoint India National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) for preparing the nomination dossier for the Unesco tag.

"It may be recalled that in 2008, Intach was entrusted with the task of preparing a conceptual report for this purpose. The report has been prepared. A nomination dossier is to be submitted to Unesco through ministry of culture. Hence, Delhi tourism has been allowed to enter into an agreement with Intach for preparation and submission of the final dossier," said senior officials.

 
The Times of India, 12th September 2012

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Heritage tag for Delhi not far

Delhi’s dreams of becoming the country’s first world heritage city are now officially on fast track.

The Delhi Cabinet has given a green signal to an MoU between the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage’s Delhi Chapter and Delhi Tourism Department to finalise a nomination dossier for inscription of Delhi as “world heritage city” so that it could be sent to UNESCO.

The tourism department is the coordinating agency appointed by the Delhi Government to prepare the nomination dossiers. The department roped in INTACH to execute the work.

The INTACH will assist it and conduct study of Lutyens’ Delhi and Shahjehanabad areas for preparing the final dossier to make Delhi a world heritage city.

Earlier, the amount was fixed at Rs 40.07 lakh for finalising the contents of the tentative documents which was revised to Rs 95.10 lakh which will be payable to INTACH for its service. To date, India has never applied for a world heritage city tag and this year both Ahmedabad and Delhi are contenders. They also appear on the ‘tentative list’ updated by UNESCO on May 22, 2012.

With three world heritage sites, Qutab Minar, Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb, 173 protected monuments and hundreds of listed heritage structures to the city’s credit, conservationists have for years been pushing for Delhi’s nomination for a world heritage city tag. The final nomination dossier will include six volumes which contain intricate details on every aspect of Delhi. It may be recalled in 2008, INTACH was entrusted with the task of preparing a conceptual report for this purpose. The report has been prepared. A nomination dossier is required to be prepared for submission to UNESCO through the Ministry of Culture.

According to the MoU, both Delhi Government and INTACH will abide by the principle to protect, conserve and promote the cherished architectural environment and living (social and living) heritage resources of the capital. The INTACH will also provide expertise and consultancy to the Government for grooming Delhi into a world heritage city for a period of five years and assist it in formulating heritage related architectural and urban designs schemes and policies for various parts of the city. The INTACH will also formulate a comprehensive plan for beautification and lighting monuments and appurtenance areas of the monuments and heritage precincts in time.

The ASI had earlier forwarded a proposal for inscribing Delhi as ‘World Heritage City’ to UNESCO. The proposal was withdrawn by the Ministry of Culture and an advisory committee was constituted to examine the tentative listing document. The proposal of Delhi as a world heritage city was brought before the Advisory Committee on January 20, 2012 and the same was approved by the committee of the world heritage matters.

According to the officials of the Tourism Department, if the city is given the status of ‘World Heritage city’, it will be a boon for the tourism industry in the Capital. The Government can then obtain funds from the World Heritage Fund to maintain heritage structures.

 
The Pioneer, 12th September 2012

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A boost for bamboo weaving

The Tripura government is trying to revive the dying art of fine bamboo weaving that can perk up employment in the State

It was at the Agartala Central Jail that Krishna Das Pal learnt the craft of ‘fine bamboo weaving’. As a ‘jail police’, as local craftsmen refer to him, he fine-tuned the craft to such an extent that he has become a legendary name in the field. The Central Government also recognised his talent and honoured him with the President’s Medal.

However, this fine art of bamboo weaving is on its way out. In just four decades, the art form developed, flourished, waned and is now dying. The reason for this is that the children of such weavers are taking to other modern-day professions, and for others too it holds little promise.

“There are just three practitioners of this art form. Apart from my elder brother Krishna Das, my nephew Shukesh Pal has also learnt it,” said Moti Babu, who is a Master Craftsman with the Tripura government.

In this form, bamboo is shaved real fine and a die is cast of the structure to be made – usually these are masks or idols of deities like Ganesh and Durga. Then the mask is woven around the dye through the fine bamboo, said Mr Babu.

In these images, cane is also used for weaving the structure and for providing the background. The face is made of fine bamboo shavings, which give it a natural smooth, flowing and glossy texture.

“It was in 1976 that I started working on this art form. All three of us hail from Masterpara, about four kilometres from Agartala. Our village got its name due to the large presence of teachers who taught at a nearby school.”

Today, Moti Babu is trying hard to keep the tradition of fine bamboo weaving alive. “In our village of over 5,000 people, there are just eight engaged in bamboo weaving. About seven-eight persons help us, but they have not picked up the skill to the extent we would have liked,” he lamented.

The work is painstaking, time-consuming but not so paying. “A normal mask takes about a week to prepare and making it costs Rs 700 to 800. It is sold by the artisan for around Rs 2,500 and further retailed for around Rs 3,800. The five-feet tall statues sell for around Rs 45,000 in the market.”

Interacting with the media during a familiarisation tour of the North East organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the North Eastern Council (NEC), and the Ministry of DoNER, recently, Moti Babu insisted that there are about 2,200 artisans now gainfully employed in bamboo work in and around Agartala.

 
The Hindu, 13th September 2012

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Pashupatinath to get India's healing touch

Pashupatinath Temple has been in the news lately. First, was the move to bring the temple’s finances into the public domain, which was seen as a positive step towards modernising this ancient institution. Now Nepal has sought India’s help to protect Kathmandu’s famous 5th century temple on the Bagmati River.

Listed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the historical wooden gates and pillars of the temple have been damaged by moisture and termites, and are on the verge of collapse.

The main temple was first renovated by the Malla King Bhupatindra Malla in 1700 BS (1643 AD) and later by the hereditary Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Janga Bahadur Rana some 100 years ago. There is a need to immediately renovate the temple which has not been renovated for more than a century.

Sources in the Union Culture Ministry said the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is studying a proposal in this regard from the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust (PADT).

The holy shrine, which is visited by large numbers of Hindus as well as Nepalese, among others particularly during festivals like Shivratri, was built in 516 BS (1459 AD) by Lichhavi King Mandev.

However, with the passage of the time, the weathering effects have started showing on the centuries-old structure especially on its four main wooden doors. The western door has a statue of a large bull or Nandi, covered in gold.

When contacted, Narottam Vaidya, treasurer of the PADT, confirmed that they have approached ASI through the Indian embassy in Nepal to study the damages caused by the seepage on the wooden gates and pillars of the temple.

“The wooden structures are in a dilapidated state and can crumble any time. Since it is the protected site of the UNESCO, we cannot treat this askance. We believe that the ASI has enough expertise in restoring such structures,” Vaidya told The Pioneer over the phone.

“To begin with, we want the ASI to prepare a project report detailing the cause and extent of the damage to the wooden structures,” Vaidya said, adding, “once we get the report, we will initiate repairs and renovation of the abode of Shiva as per international standards for which we are banking on the ASI.”

The world-famous temple’s daily earnings stand at around Rs 1,35,000 on average. Excluding festivals and special occasions, the yearly income of the sacred temple could be at least Rs 50 million, according to various reports.

Meanwhile, the sources said that the ASI is seriously considering the proposal. “Fund and logistics needed for the job is being worked out. Final decision is yet to be taken.”

The temple has special importance for India as the priests always have been from south of the Vindhyas, a tradition that is believed to have been started by Adi Shankaracharya in 6th century, who sought to unify the different states of Bharatam (Unified India) by encouraging cultural exchange.

If given the green signal, it would be not be the first time that the ASI would be showcasing its acumen in the neighbouring country. Way back in the 70s, the ASI has conducted exploration and carried out important excavation in the Terai region of Nepal.

In the recent past, the ASI has successfully carried out various archaeological activities abroad from time to time including explorations and excavations of ancient sites and conservation and scientific preservation of monuments on the request of the respective countries.

To name a few are the structural conservation of Ta Prohm Temple in Cambodia and Wat Phou Temple in Laos, structural conservation and chemical preservation at famous Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and The Ananda Temple in Myanmar.

 
The Pioneer, 13th September 2012

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New Delhi Municipal Council, traders’ body discuss CP revamp

With less than three-and-a-half months left for the completion of the Connaught Place redevelopment project, theNew Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and New Delhi Traders' Association (NDTA) held a special review meeting on Wednesday.

NDTA discussed problems faced by traders due to the ongoing work and suggested some changes in the original plan. NDMC officials say the suggestions made by NDTA will be discussed with the chief designer and necessary changes will be incorporated.

In the meeting, NDTA stressed on the need to construct narrow footpaths in the middle circle. As per the present plan, NDMC is constructing 7-foot wide footpaths on both sides of the middle circle. "It is pointless to construct such wide footpaths on both sides of the road. Nobody is going to use these footpaths. Moreover, this will reduce our parking space. As it is there is a serious parking problem in the area. And with the construction of these footpaths, there is going to be a parking mess in Connaught Place,'' said Atul Bhargava, president of NDTA.

Another suggestion by NDTA was to do away with the proposed sitting arrangement in outer circle and radial roads. "They have constructed concrete benches in the inner circle. These benches are mostly used by hawkers to sell their goods. There is no point in making a similar arrangement in Outer circle and radial roads," said Bhargava. The traders association also pointed out that wire loops are protruding from the flooring.

When contacted, NDMC official said, "The project is for their (traders) benefit. We have to take into account their concerns. We have heard their suggestions and would discuss it with the designer of the project. If it is feasible, we will incorporate the changes."

 
The Times of India, 13th September 2012

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New panel to ready tiger tourism norms in 10 days

Another panel has been set up by the ministry of environment and forests to decide eco-tourism guidelines in core areas and peripheral buffer zones of tiger reserves, and submit a report within 10 days.

The panel's creation comes on the back of ministry's commitment to the Supreme Court that it would review its proposed norms on eco-tourism and get back to the SC with a final version by September 29.

The new panel includes two wildlife scientists K Ullas Karanth and Wildlife Institute of India's Y V Jhala. Also, there are Brijendra Singh, considered close to the Gandhi family and a member of the National Board of Wildlife, Raghu Chundawat, a tiger expert and a resort-owner in Madhya Pradesh, Shekhar Dattari a wildlife filmmaker, Swathi Sheshadri of Equations, an NGO that works on tourism, Tushar Das of NGO Vasundhra, which works on tribal rights, and Arun Bhatnagar, a retired bureaucrat. In addition, the committee will have representatives from tribal affairs, tourism and panchayati raj ministries, besides chief wildlife wardens of MP, UP, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Assam.

The member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority will serve as convener on the committee.

The committee been tasked to "prepare a comprehensive set of guidelines for tiger conservation and tourism as provided in section 380 (c) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972". It has been asked to keep all existing laws in mind, including the Forest Rights Act, while drawing up the guidelines.

While the apex court had put a complete but interim ban on tourism in the core of tiger reserves, the ministry had earlier recommended only partial tourism in the core run by communities. The ministry's suggestions had a rider. It sought to put stringent conditions including a cess on revenues of the resorts around tiger reserves to fund conservation. Several tour operators and resort owners had opposed both the court's interim order and government guidelines. Several states, too, had opposed a complete ban.

 
The Times of India, 13th September 2012

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PM calls for preservation of South Indian art forms

Extols composite and diverse culture of Kerala

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for added efforts to preserve traditional art forms of South India.

He was addressing the gathering after laying the foundation for the South Indian Performing Arts Museum on the premises of the Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University for Art and Culture here on Wednesday.

“The South Indian canvas is endowed with a wide variety of traditional performing arts, including ritual, folk and classical. Some art forms have vanished unfortunately; while others need to be protected and supported,” he said.

“The South Indian canvas is endowed with a wide variety of traditional performing arts, including ritual, folk and classical. Some art forms have vanished unfortunately; while others need to be protected and supported,” he said.

Dr. Singh stated that the proposed museum was expected to lead to a greater and renewed interest in the art and culture of the region, and reinforce the country’s pluralism and harmonious co-existence of diverse cultures and sub-cultures.

He extolled the composite and diverse culture of Kerala that had been enhanced by the synthesis of a large variety of influences over centuries, and its tradition of religious tolerance and respect for diverse philosophies. “It is not, thus, a coincidence that the earliest mosque, church and synagogue in the country were all established in the blessed land of Kerala,” he said.

Dr. Singh acknowledged the role played by Kalamandalam in promoting art forms. “Founded by the great poet Vallathol Narayana Menon in 1930, Kalamandalam has a special place on the cultural map not only of Kerala but also of the country. I understand that it is the first public institution to impart training in traditional performing arts of Kerala, especially Kathakali, Mohiniyattom, Koodiyattom, and Thullal. From its humble beginnings, it has today established itself as a symbol of Indian cultural renaissance and has attained global fame,” he added.

Classical status

Cultural Affairs Minister K.C. Joseph made a fervent plea to the Prime Minister to grant classical status to Malayalam.

“Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada have been accorded classical status. Malayalam, which has a 1,500-year-old history, too should be granted the status. A request to the Department of Culture in this connection is pending settlement. The Prime Minister should intervene in the matter,” he said.

Governor H.R. Bharadwaj, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, and Kerala Kalamandalam Vice-Chancellor P.N. Suresh spoke.

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Mullappally Ramachandran,Union Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahmed, P.K. Biju, MP; and K. Radhakrishnan, MLA, were present.

Cultural feast

Kalamandalam executive member Pandalam Sudhakaran presented ‘Krishna Mudi’ (headgear worn by Kathakali actors playing Lord Krishna) to the Prime Minister.

Dr. Singh watched a cultural show, comprising the Kathakali sequence, ‘Gitopadesam,’ acted out by maestro Kalamandalam Gopi and Krishnakumar, and a Mohiniyattom choreography depicting eight aspects of Goddess Mahalakshmi. Artistes led by Annamanada Parameswara Marar and Cherpulassery Sivan played Panchavadyam, a traditional ensemble of Kerala, to welcome the Prime Minister.
 

The Hindu, 13th September 2012

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For the love of Madhubani

For 34-year-old Manjusha Das, painting was always been a passion. It started as a playful act with the brush during her school days and made her win many awards and competitions later in life. But it was only in the year 1996, when Das was 18-years-old, that she decided to take formal training in
art. “I learnt oil painting and portrait in Istanbul. My husband was posted there at that time,” says Das.

Her formal training gave her a new high and she started painting more regularly. After some time, her cousin sister, Bharti Dayal, also Das’ guru, introduced her to Madhubani art. “It was so refreshing to learn a new art form. Dayal introduced me to Maithila paintings or Madhubani art — as this form is popularly known.”

Devotional in theme, the Madhubani paintings by Das depict scenes from ancient epics and are rich in vedic and tantrik symbolism. But it’s the Krishna leela that attracts Das the most in Madhubani. “This form has many variations and I love the use of natural colours in it.”

Das has also exhibited her work in Istanbul, Copenhagen and Tehran. As a diplomat spouse, had ample time to learn from reputed artists from different countries. Das is also a trained fashion designer, having participated in many fashion exhibitions.

Having perfected the art, Das is now trying a fusion form in Madhubani art. “I am trying Madhubani with oil colours, which is very unusual. As opposed to natural colours, oil colours take a long time to dry.” Her work is currently priced between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 25,000 and can be viewed at Bihar Emporium, Baba Kharak Singh Marg. I am trying Madhubani with oil colours, which is very unusual. As opposed to natural colours, oils take a long time to dry,"says Manjusha Das, artist.
 

The Hindustan Times, 13th September 2012

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Cabinet nod for campaign to get Delhi World Heritage City status

Delhi to be considered for the title only in 2014

The “World Heritage City” tag for the Capital seems less elusive now with the Delhi Government approving the Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage’s campaign in this regard. Armed with the title “Imperial Town Planning Traditions of Delhi”, INTACH Delhi Chapter is all set to prepare the final dossier to be submitted to UNESCO.

“The Delhi Tourism & Transportation Development Corporation have been asked to sign an agreement with us and fund our preparation of the final dossier,” said INTACH Delhi Chapter convenor A. G. K. Menon. “This way we do not need to cut any corners since we have the government’s support,” he said, adding that the move is also evident of the government’s intention to protect Delhi’s heritage.

However, Delhi will be considered for the tag only in 2014 and not next year. “UNESCO put us on the tentative list only on May 22 this year and to be considered we have to stay on the list for a year. This means we will be considered only in 2014,” said Mr. Menon.

This gives the team at INTACH more time to work on the final dossier that will promote both Shahjahanabad and Interior New Delhi (Lutyens’ Delhi) as World Heritage cities. “We are still debating which criteria to apply under since each criterion has to have evidence from the ground,” he said.

Earlier INTACH was only going to apply under Criteria 4 – (an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history) but is also considering Criteria 1 (to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius).

INTACH to submit final dossier to UNESCO

Will promote Shahjahanabad and Interior New Delhi (Lutyens’ Delhi) as World Heritage cities
 

The Hindu, 13th September 2012

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A connecting shot

As an exhibition showcasing some of his timeless images opens in the city today, ace lensman Raghu Rai tells us how a picture happens.

Raghu Rai moves back and forth in time as he, immersed neck-deep in his future projects, takes our call to talk about his earlier work, an exhibition of which has been organised by Tasveer in collaboration with Vacheron Constantin. Titled “Divine Moments”, the exhibition opens tomorrow at The Stainless Gallery in the Capital. Rai tells us that the 35 frames to be exhibited in the show have been extracted from his major retrospective mounted at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, in 2008.

And though the works date back to several years, memories of the day, the incidents that led him to freezing a particular moment, are clearly etched in Rai’s mind. “That misty morning of December had such a spiritual feeling about it. With the man and the animal together in perfect harmony in the picture, it brings out the irony that the world can be so unpredictable. It was Ayodhya the day before,” recalls Rai referring to the image titled ‘The Day Before – Ayodhya, 1992’ in which a sadhu is extending an offering to a passerby and a monkey perched on a wall. Working for a news magazine back in 1992, Rai was sent to cover the Ayodhya riots.

According to Rai, these moments are god-gifted and rare because nobody has manufactured or designed them. “These are the moments when you work keeping out the editorial needs. But even when you are assigned a job and you have to listen to the dictates of editorial needs, you just take off,” elaborates the celebrated photographer when asked if the work shown here would classify as being different from the rest of his oeuvre in terms of spiritual content.

Remembering another shot, ‘Stilled by the rain, Gurgaon’, which he clicked while going to his village, the lensman says, “It was drizzling and I was driving towards my village. The bull just wouldn’t move. The stillness of the rain had a meditative effect all over. In such weather, you can feel either elated or depressed.” A picture that speaks to you, he feels, is produced when body, mind and spirit come together in that one moment, and the exhibition offers several such gems where you can witness the moment.

Moving forth Rai reveals about his forthcoming book on trees, titled “Whispers”, which he plans to release by the end of this year. “I am editing it currently. I think it will be one of my best works,” says Rai, adding that with another book on clouds and monsoons scheduled to be released next year he is drifting towards nature. (The exhibition is on at The Stainless Gallery, Ground Floor, Mira Corporate Suites 1 & 2, Old Ishwar Nagar, Okhla Crossing, Mathura Road, New Delhi, from September 15 to 25.)
 

The Hindu, 14th September 2012

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Sepia tinted India

The forthcoming United Art Fair brings rare works of Raja Deen Dayal, one of the country’s earliest photographers. E Malik checks out

Delhi is so seeped in history, that we sometimes ignore other places. That will all change.

The forthcoming United Art Fair brings to the fore the exhibition, Raja Deen Dayal, the pioneer of Indian Photography. It includes 30 works from the private estate of the photographer, along with others. Little did Lala Deen Dayal (1844-1905) know, that being educated as a draughtsman and head estimator would be the stepping stone to his becoming India’s first photographer.

He picked it up when his college in Roorkee introduced photography during his final year. “We personally knew the estate and people who run it. That’s where the idea came from,” explained Anurag Sharma, director, United Art Fair.

“Many pictures of Raja Deen Dayal were never exhibited before. This is our way of getting them to the masses. If you look at pictures he took, and real monuments of Hyderabad today, there is a sea of difference. That’s the idea behind the project. To get people to come and see for themselves. If you look at the pictures of the Red Fort of around 1880s, and now, you will notice this. Over time, the originality has gone, given the forces of nature at work. The repair and renovations that keep going on at these places. With these pictures, one can see the originalnakkashi and ornate designs on the palaces and the other royal buildings,” shared Anurag.

One sees pictures of Charminar reflected on the water, like a mirror reflection. The Water Palace is also captured in full royal splendour. So are Lord and Lady Curzon, with a tiger lying at their feet.

A result of their many hunting expeditions. One also observes a rare candid shot of the young Prince of Baroda — Fateh Singh Gaekwad. The Royal procession in full regalia, is also outstanding.

“We had a clear vision of what kind of pictures we wanted for the exhibition. Deen Dayal documented the culture of that time. It reflects how he negotiated the context of the subject and his own vision, then brought forward all these together in his pictures,” added Johnny.

Lala Deen Dayal was commissioned by the royal family of Hyderabad to document happenings and day-to-day affairs. “It was the kind of patronage he got, that enabled him to do this work. The title of ‘Raja’ was bestowed on him by the Royal family. He worked on silver bromide plates. And whenever he worked, it was like shifting his entire studio,” added Johny ML, who curated the exhibit.
Deen Dayal was also appointed photographer to the Viceroy of India and Queen Victoria in 1887. “One could create copies from the master negative that he clicked on. That concept doesn’t exist any more, with digital photography. Because the moment you transfer the picture from the camera to the computer, there is no master file left,” explained Johnny.

These rare pictures will be shown at the United Art Fair which opens from September 27-30 at Pragati Maidan, Hall No 12 and 12A. “One has to differentiate between a public museum and democratic space. As Althusser said of repressive state apparatuses. Museums are such places. An art fair is democratic and done in a mela like way, achieving what a state made institution like a museum cannot. The same people who throng India Gate, will not step in a museum. But they will comfortably saunter in at a fair like this to have a look at the pictures,” Johnny concluded.
 

The Pioneer, 14th September 2012

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Nehru Place redevelopment plan in the offing

The first phase of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) announced by Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, a fortnight ago, is all set to kick-start.

The Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning & Engineering) Centre (UTTIPEC) has prepared an initial plan, which would be implemented along the Nehru Place Phase III Metro corridor. The new redevelopment plan based on the paratransit mode will not only look at the interest of the pedestrians but also aims at making the public transport system more efficient and sustainable.

In the proposed TOD, the UD Ministry is aiming to create a public transport system which will provide the last mile connectivity. The arterial connectivity of the Capital continues to remain poor even after start of Metro and the BRT corridors.

As per the Multi Model Integration and Connectivity System the area from 300 metres to two kilometres has been marked along the Metro route for redevelopment.

The UTTIPEC in its proposal has divided the area into three zones. The bigger radial at two kilometres, followed by 800 metres and then at 300 metres. "The idea is to have a well connected network from the residential areas to public mode of transport," said Ashok Bhattarjee, director UTTIPEC. The proposal that aims to encourage the use of public transport will have the colonies connected to the Metro station through the facilities, including sharing auto-rickshaws and eco-friendly mode of transport from areas falling within two kilometres. For the areas coming under 800 metres radius will have a well laid pedestrian walkway and cycle tracks.

In the areas falling within the radius of 300 metres, public buildings, multi gyms, green buildings will be developed. The Government has also given a green signal to the change in the land use pattern of the area and to increase the floor area ratio on the area adjoining the Metro stations. The proposal also aims at redeveloping the unused and under utilised land into structures which will not invite too many cars on the stretch.

The new plan also discourages the parking spaces along the Metro stations. In the TOD the residential areas be connected with the Metro stations by means of public transport network as such the park-and-ride facility from the Metro station will be discouraged. In the general body meeting of the UTTIPEC that took place earlier this week, the proposal has been approved.

While the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is known to be carrying out its own construction work meeting its deadline, the UTTIPEC is now roping other agencies to expedite the process so that the multiple agencies work in sink with one another. "The idea is to bring about a paradigm shift in the transport mechanism of the city and to create modes that are sustainable and in the interest of general public at large and not just the car owners," added Bhatarjee.

After successfully implementing it along the Phase III Metro line, the UTTIPEC will take it forward to all the existing Metro routes.
 

The Pioneer, 14th September 2012

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Himalaya glaciers melting rapidly in some regions

Glaciers in the eastern and central regions of the Himalayas, appear to be retreating at alarming rates, while those in the western parts are more stable and could be even growing, says a new report.

A study report from the National Research Council examines how changes to glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, which covers eight countries across Asia, could affect the area's river systems, water supplies, and the South Asian population.

The mountains in the region form the headwaters of several major river systems-including the Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers, which serve as sources of drinking water and irrigation supplies for roughly 1.5 billion people.

The entire Himalayan climate is changing, but how this change will impact specific places remains unclear, the committee that wrote the report, said. The Tibetan Plateau and the eastern Himalayas are warming, and the trend is more pronounced at higher elevations.

Study models suggest that desert dust and black carbon, a component of soot, could contribute to the rapid atmospheric warming, accelerated snowpack melting, and glacier retreat. While glacier melt contributes water to the region's rivers and streams, retreating glaciers over the next several decades are unlikely to cause significant changes in water availability at lower elevations, which depend primarily on monsoon precipitation and snowmelt. Variations in water supplies in those areas are more likely to come from extensive extraction of groundwater resources, population growth, and shifts in water-use patterns. If the current rate of retreat continues, high elevation areas could have altered seasonal and temporal water flow in some river basins.
 

The Times of India, 14th September 2012

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Going, going, gone

So many species are nearing extinction
As if the frequent portents of an eco-system devastated and denuded by the relentless march of civilisation and threatened flora and fauna are not unnerving enough, comes the news that four Indian species figure in the list of the 100 most threatened in the world.

The Great Indian Bustard, the White Bellied Heron, the poisonous vibrant blue hued spider Gooty Tarantula and the Batagur Buska, a rare species of turtle, are now quite literally the stuff for textbooks on nature — to be only written about and read. This is alarming, but not surprising, given that over the years the sighting of these small but no less exotic creatures has become as rare as the interest and efforts about their conservation, spurring the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Zoological Society of London to place them in their list of most endangered species. The Great Indian Bustard once crowded the landscape in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka. And Ooty boasted of an amenable habitat for the Tarantula. Highlighting the plight of these endangered species across the world, the IUCN has criticised respective Governments for denying them due attention. But India has no reason to gloat over the fact that a mere four species, among the many of once plentiful fauna, which are extinct or facing a certain demise, figure in this list. Over the years serious concerns have been voiced by wildlife lovers and conservationists about the declining number of vital fauna and flora in the country. The plight of the ‘gravely endangered' species, paucity of funds and an ineffective implementation of the Special Programme for Recovery of Critically Endangered Species have all conspired to stymie the feeble conservation efforts in the past. Ironically, the news, gloomy as it is, may well serve the cause of these small creatures, just like that of the other species, the almost-on-the-brink of extinction chirpy house sparrow, which was recently accorded the status of ‘State Bird' of Delhi.

The question therefore is: Is it because these small species lack the ‘charisma’ of the bigger endangered animals like the tigers, rhinos, the elephants and the pythons that they have failed to garner enough public attention or conservation attempts? Wildlife experts have complained of meagre allocation of funds to protect the last remaining habitats of India's most critically endangered species. These include the rare Kashmir stag Hangul, the snow leopard and the Manipur deer. The fate of the gharial, the Gangetic river dolphin and the near-extinction of the vultures and their impact as nature's most efficient scavenger are well known. Yet, little has been done to create awareness about conservation of the environment and our wildlife. Every species is crucial to the eco-system. People must be made aware that to make this planet safer we need to make it a safe world for all creatures, big and small.
 

The Pioneer, 17th September 2012

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Of what King Vishala left behind in Bihar!

Various types of antiquities, including a gold bead with the terracotta naga figurines and a pendant in terracotta depicting image of Vishnu, have been recovered during the excavation at Raja Vishal Ka Garh in Vaishali district of Bihar.

Other than a gold bead and a pendant, antiquities like terracotta human, animal and bird figurines, plaque, beads, sling balls, sealing, skin rubber and stamp were also found during the excavation. Among the stone objects are beads of semi-precious stone (Carnelian, Jasper, banded agate), pestle, sharpener, bone points, beads, antler, hair pin, metal objects like coin (copper cast coin), iron nail, spear head and knife.

Superintending Archaeologist of Archaeological Survey of India, Patna Circle, Dr Sanjay Kumar Munjal told The Pioneer that the Vishal Ka Garh was located at Vaishali, about 60 km north of Patna.

According to the tradition, the site is associated with King Vishala of epic fame who is believed to be the founder of Vaishali. The nature of the site denotes a fortified city having rectangular on plan with the evidence of an ancient tank within it.

Munjal said that a fortification wall, running north-south orientation erected over the mud rampart of the Sunga period has been found. This wall can be ascribed to the Kushana and further raised during Gupta period in the three successive phases.

One of the wall has been identified with the Kushana`s period which is sealing the exposed ring well, which has altogether 18 rings, he added.

Large quantity of ceramic fragments belonging to NBPW period has been recovered during the excavation, These ceramic fragments are categorized under black and red ware (vase), NBPW (dish and bowl of copper, golden, silver and steel grey in colour) and grey ware (dish and bowl), black-slipped ware (dish, bowl, small/miniature pot), red ware (vase, handi, miniature pot, basin, pan, bowl, dish). Little quantity of pottery, belonging to the Sunga period has been found from mud rampart area in limited operation and from the cutting of a particular layer. Among the wares are NBPW, black slipped ware, grey ware and red ware. The shapes are bowl, dish, lipped pan, vase and others.
 

The Pioneer, 14th September 2012

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Beyond all borders

The people outside the palace gates felt disowned: They were once Malayalis, but when the Kanyakumari district shifted states, they came to be called Tamilians. Perhaps on the days they wanted to belong to Kerala, they’d step inside the Padmanabhapuram Palace and the six-and-a-half acres it stands on. For the palace complex still belonged to Kerala, holding within it the tales of the centuries of kings who once lived there, prominent among them Marthanda Varma.

It was in 1550 AD that the first of the palace buildings was built, says my guide Rajeshwari as she takes me on a tour of the palace. Extensions were made on all sides over the years until the rooms numbered 127. Like most ancestral homes in Kerala, the palace opens with a poomukham (reception area). The importance of the number nine in architecture is seen at the poomukham itself, with the roof bearing 90 flower designs. The councillors’ chamber upstairs bears nine lotus flowers on its ceiling; another room has 63.

The most popular ruler to take up residence in the palace was Marthanda Varma, and legends say that he fought several attempts on his life to ascend the throne. A hall full of paintings attests to the king’s story: From his early days of hiding from the Ettuveetil Pillamar (an opposing group of nobles) to his becoming the king and killing them all. It was his nephew, the next ruler — Dharma Raja Karthika Thirunal Varma — who last ruled from the Padmanabhapuram Palace. He shifted the capital of Thiruvithamkoor, then a princely state, from Padmanabha-puram to Thiruvanantha-puram.

Numerous they might have been, but every room in the palace had a purpose. The councillors’ chamber was where the king and his ministers would discuss important decisions. Two large halls, called oottupura, were built for annadaanam — the serving of lunch to 2,000 poor Brahmins every day. The upparika malika that housed the king’s room had the treasury on its lower level, and the meditation and puja rooms on the floor above. “The idea was that money always comes last, and God first,” Rajeshwari says.

Today visitors from near and far enter, and leave, the palace. The centuries have changed the old borders and brought new ones. What was once 186 acres of Travancore rule has been reduced to 6.5 acres of tourism.
 

The Asian Age, 15th September 2012

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“A city the earth needs”

Auroville is an experiment that works, says Mark Tully

As the Capital hosts the first ever Auroville Festival, Sir Mark Tully, well known writer and Chairman, International Advisory Council, Auroville Foundation speaks to The Hindu about the unique character of the city near Pondicherry and its importance. Excerpts:

What is the reason for holding the Auroville festival in New Delhi?
Delhi is a hub for international diplomats and audiences. The Auroville Festival is aimed at showcasing the city’s achievements so far. We want to draw people’s attention to Auroville’s role in the world, so our first step is a series of talks on the city: its experiments in urban design and architecture, afforestation and environmental concerns. Auroville’s approach to the economy is unique. The seminar we are holding will throw light on the city’s education, art, literature and crafts as well as collaboration with the local bio-region.

We have also brought several artists from Auroville and abroad, their products that include paintings, sculptures, pottery and photographs will reflect their lifestyles, skills, and innovations in different fields.

You are projecting Auroville as a model city, especially in terms of urban development and environment. How is it different from other cities?
Yes. Innovative architecture and environment-friendly building technology are two hallmarks of Auroville. We are developing the city in seven steps. When Auroville was founded 40 years ago, it was barren land… Now it is green with over two million trees and shrubs.

The people there make and use half-baked bricks for buildings. These are compressed earth blocks, made with soil mixed with a small amount of cement. These are cured and baked in the sun reducing the use of large amount of fired wood, thereby saving forests… The citizens have developed a hand-operated machine to make these bricks. These are used to construct buildings faster and create local employment too.

Auroville houses are uniquely shaped. They play with space and serene designs beautifully. Now our focus is on the building of the city itself. India’s foremost architect B. V Doshi is involved in the infrastructure of Auroville.

To be more environment-friendly, the city is also experimenting with solar pumps, and solar energy. It’s a home to the largest concentration of renewable energy technologies in India. Remarkable contribution from Auroville is a solar boat – one of the biggest in the world.

Auroville’s lifestyle is idealistic. Could you elaborate a bit on the philosophy of the people who live there?
Idealistic, yet it is working fine. The reason is that the city is habitated with just 2,300 people. And it has 50 different nationalities, including a large number of Indians. So, there is no domination of any one religion or country. We aim at making it 50,000 inhabitants’ city for now. The USP of the city is that it is a bridge between rationality and superamental consciousness. The mother coined this term and Aurobindo was a bridge between Mother’s thought of superamental consciousness and his own teachings. Auroville aims at becoming a model city of the future.

The Matra Mandir is our biggest divine centre. It can be a great tourist attraction. At Matru Mandir, soil of 124 nations and all the states of India was put in an urn in the centre of the planned township four decades ago. It marked a beginning of the collective adventure in human unity.

With such idealistic living, what role does money play?
It may be interesting to note that Auroville believes in a cashless economy. This is another experiment based on the city’s spiritual aspirations. Auroville collects together the resources produced by the community and makes them available to all as per their need without any exchange of money. So far it seems to be working, but visitors/tourists in the city need to open an account.

I see people fighting for landed property across the world, but in Auroville the land has no private ownership. The entire land belongs to the Auroville Foundation which holds it in trust with humanity as a whole. One can build a house but ownership will remain with the Foundation.

You say Auroville is self sustainable….
Largely yes. Auroville has the only Indian made mud-brick press which sells bricks all over India and exports to Africa, Sri Lanka, USA and Europe as well. Auroville also boasts of several farms and 150 commercial units ranging from architectural services to handicrafts, handmade stationery, incense candles, essential oils, food processing, garment manufacturing, metal working etc. It employs some 5000 people. These units contribute to the economy of Auroville. But the best part is that members of the community are supposed to contribute one-third of their earnings in running the economy, which they religiously do.
 

The Hindu, 15th September 2012

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Spiritual realty

The Khirki mosque in the Capital is yet another monument on government land that is being encroached upon

Some weeks ago, on July 28 to be precise, this column carried a story about a daring attempt to encroach upon an archaeological find that had been revealed because the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) had begun digging in the Daryaganj area despite Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protests that the DMRC tunneling was likely to damage the foundations of the Akbarabadi mosque. The mosque was known to be located beneath the Subhash Park and plans to reveal and conserve them had already been discussed among conservationists. The DMRC paid no heed to the protests and only after conservationists had raised Cain and after a communally surcharged situation had begun to develop that the Delhi High Court ordered the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to vacate the encroachment and hand over the land to the ASI.

The MCD shows no signs of removing the encroachments but that is not surprising as it has not taken any action on another order of the Delhi High Court that had directed the MCD to remove all encroachments from Jama Masjid. This order had come in 2010 and a deadline had been set by the Supreme Court for September 15, 2010. Today is the second anniversary of the expiry of the deadline and there is no sign of any action from the MCD that could suggest that they have any intention of following orders.

These two are not the only instances of encroachments on historically and archaeologically important mosques. All kinds of people are in the process of encroaching or have successfully encroached upon all manner of places of worship. The places encroached and those encroaching do not necessarily belong to the same side of the denominational divide. In fact encroachment on places of worship, especially archaeologically and historically important structures, is an extremely secular and universally followed practice in India.

Another blatant encroachment that has been going on for years, slowly, systematically and to a fairly well laid out plan that is even now being implemented can be seen in operation at the Khirki mosque opposite the swanky and utterly incongruous Select City Walk and other malls near Saket. The mosque was built in the second half of the 14 century by Khan-e-Jahan Juna Shah Telangani, the prime minister of Firozeshah Tughlaq.

The monument is in the process of being so enclosed from all sides that soon no one will ever know that a beautiful mosque, architecturally probably the only one of its kind, ever existed in Delhi.
The mosque is a two storey building. There used to be a tehkhana or a cellar on the ground floor, probably built to escape the summer heat and the floor above was for prayers. The mosque is roofed over with four openings to let in light and has 89 domes. This feature and the fact that it is perhaps the only mosque that is fully roofed over, gives it its unique architectural value.

Though the entire mosque is built with Delhi quartz stone, held together with crushed brick and lime stone mortar and then plastered over, its walls are broken with perforated windows carved out of Sandstone. It is this attribute that gave the mosque its name Khirki mosque and the village that subsequently developed near the mosque came to be called Khirki as well.

In the aftermath of partition, this village, inhabited then by Muslim Jats, lost most of its population to riots and migration and was subsequently settled by those who had been able to escape to Delhi from what was now Pakistan. The new arrivals began to build all around the mosque and by the time we got around to passing the 1948 law for protection of monuments, much land had been encroached upon to the east, west and north of the mosque. The south face of the mosque that overlooked the road somehow escaped this building frenzy.

It is now the east face that is under assault. The open ground has sprouted little make-shift temples on all four corners of the ground and recently an Indian Academy of Judo and Yoga (Registered) has fixed its board on the ground. It will not be surprising if one finds a local real estate agent with his grubby finger in this spiritual pie.

The ASI lodged a complaint with the police, but nothing happened. Nothing normally happens in cases like this, the standard police response is lack of staff and other responsibilities. The fact is that police does not want to take sides with the ASI and antagonize the local elements that they have to deal with on a daily basis. The fact that many of the encroachers are either politically active or have political patrons also helps to de-motivate the police. The status as of now is that ASI has begun proceedings to acquire this land, except that they do not have the ready cash and meanwhile, the builders of the pracheen temple and future judokas and yogis continue to flex their muscles.

The fact that despite all the efforts of ASI nothing much is being done against the encroachers has emboldened those who live on the other three sides and hectic building activity in the last two months has seen, with most houses adding a floor or two. And this has happened after the restriction on renovation, alteration and additions to any existing building within 300 meters of a protected monument has come into force.

One wonders if those capable of initiating action against encroachment actually care a whit. Why does the police have to wait for a complaint, can’t they see that government land is being encroached upon?
 

The Hindu, 15th September 2012

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The loss of Loktak

In Manipur, an indigenous people and their way of life faces threat in the name of development

The stillness of the waters is compelling. A few stray boats glide across the surface in the distance but the waters remain unbroken by the passage. The silence of the present is in stark contrast to the dynamism of the lake in the past. Not many months ago, thousands of fisher folk used to manoeuvre their narrow boats through the phumdis or floating biomass, but are now being evicted from the lake.

The Loktak Lake in the heart of Manipur, is the largest freshwater lake in north-eastern India and touted as the only floating lake in the world due to the phumdis. The wetland, spread over 286 sq km area in three districts of Imphal west, Thoubal and Bishnupur, is designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. For centuries, the local human populace has coexisted with the lake in harmony. But today, it bears an eerie quietude that is evocative of the destruction of the indigenous tribe and culture that is taking place.

Salaam Mani Masa, wife of Salaam Tomba, from the Sendra settlement around the lake in Moirang is afraid of what awaits them. “We have been fishing for generations. I go fishing, my husband goes fishing, my daughter also goes fishing. If we are not allowed to fish anymore, how will we survive?”

A typical day for people in the area begins early in the morning with a member from each family taking a boat out to the lake for fishing. Once into the water, the communities meet and fish till late evening, and sometimes even well into the night. There was a time when they were able to earn Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 from selling their catch in the market in one season alone, but the trade has been suffering of late, not helped by security personnel swooping down on the lake to flush out insurgents. The population of migratory birds was reportedly affected and the ecosystem of the place disturbed by hovercrafts making their way into the region.

Once upon a time agriculture used to be one of the main occupations in the region, but a hydro electric project raised the water levels leading to flooding of the farmlands.. It was then that people took to fishing, but now are being stopped from pursuing that too.

Many families have already been evicted from the lake settlement and the Salaam family knows that there isn’t much time before its turn to go will also come. The police have been dismantling homes and though the evicted have been promised compensation, not much has reached them yet.

“The government may have announced Rs 50,000 but by the time all the officials and people in between take their cuts, the amount that reached us residents was Rs 5,000. How is a family supposed to start life afresh with that amount?” asks a resident who has been evicted and is temporarily taking shelter in his brother’s house.

Before the phase-wise eviction of the concrete houses started, the Loktak Development Authority had burnt down temporary bamboo shelters built by fisher folk on the lake waters. The fisher folk used to stay on the bamboo structure for days and even a week sometimes to catch fish in the phums (ponds). To disable the few who continue to fish in the lake, the government is trying to remove the phumdis that forms on the lake surface. The fisher folk create cage farms from these naturally floating water plants to catch fish. “So much money is being wasted for removing the phums. But they will keep coming back. Because it is nature,” asserts Laishram Macha, a fisherman.

He rattles off the names of around 15 varieties of fish that thrive in the lake. The Keibul Lamjao National Park on the lake is the only remaining natural habitat of the endangered brow-antlered deer or the dancing deer, locally known as Sangai. A few years ago, around 2,000 cattle egrets were said to be sighted near the village, but now their numbers have dropped to below 70.

The fisher folk fear eviction any time now but want a clear cut plan for their rehabilitation. “What we really want is that even if we are evicted, we should be allowed to fish in a designated area of the lake. We hear that they want to number the boats to be able to collect tax. Our livelihood has become difficult by the day but it should not be taken away from us,” says Laishram. It is being said that the lake, which is already reeling under pressure from the hydro electric project and filth that flows in from the rivers, is being made people-free for developing tourism around the lake.

Yet again, a way of life is being brought to an end to make way for so-called development.
 

The Hindu, 16th September 2012

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100 species at risk of extinction

The spoon-billed sandpiper , three-toed sloth and a long-beaked echidna named after Sir David Attenborough are among the 100 most endangered species in the world, according to a new study.

The list of at-risk species has been published as conservationists warn that rare mammals, plants and fungi are being sacrificed as their habitats are appropriated for human use.

More than 8,000 scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) helped compile the list of species closest to extinction, which was published by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Conservationists fear the species in 48 countries may die out because they don't offer obvious benefits to humans. The list is headed by the "weird and wonderful" spoon-billed sandpiper which breeds in Russia and migrates to Bangladesh and Myanmar. There are just 100 breeding pairs of the birds left in the wild with that number declining by a quarter annually.

There are also just 500 pygmy three-toed sloths left on the uninhabited Isla Escudo de Veraguas , 10 miles off the coast of Panama. They are half the size of sloths found on the mainland and are the smallest and slowest sloths in the world. But their numbers are declining with fishermen and lobster divers "opportunistically" hunting the small animals, the report said.

Zaglossus attenboroughi, or Attenborough's echidna, named after the eminent naturalist and BBC wildlife expert, is one of just five surviving species of monotreme, ancient egg-laying mammals found in Australia and New Guinea 160 million years ago. Today the mammal's home is the Cyclops Mountains of the Papua Province of Indonesia but it has been listed as in danger due to the destruction of its habitat by loggers, agricultural encroachment and hunting.

Professor Jonathan Baillie, the ZSL's director of conservation, said: "The donor community and conservation movement are leaning increasingly towards a 'what can nature do for us' approach, where species and wild habitats are valued and prioritised according to the services they provide for people.

"This has made it increasingly difficult for conservationists to protect the most threatened species on the plant. While the utilitarian value of nature is important , conservation goes beyond this. Do these species have a right to survive or do we have a right to drive them to extinction ?"

The ZSL's Ellen Butcher, who co-wrote the report, said: "All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable . If we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist."

Most Endangered | facts and figures
Araripe Manakin, Antilophia Bokermanni Found in: Brazil Numbers left: 779

Sumatran Rhinoceros
Dicerorhinus sumatrensis Found in: Malaysia, Indonesia Numbers left: 250 individuals

Pygmy three-toed sloth
Bradypus pygmaeus Found in: Panama Numbers left: 500

Spoon-billed sandpiper
Eurynorhynchus pygmeus Found in: Russia, Bangladesh & Burma Numbers left: 100 breeding pairs

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey
Rhinopithecus avunculus Found in: Vietnam Numbers left: 200
-- The Independent
 

The Times of India, 16th September 2012

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Urban water system: a tale of inefficiency

While India is preparing to launch the $40-billion second phase of Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) with a significant focus on water and sanitation, a lot of ground needs to be covered before every Indian city can boast of non-stop water supply.

Considering that a majority of urban population still does not have easy access to water, it is time that the second phase of JNNURM tackled this problem successfully.

Urban planning experts say that water supply is one of the most glaring urban problems and is available for less than three hours in a day on an average across Indian cities and towns. According to the 54th National Sample Survey, 70 per cent of urban homes have access to taps, while 21 per cent are dependent on tube well or hand pump for their water needs.

Experts are of the opinion that waste water recycling and reusing the same for various purposes does not figure in our water management system. This is happening when almost 50 per cent water is wasted due to the lack of efficient water management. In almost all Indian cities, both the water supply system and the waste water system or sewerage is in a bad shape.

Experts emphasise that we need managerial and policy changes to handle the water issues. The policymakers seem to be oblivious of the fact that there is a considerable gap between the amount of water put into the distribution system and the amount of water billed to the consumer. Experts say that technically, this is non-revenue water (NRW).

A large amount of non-revenue water reflects the poor management of water utilities in our cities which lack governance, autonomy, accountability and managerial skills. The total cost of NRW worldwide is pegged at $14billion per year, with a third of this accounted for by the developing world.

While availability of water is a persistent problem, most Indian cities also face the problem of disposal of waste waters. During the rains the cities get flooded, hampering the economic activity and causing substantial loss to the nation.

Usually, the focus of improvement in water supply and sewerage is on creation of new assets, rather than management of existing ones. India ‘s water sector is long overdue for appropriate reforms, better management and accountability and a prioritised as well as focused strategy.

In the second phase of the JNNURM, it is important that the policymakers insist on time-bound action by all the states so that water is saved and managed better. As a developing nation we cannot afford to waste an important and depletable resource like water because of inefficient and obsolete water management system.
 

The Indian Express, 16th September 2012

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Not just a river, but a heritage

In the 2014 electoral battle, the plight of the Ganga should become the trigger for change, cutting across regional and religious lines. Associating the name of this sacred river will lend a moral high to the poll campaign

If there is one national symbol close to the heart of every Indian, or at least a majority of them, it is the river Ganga. The river has been the cradle of civilisations and has sustained generations of Indians not only with life giving aqua but also instilled in them a hope for the life after. While there may be divergence of opinion in different parts of the country on other aspects associated with Hinduism including the consumption of beef, inhabitants in no part of the country have any dispute whatsoever on the sanctity of Ganga.

In fact, the great grandchildren of indentured labour who were taken by the British as far as Mauritius and West Indies still revere the river, building replicas and even naming their children after the mighty Ganga.

A majority of the people in the country, including the highly educated ones, believe that bathing in the river causes not only the remission of sins but also facilitates eternal liberation from the cycle of life and death. From the kin of politicians to businessmen, film stars and the aam aadmi, all traverse long distances to immerse the ashes of their beloved ones in the holy waters of the Ganges, bringing their spirits closer to mukti or nirvana. There may hardly be a Hindu household, poor or rich, which does not keep a jar containing waters from the ‘holy river’. These waters are family treasures which are used from birth to death and for worship on special occasions. Ganga is thus a great social leveller as well.

Several centres of pilgrimage sacred to Hindus lie along the banks of the river Ganga, including Gangotri, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Allahabad and Varanasi. It is known by different names in different cities and even countries. Thus, the river also serves as a great leveller.

Ganga is not just sacred for Hindus. It is equally sacred for the adherents of other Indian origin religions. During the Loy Krathong festival in distant Thailand, candlelit floats are released into waterways to honour Buddha and the goddess Ganga for good fortune and washing away sins.

Ganga has nurtured the much talked about Ganga-Jamni culture and hence has over the centuries become a bridge between the country’s two prominent communities.

This was reflected recently when Muslim religious leaders came forward to extend a helping hand to sadhus and seers who are campaigning for conservation of river Ganga. According to Maulana Saeedur Rehman, principal of Centre of Islamic studies, while it is well known that Ganga is associated with the faith of Hindus it is no less important for Muslims. Terming the drive to clean the river as a “holy campaign”, Mr Rehman said he would not only extend support to it but would do whatever was required in achieving it. In the words of Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangimahli, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Ganga is a national river and it is not just the Hindus but also the Muslims who live on its banks and earn livelihood. Hence, it is the duty of all to protect and save it.

Over the centuries, the river has thus become a great symbol of national unity.

However, the miserable condition of the river, the ever increasing pollution and the massive corruption involved in cleaning it has also come to symbolise the decadence in national polity, ethics and character.

Unfortunately, while many Hindu organisations have attempted to make it an emotional issue, no political party, including those who have governed States through which the river passes, has shown any sincerity whatsoever in preserving and saving the river. On the contrary, they have been active partners in colluding with vested interests and the mafia to exploit the river to the hilt.

The Ganga Action Plan has over the years become the den of rampant corruption. In the past four years alone, over `10,000 crore have been spent on Save Ganga works, but the condition of the river has gone from bad to worse. According to the National Evironmental Engineering Research Institute, oxygen and other vital contents in the Ganga are getting destroyed gradually but surely.

It is in this context that the proposed Ganga Samagra Yatra of the BJP assumes significance. Beginning from Ganga Sagar on September 20, it will pass through five States, with special emphasis on Uttar Pradesh where party leaders would offer prayers and hold public meetings at 54 places along the river to appeal to the people to save Ganga from pollution and highlight the Centre’s neglect of the river.

However, as is being widely speculated, the yatra should not become just a cosmetic exercise to project any particular leader (Ms Uma Bharti’s name is being widely discussed) or woo a couple of backward castes such as the Lodhs and the Nishads.

The river with all its past and present symbolisms has the potential to serve as a catalyst for change at the national level.

Here, one would recall that the 1857 uprising against the British was, literally, triggered by a gun, the Pattern 1853 Enfield rifled usket. To load the new rifle, soldiers had to bite the cartridge, open and pour the gunpowder into the rifle’s muzzle, then stuff the cartridge case, which was coated with some kind of grease to make it waterproof, into the musket as wadding, before loading it with a ball.

Whether by design or coincidence, the cartridges were allegedly greased with lard (pork fat) which was regarded as unclean by Muslims, or tallow (beef fat), regarded as sacred to Hindus.
Roti, symbolising the basic need of the common man and lotus flowers, reflecting the eternal values of Indian culture, began to circulate in large parts of India, motivating people to rise against the alien rulers.

A striking feature of the War of 1857 was that both Hindu and Muslims assiduously organised the front against the foreign rulers. Hindu-Muslim unity was visible among soldiers, people as well as among leaders. “Sanjhi Virasat and Sanjhi Shahadat” (Common Legacy and Common Martyrdom) became the mantra.

Significantly, the Nauchandi mela of Meerut, the birthplace of the uprising, is a rare symbol of communal harmony with Hindu and Muslim shrines — Nauchandi temple and the dargah (shrine) of Muslim saint, Bala Mian — lying close by. Visitors pay obeisance at both the shrines irrespective of the religion they belong to.

In the 2014 electoral battle, the plight of the Ganga should become the trigger for change, cutting across regional and religious lines. Associating the name would lend that much needed credibility and moral high to the campaign.

Powerful symbolisms have been agents of change world wide. If the BJP hopes to herald a change, it would have to sincerely take up the cause of Ganga, to appeal both to its core and wider constituency. The trinity symbol of lotus, bread and Ganga has the potential to change the socio-political character of the nation.

But then, it would require a Bhagiratha Prayatna (Herculean effort) and not just another yatra.
(The author is a Delhi-based senior journalist)
 

The Pioneer, 17th September 2012

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Exhibition explores art of calligraphy

Simply speaking, calligraphymeans beautiful writing. But an exhibition that just opened in the city explores the art form in all its dimensions, and takes it far beyond common perception. Akshara, the exhibition at the Indian Habitat Centre, will continue till September 21 and includes over 140 diverse exhibits ranging from calligraphy engraved on stones to that weaved in fabric.

The project, which involved 58 artists from 16 states and highlights 21 art forms, took three years to complete. By bringing together calligraphy and craftsmanship, it aims to give literacy a new meaning. "It's liberating to be able to read and write, and many rural artisans feel inadequate without the knowledge of English or the computer," says Jaya Jaitly, president, Dastkari Haat Samiti, which organized the exhibition.

For people to understand the concept behind calligraphy and its application, they conducted a six day workshop last year, where senior graphic designers and craft designers helped translate regional scripts into contemporary design. The results are on display now. As you step into the Visual Arts Gallery, there is an array of calligraphic art work - Jharna Patachitra paintings and terracotta lamps from West Bengal, papier mache wall clocks from Jammu and Kashmir, inscribed stoneware from Tamil Nadu, leather work from Andhra Pradesh, and Tagore's poems weaved on cloth, among others.

Some artists have created special items for retail at the exhibition, so visitors can take a bit of their experience back home. There are shawls, jewellery, cushion covers, miniature kavad art pieces, dupattas, clipboards, files, and notebooks for sale at the Experimental Art Gallery.

"I made dupattas with zari motifs of Kabir's dohas," says Maqbool Hasan, an artist from Varanasi, whose family has been practicing the art for around 200 years. Artist Abdulrazak Mohmed Khatri from Gujarat has put up calligraphy printed with natural colours on cotton sheets. Vijendra Bharti from Jaipur has made miniature paintings with stone colours and gold foil, some on old post cards as well. For the exhibition, however, he created an ambitious wooden divider with Kabir's couplets, "I worked 10 hours a day for a month and a half," he says.

The interactive aspect of the exhibition at Open Palm Court Gallery is a film combining calligraphy and choreography. They have also released a book, written by Jaya Jaitly and Subrata Bhowmick, which not only catalogues the exhibition, but also shows calligraphy in open spaces - painted on walls as advertisements or on film posters.
 

The Times of India, 17th September 2012

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Delhi: ASI to examine antiquity factor of Quran copy worth R 1cr

Pulled up by a court here, the Delhi Police has requested the Archaeological Survey of India to determine the antiquity factor of a copy of the Quran seized from a man who tried to sell it for Rs 1 crore.

In a report filed before the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Manish Yaduvanshi said, Delhi Police said it has requested ASI to determine how old was the Quran.

"Investigation officer informs that request has been made to ASI to re-examine the seized holy Quran regarding its age," the court noted.

The judge, however, pointed out that the report does not mention how much time will it take for further probe to ascertain if the book has been in existence for more than 75 years and if it has any literary or aesthetic value.

The report was filed by Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime, in pursuance of the court's earlier order by which it had pulled up the cops for first seizing the scripture and getting it deposited with the National Archives of India (NAI) on court's order saying it was an antique piece, and later seeking its release saying it is not an antique as it is not more than 100 years old.

"The Investigating Officer (IO) seems to have hastily arrived at the conclusion that since the holy Quran is not more than 100 years old, it is not covered under the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972, and therefore, no offence (is made out)," the court had then said.

The case involving the holy book dated back to July 6, 2011, when the Crime Branch got a tip off that old Delhi resident Azaz Ahmed Shakil would be selling his antique piece of Quran for Rs 1 crore to a person at Rajghat.
 

The Pioneer, 17th September 2012

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Heritage by laws for city in a year

The Intach Delhi Chapter has sent a proposal to Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that it will prepare all heritage bylaws for the 174 centrally-protected monuments in the city within a year. National Monuments Authority (NMA) can't decide on applications for no-objection certificates for many projects till these bylaws are ready, sources said.

ASI is yet to respond to the proposal, but sources in India National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) said they had unofficially begun the work for monuments like Agrasen ki Baoli and Humayun's Tomb.

"First, ASI has to approve the bylaws prepared by Intach for 13 typologies of ASI monuments across the country. These cover about 50 monuments in total across all types of situations like urban/rurual settings, living monuments etc. Once approved, these will serve as case studies while preparing bylaws for all other monuments," said an official. Intach is likely to submit its report for the 13 typologies to ASI by the end of this month.

Many projects in the city, especially large public projects like Delhi Metro's heritage line or the K G Marg parking, are waiting for an NOC from NMA. Sources said a final decision on these projects would largely depend on the bylaws. "An entire process has to be followed. First, ASI has to sign an agreement with Intach to make bylaws for all 174 monuments. Then the bylaws prepared by Intach have to approved by ASI and sent to NMA for notification," said an official. While NMA has given clearances to few projects on a case-to-case basis, officials said larger projects would require more time to be cleared and could largely depend on the heritage bylaws.

In Delhi, the bylaws for Sher Shah Gate and Khairul Manzil have been prepared on a priority basis and are pending notification. The bylaws for monuments like Begumpuri Masjid and Bijai Mandal have also been drafted and are part of the 13 typologies identified by ASI and Intach. These are yet to get ASI's clearance.
 

The Times of India, 17th September 2012

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For coal blocks, Chhattisgarh dropped elephant reserve plan

On June 4, 2008, Arvind Jain, chairman of CII Chhattisgarh, wrote a letter to the divisional forest officer, Korba, saying that since coal blocks of a few companies fell in the area of a proposed elephant reserve in the district, “the reserve should be shifted to some other location”. The companies, Jain mentioned, included JLD Yavatmal Energy Ltd of Nagpur-based Dardas, now named in a CBI FIR in coal block allocations.

Subsequently, the state government decided to drop the 450 sq km proposed reserve in Lemru, Korba district, without informing the Centre even though it had already received clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests for the reserve on October 5, 2007.

North Chhattisgarh has a substantial elephant population in Jashpur, Surguja, Raigarh and Korba districts, which also have rich coal blocks. Leaders from both the BJP government and Congress have been seeking protection of elephants in the region. The then CII chairman’s letter said that the since proposed elephant reserve will “block at least 40 million tonnes of coal production per annum in future”, it may be shifted to some other location.

Defending the move to drop the Lemru reserve, the Chhattisgarh government says it hadn’t notified setting it up till Jain sent the letter and hence there was no question of scrapping it. “An elephant reserve in Lemru was just an initial concept. The state government had already proposed to strengthen three traditional elephant habitats in the state — Badalkhol, Tamarpingla, Semarsot. These had to be declared as elephant reserves and the area in between as habitat management corridor. The government did not find a reserve in Lemru feasible as then the total area under elephant reserves would have become too big and unmanageable, affecting hundreds of villages,” government spokesperson N Baijendra Kumar told The Indian Express.

Asked whether the government had given in to CII demands, he said: “Anybody has the right to make demands. We decided against Lemru as it was found non-feasible. It had nothing to do with coal blocks or companies.”

Arvind Jain’s letter to the divisional forest officer, Korba, said four blocks —- Nakia, Seyang, Fatehpur and Fatehpur East —- fell within the 10 km radius of the proposed sanctuary. Of these Syang block had been allotted to AES Chhattisgarh Energy Pvt Ltd, Nakia to Chhattisgarh Captive Coal Mines Pvt Ltd, a consortium of five companies, Fatehpur to SKS Ispat and Power Ltd and Prakash Industries Ltd, and Fatehpur East to Visa Power Ltd, JLD Yavatmal Energy Ltd, Green Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, RKM Powergen Ltd and Vandana Vidyut Energy Ltd.

Incidentally, when Nakia coal block was allotted to Chhattisgarh Captive Coal Mines Pvt Ltd, K K Shrivastava was director (Personnel) of South Eastern Coal Fields Ltd, a subsidiary of Coal India Limited under Ministry of Coal. He would have sat in for a meeting of the screening committee at the Centre on the allocation. After retirement, Srivastava took over as CEO in Chhattisgarh Captive Coal Mines Ltd.

Contrary to its claims now of Lemru having been “non-feasible”, the Chhattisgarh government had laid out its benefits while seeking the reserve a few years earlier. In April 2005, then principal secretary (Forest) P Joy Ommen had written to the Centre for creation of an elephant reserve saying Chhattisgarh had around 100 elephants and in the absence of a proper zone, man-animal conflicts were on the rise. He had also mentioned “a resolution passed by the state Assembly” seeking a reserve in Korba.

In October 2007, Chhattisgarh received a letter from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests approving Lemru for the reserve. Subsequently, on November 6, the principal chief conservator of forests wrote to the forest conservator, Bilaspur/Surguja circle, to take necessary steps for notification of the reserves. The letter read “Lemru (Korba), Badalkhol (Jashpur), Tamorpingla (Surguja) are under elephant reserves” and unless the elephant corridor links all these areas, “it will not be effective”. Lemru was clearly considered an integral part of the elephant corridor.

“We talk of sustainable development, but do nothing. Lemru was part of a no-go area in Korba, still given to companies,” said noted activist Sudeip Srivastava.

Interestingly, the state did not inform the Centre about its Lemru reserve move. So on July 29, 2009, replying to a question in the Lok Sabha, Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said the Centre had granted permission to create two elephant reserves in Lemru and Badalkhol Manora-Tamarpingla in Chhattisgarh — nine days after the former had been scrapped.
 

The Indian Express, 18th September 2012

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Scapes that time forgot

A lovely exhibition at Delhi Art Gallery takes us through the pre and post-colonial history of this country through paints. By Shana Maria Verghis

There’s a considerably large body of work on landscape art by Indians, dating back as early as the latter part of the 18th century. Though he better known names only emerged in the latter part of the 19th century.

Some of its been shown at the ongoing Indian Landscapes, The Changing Horizon, exhibition in Dehi Art Gallery. This will be on till September 29. Nightscapes, costumes, architecture, flora and fauna from another age, have all been captured for posterity.‘ From times when Indians have few visual records to imagine their past, through the eyes of one of their own kind.

People might be familiar with early colonial artists like William Hodges. And the Danielles, after whom the Tavern at the Imperial Hotel is named.

Or a Robert Grindlayz, a soldier, who went on to found Grindlays Bank.

But there are many Indians who painted landscapes in that age.

Like Sujatha Kejriwal. Sen was hugely influenced by Nicholas Roerich. (DAG had some Roerichs, but Kishore Singh, who curated this show rued the fact that they were all sold).

AndKejirwal was one of the few women landscape artists. The reason being, Singh hazards a guess, “that because of social norms like purdah, they were rarely allowed outside the four walls of their home or courtyard.”

Till the Company School of Artists came to the country, Indian artists were mainly doing miniatures.
The British (pre-dating them were some Dutch artists, but the gallery did not have much information on them), were initially painting for their leiges. Or the local British rich people. And when the East India Company came into the picture, the Company School became their propoganda tool to advertise the might of Empire.

As local artists faced competition from the foreigners, it is suggested that they quickly adapted to new techniques like watercolour and oil, and even the topics they chose were similar, though somewhat bizarre. As one perspective of steps beside a river bank by a nameless Indian artist suggests. And some of the landscapes by Indians “had no source of light,” Singh pointed out. Moreover they were also usually painting for rich rulers, who would have been, in turn aping the colonisers.

The exhibition is also a historical chronicle, because landscape art fell out of favour over a century ago.

Mainly because of the development of photography.

The Gallery, which usually brings out extensive research material to accompany their shows, has done the same this time. There are examples of works of the modernists, and people like Kishore Khan who later migrated to Lahore in Pakistan.

The earlier Indian landscapes, (we’re talking late 19th and early 20th century), belonged to groups like the Bombay Art Society, and the tradition them was to give medals to those who did particular kinds of work. Initially these were influenced by the colonisers. So if landscapes were the ‘thing’ if them, such was the case with Indian artists. There was a lot of sucking up going on, but in the post-landscape period, cronyism continues to dog the politics of art.

The contemporary Indian artists, include Manu Parekh, known for his Banaras series. A subject that engrossed him for years. Ram Kumar, Raza, Souza, Akbar Padamsee and others also fit in with occasional images of rural and urban scenes, like Bikash Bhattacharya’s Kolkata scapes.

“Landscapes are not fashionable any longer, so you don’t find most of the major artists doing them today,”explained Singh, adding that, “Paramjit Singh is one of the rare few who still does.”

Some of the artists specialised in seascapes. But the show does not have too many. Apart from aquatints by a handful of British artists, made available through a slide show, the other special treat is a 70mt something scroll.

It’s by an Indian artists and is a long story on people that begins with nature, forests and animals, then winds up with festivals and people. Community life is beautifully conveyed, and after this, there is more nature.

Several of the Indian canvases depict pilgrimage spots. And perspectives of historical monuments. The earlier work is cruder, and imitationary.

But the latter is stronger, and even has a sense of pride. This might have to do with the sense of nationalism that was sweeping the country, pre-Independence.

And with that the landscape artists from Indian could reclaim their land from the people who had tried to stamp their own impression on it. However these are readings that one does between the line. As some art student, or follower of art schools might.

But if nothing else, the exhibition does hold a candle to an important period. And its captured in some kind of chronological order in the books. Though the randomness of the show, might make the history behind it more confusing to understand.

However its worth it just to wade through the books, which they have kept nearby on a table. And believe us it won’t be the least waste of time at all. This is a must see.
 

The Pioneer, 18th September 2012

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Of Mughals, masjids and MLAs

A politician’s demand to revive the Akbarabadi Mosque is the latest in a series of instances of using Islamic historical sites to assert religion in public space. For instance, Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays to facilitate namaaz

Do not be surprised if Shoaib Iqbal, the Lok Janashakti Party MLA from Matia Mahal, soon asks for the revival of Masjid Kashmiri Katra, sufi shrine of Sheikh Kalimullah Jahanabadi, the imambara built by Maulavi Muhammed Baqar etc. in addition to persisting on his demand about reviving Akbarabadi Mosque.

Mr Iqbal just needs to go through the letters of poet Mirza Ghalib, who rued the post-1857 restructuring of Delhi’s walled city by the British. The restructuring included the demolition of not merely religious building but residential edifices and urban landmarks as well. These included Sadat Khan ka katra, the haveli of Mubarak Begum and the haveli of Sahib Ram.

The magnificent palaces of the nawabs of Jhajjar, Bahadurgarh and Farrukhnagar as well as that of the Raja of Ballabhgarh, who was hanged for his role in the uprising, were also grounded. The caravanserai of Shah Jahan’s daughter, Jehan Ara was demolished and the Town Hall was built in its place. William Dalrymple mentions these demolitions in his critically acclaimed book, The Last Mughal — The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 (page 257)

I was about to dismiss the Akbarabadi Mosque as a myth, when the Dalrymple reference made me revise my opinion. I immediately e-mailed the author asking for his opinion on Shoaib Iqbal’s demand.

Prompt as ever, Mr Dalrymple replied that he was not aware of the chanced discovery of alleged ruins of Akbarabadi Mosque (by Delhi Metro Railway Corporation Limited). But with the mosque being clearly marked in pre-Mutiny maps of Delhi, it would not be difficult to test Mr Iqbal’s claim. He referred to the ‘Map of 19th century Shahjahanabad’ published by Ehlers & Krafft.

I found Ehler & Krafft distinctively mention about the Akbarabadi mosque built by Nawab Akbarabadi Begum. It lay to the west of a square (chowk) in Faiz Bazar (possibly now called Faiz Bazaar Nukkad).

Shahjahanabad rested on two boulevards, which were the two axis of the city. The larger one was Chandni Chowk running from Lahore Gate to Fatehpuri Mosque. The other was Faiz Bazar running north-south from Akbarabadi Gate of the fort to Delhi Gate. The square (chowk) at the northern end of Faiz Bazaar was 160 yards long and 60 yards wide and had a pool and fountain in the centre.

Whether the discovered ruins belong to that of the Akbarabadi Mosque, remains to be established. The Archaeological Survey of India is the best agency to handle the task. It may consult both pro-mosque and anti-mosque parties. But the studied silence of Imams of Jama Masjid and Fatehpuri Masjid show that Akbarabadi Mosque is a personal agenda of the Lok Janashakti Party MLA from Matia Mahal.

Hardly have any Muslim scholars joined the issue. In the case, now sub judice in the Delhi High Court, the Hindu Mahasabha has produced an authenticated map of the Walled City prepared by the British Military Intelligence after the recapture of Delhi in September, 1857. The highly detailed map reportedly shows no mosque at the place corresponding to where DMRC made the discovery.
Mr Iqbal’s theory that Akbarabadi Mosque was destroyed as a punitive measure for being the hub of 1857 uprising need to be taken with a pinch of salt. By all accounts of the Mutiny, the historic Jama Masjid was the hub of the anti-British mujahideen consolidation.

As per Munshi Jiwan Lall’s diary, a vital document on the Mutiny, it was in Delhi on May 19, 1857, that the banner of jihad was raised by the Muslims in the Jama Masjid. On May 20, 1857, Maulvi Mohamed Said met the king Bahadur Shah-II ‘Zafar’ and informed that the standard of jihad had been unfurled to inflame the minds of Muslims. Zafar opined that jihad was impossible, besides being impractical, because a bulk of the Purbeah rebel soldiers were Hindus and fully armed.

At any rate, it was patently illegal for the Matia Mahal MLA to impose an unauthorised structure near the site. It might at best be called the Shoaib Iqbal mosque and not Akbarabadi Mosque — a compliment the sitting MLA may not publicly prefer. The move apparently stems, not from any love of history of Shahjahanabad, but from an agenda to strew India more and more with Islamic sites.

This is reflected in the growing trend of performing namaaz at ASI-protected monuments. It’s an oddity to perform namaaz before a mausoleum like Taj Mahal and Safdarjung’s Tomb. But for the last one decade the ritual Friday prayers are being performed in front of the Taj Mahal.

While until 1990s, entry used to be free on Friday, it now remains closed on that date to accommodate the namaazis. In 2005, there was a strong demand to declare the Taj as a Wakf property. It has less to do with history and more to do with Islamic assertiveness.

It will be interesting to know if Mr Iqbal applies the same standard to scores of Hindu temples demolished by the Muslim invaders.
 

The Hindustan Times, 18th September 2012

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Clean river bed, green tribunal tells UP

Six months after it directed Delhi and UP governments to stop dumping solid waste on the Yamuna river bed, the National Green Tribunal on Monday issued fresh instructions to the UP irrigation department to immediately remove all the debris from the river bank.

The order, issued by a bench of expert member Dr G K Pandey and acting chairperson Justice AS Naidu, has asked the irrigation department to "remove all the debris lying in the banks of Yamuna, within their jurisdiction, irrespective of the fact as to who has dumped it, more so because presence of debris in the locality not only causes pollution but is also hazardous to river eco-system and flow of water".

The NGT order has given seven days to the ministry of environment and forest, Delhi government, DDA, DPCC, and Yamuna River Development Authority (YRDA) and the irrigation department to stop encroachment and dumping of solid waste on the riverbed.

"Dumping of debris has more or less stopped after the order, but authorities were not clearing the mess. In fact, UP irrigation department said that the debris has not been removed so far due to the monsoon," said Manoj Misra, the petitioner.

The land in question, where tonnes of construction debris have been lying for the past several months, falls within the geographical boundary of Delhi but is owned by the UP irrigation department.

"We saw massive debris deposition along the Yamuna Pushta near Geeta Colony in the latter part of 2011. We wrote to the LG and YRDA to take action. The LG also wrote to agencies concerned and issued orders to DDA, PWD, irrigation and flood control and other civic agencies to ensure that no waste was dumped on the river bed but the agencies failed to react. Some measures to prevent trucks from entering the area were taken, but they were inadequate," said Misra.

While DDA had said that it would not be able to clean the area since the land belonged to the UP irrigation department. The latter had said that it would wait for the UP elections to get over. Now, it is waiting for the monsoon to end.
 

The Times of India, 18th September 2012

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The French Connection

Delhi-based artist and photographer Sunil Gupta’s body of work called “Sun City” — which is inspired by French film La Jetee — is the latest entrant to the ongoing Francophonie Week at Alliance Francaise de Delhi. The 25 works displayed in the form of an exhibition called “Sun City and Other Stories”, include 16 works from “Sun City”, which is a pictorial narrative that takes off from the nuclear apocalypse scenario of the original film, replacing it by the real and ongoing “holocaust” of HIV/AIDS. The work was commissioned in 2010 by Centre Pompidou in Paris and was on display there last year as a part of Franco-Indian collaboration called ‘Paris-Delhi-Bombay’. “It is due to this French connection that I decided to bring this body of work to this event,” says Gupta, adding, “There are three stories though. Apart from these 16 works, I have brought selected works from “Mr Malhotra’s Party” (2007) and “Heaven in Earth” — a series about Japan.”

“Mr Malhotra’s Party” is a series of portraits of, what he calls, “real people” in Delhi who identify themselves as “queer”. The whole series of 25 works on display, however, conveys a unifying theme. “It depicts three different ways to look at the idea of narrative stories,” concludes Gupta.

The exhibition is on from March 24 to April 15 at Galerie Romain Rolland, Alliance Française de Delhi

The Indian Express, 19th September 2012

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Slam dunk in Ajmal Khan Park, in the comfort of an AC stadium

The North Municipal Corporation has decided to revive a stalled project to build a modern indoor basketball stadium in Ajmal Khan Park, where the dilapidated 40-year-old Master Prithvinath outdoor basketball court was located.

Ravinder Gupta, Works Committee Chairman of the corporation, said a budget of Rs 8.5 crore has been set aside for the stadium, which will meet international standards and set the ball rolling for a professional league that is in the works for some time.

“There was an outdoor court with stands in Ajmal Khan Park. It was a dilapidated stadium. The municipal corporation decided to build a modern stadium there and the foundation was laid in 2008. But construction was stopped in 2009 after an NGO filed a petition in the Delhi High Court, saying the AC plant in the proposed indoor stadium will harm the environment in and around the park,” Gupta said.

“But in 2010, the Supreme court ruled in favour of the stadium. We had to draw our plans afresh and allocate money for the stadium,” he said. Work would now begin in the next three months, the councillor said.

Officials said there would be seats for 2,000 spectators in the centrally air-conditioned, 28-foot high stadium — to be built in an area of 1,500 square metres.

“It will have changing rooms with modern gadgets, 10 restrooms for players, a modern gym for the players to work out before matches and a row of toilets with auto-flush for spectators,” Gupta said.

Officials said work would begin once the budget for installing the power lines and electronics is fixed.

The North corporation has also drawn up plans to build a gymnasium and swimming pool at a primary school in Shalimar Bagh with a budget of approximately Rs 2 crore.
 

The Indian Express, 19th September 2012

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Delhi to get another bridge across river Yamuna

The fast expanding boundaries of the capital city and rapidly increasing number of vehicles has made public works department (PWD) to plan yet another bridge across the river Yamuna.

The new bridge, said PWD engineers, is being planned in northern most part of the city where people have to drive 25-30 kilometres to reach the other side of the river.

The PWD has appointed a consultant to carry out a feasibility study for the proposed bridge. The consultant, said an engineer, would carry out the traffic survey and feasibility studies of the bridge.

According to a senior PWD engineer, the new bridge is being planned between Karawal Nagar in north east Delhi and Alipur in north Delhi.

The bridge, said engineers, would come up several kilometres upstream the Wazirabad bridge, which is the only bridge that provides connectivity between north Delhi and north east Delhi.

"Delhi city is geographically divided into two parts by the river Yamuna. There are very limited number of bridges over the Yamuna while the corresponding traffic is too high. There is an urgent need to increase the number of bridges for a better interlink between the two sides of the river especially towards the northern part of the city," a senior PWD engineer said.

There are currently eight bridges on the Yamuna—Wazriabad, Shastri Park, Old Bridge, Geeta Colony, ITO, Nizamuddin, DND and Kalindi Kunj. While the construction of Signature Bridge just adjacent to Wazirabad Bridge is going on, the Noida Authority is planning a bridge parallel to the Okhla Barrage. All the bridges, said officials, carry more vehicles than the capacity.

PWD engineers said the construction of a bridge between Alipur and Karawal nagar would facilitate traffic that moves between Haryana and UP.

A large number of commercial vehicles from Haryana enter Delhi through Singh Border on their way to UP and pass through GT Karnal Road, outer Ring Road, Wazirabad and Bhajanpura, thus putting a lot of pressure on Wazirabad Bridge.
 

The Hindustan Times, 19th September 2012

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Heritage experts question utility of KG Marg parking

Heritage and transport experts have raised questions about the utility of the multi-level parking project near Kasturba Gandhi Marg, pending for over two years, and also warned about the depleting water table in the area, which lies near the Ugrasen ki Baoli. The National Monument Authority (NMA) has asked the private concessionaire to get a heritage impact assessment done for the project as it falls within the regulated area (101-300 metres) of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)-protected baoli, a traditional water harvesting system.

Heritage experts pointed out that the water table in the area has continuously decreased over the decades, especially in the past 20 years due to several big-ticket infrastructure projects in the area.
Yet another project in the catchment area of the baoli will further create problems, they said.

Recalling the time during late 1960s and early ’70s when sub-surface water had to be pumped out from several areas under New Delhi Municipal Council, AK Jain, a heritage expert and author of the book Lutyen’s Delhi said, “There is a need for a comprehensive study of such projects on ground water.”

The baoli needs to be restored and revived, Jain said adding, “In present conditions, rainwater does not reach it anymore. The entire catchment is concretised."

Traffic and transport experts said that in view of the fact that other multi-level parking projects near Connaught Place remain highly underutilised, the need is to objectively think whether or not another such project is needed.

PK Sarkar, transport expert from the School of Planning and Architecture said, "There is the state government policy of promotion of mass public transport. In view of the holistic scenario vis-à-vis the emergence of Rajiv Chowk metro station as a major hub to reach Connaught Place, we may not need large scale parking projects."

Sarkar said that the multi-level parking, if at all it comes up, may pose problems for disbursal of vehicles as the approach roads are too narrow.

In the meanwhile, since the work was stopped after March 2010 amendment in the archaeological act, officials of the DSC Ltd, the private concessionaire, said, they got in touch with conservation NGO INTACH.

"INTACH told us that the heritage bye-laws for the Baoli will take care of the issue and there is no need for heritage impact assessment," DSC officials said.

However, a senior NMA official countered, "INTACH is preparing heritage byelaws but it cannot decide if this report is needed or not. We have not yet heard from the private party."

Archeological rule
Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 2010 bans any new construction within 0-100 metres (prohibited area) of a centrally protected monument and puts several restrictions on construction within 101-300 metres (regulated area).
 

The Hindustan Times, 19th September 2012

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DIAL, Govt lock horns on Nilgais straying

The issue of blue bulls straying on the Delhi airport premises has become a ‘sticking point’ between Delhi Government and the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL).

While the airport operator has claimed that the straying of these protected animals on the roads connecting the airport has posed hazards to the commuters, the Government has sought detailed explanations as the operator was unable to establish its claims.

Sources informed that the matter was discussed at a high level meeting chaired by the Secretary of the Environment Department, Delhi Government on September 18, in which the private operator of IGI was asked to furnish details establishing their claim. “The DIAL had asserted that the blue bulls trespassing in the airport premises are a cause of concern and can lead to mishaps. However, the company was unable to furnish details on the incidents resulted due to the supposed straying of these animal on the roads connecting the airport. To validate the claims, the Forest Department has been asked to conduct its own survey on the airport’s premises,” said a senior Delhi Government official.

“They claim that due to Nilgai starying on the roads leading to the IGI Airport, they had no records of any mishaps caused due to wandering of these animals. The meeting was unable to reach a conclusion and the decision in the matter can be taken once the survey of the area is completed,” added the official.

Sources inform that the airport operator has sought assistance from the Delhi Government as it has no experience in tackling the problem. Blue bulls, which are in plenty in the adjacent ridge areas, somehow gain entry to the peripheral areas of the airport.

However when contacted, DIAL denied any instance of hampering of operations due to straying of these animals. “IGIA is equipped with the best in Class 4 level PIDS which includes eight feet walls made of reinforced cement concrete topped with 1.5 feet of razor type barb wire. Thanks to this impenetrable boundary wall, no Nilgai (or for that matter any other large animal) has ever been sighted or apprehended in any of the operational areas,” said a DIAL spokesperson. Blue bull is a protected animal under the wild life Act, so shooting it is prohibited.
 

The Pioneer, 20th September 2012

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Papyrus claim is exciting, says scholar

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife ...’” The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side — in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple”.

The finding was made public in Rome at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by the historian Karen L. King, who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.

The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, Ms. King had shown the fragment to only a small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics, who concluded that it is most likely not a forgery. But she and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions.

Ms. King gave an interview and showed the papyrus fragment, encased in glass, to reporters from The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Harvard Magazine in her garret office in the tower at Harvard Divinity School last Thursday.

She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

But the discovery is exciting, said Ms. King, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.

“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” Ms. King said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”

Ms. King first learnt about what she calls “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” when she received an email in 2010 from a private collector who asked her to translate it. Ms. King (58) specialises in Coptic literature, and has written books on “the Gospel of Judas”, “the Gospel of Mary of Magdala”, “Gnosticism and women in antiquity”.

The owner took the fragment to the Divinity School in December 2011 and left it with Ms. King. In March, she carried the fragment in her red handbag to New York to show it to two colleagues, both papyrologists: Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, at New York University, and AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University.

They examined the scrap under sharp magnification. It was very small — only four by eight centimetres. The lettering was splotchy and uneven, the hand of an amateur, but not unusual for the time period, when many Christians were poor and persecuted.

It was written in Coptic — an Egyptian language that uses Greek characters — and more precisely, in Sahidic Coptic — a dialect from southern Egypt, Ms. Luijendijk said in an interview.

What convinced them it was probably genuine was the fading of the ink on the papyrus fibres, and traces of ink adhered to the bent fibres at the torn edges. The back side is so faint that only five words are visible, one only partly: “my moth [[er]]”, “three”, “forth which”.

“It would be impossible to forge,” said Ms. Luijendijk, who contributed to Ms. King’s paper. Mr. Bagnall reasoned that a forger would have had to be expert in Coptic grammar, handwriting and ideas. — New York Times News Service
 

The Hindu, 20th September 2012

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Elegant tombs, unkempt greens

While Allahabad’s sprawling Khusrau Bagh stands as a shadow of its eventful past, there is an attempt being made to convert it into a National Eco-Knowledge Park

To prove that their amazing escapade in Kafiristan was true, Peachey shows Rudyard Kipling, who was seated in his Pioneer newspaper office in Allahabad, his friend Dravot’s head, still wearing the golden crown.

This epic scene based on Kipling’s audacious novella The Man Who Would Be King fairly evokes the tragedy of Khusrau Mirza.

Like Dravot, Khusrau, the eldest son of Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) and the grandson of Emperor Akbar was the man who would be the king. However, fate meant that he died young, isolated to an insignificant corner of history.

Distraught over Salim’s indulgence in wine and opium, Akbar had considered the unlikely option of entrusting the amiable Khusrau with his throne. And when Prince Salim revolted and started holding court in Allahabad in 1599, Khusrau was driven into an incongruous conflict with his father to be Akbar's successor.

Soon after and shortly before Akbar’s death, Salim was made Emperor and Khusrau was placed under strict surveillance at Agra. He escaped from there with 350 horsemen, eventually to be captured on April 27, 1606.

In his biography, Jahangir notes: “Kingship regards neither son nor son-in-law. No one is a relation to a king.” Following a futile attempt to escape, Khusrau was blinded, consequently disqualifying him from the throne. He was then transferred to the custody of Asaf Khan, brother of Nur Jahan and father-in-law of Prince Khurram (later Emperor Shah Jahan), the third son of Jahangir. In 1622, Khurram had Khusrau killed.

His body was brought to Allahabad and placed in a sandstone tomb, in a large quadrangle garden — Khusrau Bagh, enclosed by a high masonry wall and a labyrinth of evergreens.

Two other tombs were later built — one belonging to his mother Shah Begum, while the other was made at the instructions of his sister Nithar Begum, but never to be used as a cenotaph.

At first sight, the three tombs appear identical. But after readjusting your lenses, you will observe the major and minor differences, and that flawless Mughal symmetry.

A Hindu princess, Shah Begum (originally Man Bai), was the daughter of Raja Bhagvan Das of Amber. Troubled by the bitterness between Salim and Khusrau, she committed suicide by swallowing tiryaq (opium). Her tomb, designed in 1606 by Jahangir’s chief artist Aqa Reza, has a three-storied terrace plinth but is without a main mound. Experts have compared it to the construction in Fatehpur Sikri.

The Begum’s cenotaph stands under a large chahtri, which is surmounted on the plinth. The floral Arabesque inscriptions on the tomb were carved by Jahangir's greatest calligrapher Mir Abdullah Mushkin Qalam.

Next to her tomb is Nithar’s tomb, architecturally the most elaborate and vivid among the three. It stands on a high platform, adorned with panels containing a scalloped arch motif. Inside the plinth, there is a small room whose ceiling is painted vividly with stars arranged in concentric circles. This decoration is repeated on the ceiling of the central room while the walls are painted with Persian cypress style plants and flowers.

The third in line and relegated to a corner is the tomb of Khusrau himself. The mausoleum has some high quality fretwork windows. The tomb of his mare gives him company.

Apart from the elegant tombs, the bagh is lacking in the grandeur one would associate with a Mughal garden. The greens outside the tomb area look no better than unkempt hair on an anxious head. The tall palm trees do little to fill that void. This can be attributed, to some extent, to the low footfall as visitors prefer the livelier Chandra Shekhar Azad Park and Anand Bhavan. A spontaneous survey of the bagh revealed five types of visitors; the list is not exhaustive, however.

First are those who consider the tombs just “too pretty to let go” without clicking a portrait. The second is a clan of students, who find solace and good study atmosphere under the palm trees. The third and the least interested in architecture are couples seeking privacy in some corner of the bagh.

The fourth lot are those suffering from indolence; those for whom the large structures provide ample shade for an afternoon nap on a sultry day, especially after a good quantity of litti. The final and the largest category consist of those who confuse Khusrau with the Sufi great Amir Khusro.

And if locals are to be believed, vagabonds make up the sixth category.

Taking view of the neglect and to give the bagh a greener look, district authorities recently announced that it would plant more than 50 bottle palm saplings, among other things to convert the bagh into a National Eco-Knowledge Park.

Drip irrigation system would also be introduced to provide optimum water supply, especially since the famous Allahabadi red guava is cultivated here. While efforts are being made to improve the bagh’s appeal, its relevance in the Indian freedom movement is also not so well-known.

During the First War of Independence or the Revolt of 1857, when several battalions revolted against the British, Maulvi Liyakat Ali took over charge as the Governor of independent Allahabad and made Khusrau Bagh his headquarters. The bagh, however, was recaptured within two weeks.

As for Prince Khusrau, remove the beautiful tomb and the huge garden, and he will be just a man who was blinded by his father and killed by his brother.
 

The Hindu, 22nd September 2012

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Whose heritage

Encroachments at heritage buildings continue unabated in Delhi, even in posh colonies where people are well aware of the law of the land

The historical remains that one comes across in Delhi can broadly be divided into two categories -- those that figure on some kind of conservation list and those that do not. Some of those that are not protected, are in use traditionally as places of worship or veneration, like the temples of Jogmaya and Kalkaji, the Kalan Masjid, the Jama Masjid of Basti Hazrat Nizam-ud-Din, the Dargah of Shah Turkman Byabani and the Jama Masjid of Shahjahanabad among others. Except for the Jama Masjid, all the others in the list above have been renovated out of recognition.

One could argue that those using monuments of historical, architectural or archaeological importance should not be allowed to interfere with the appearance of these structures. But to actually put this into practice would need a protracted period of educating and sensitizing those who are in possession of these buildings. Unfortunately, it is thought that any attempt to educate those involved would be met with resistance and so things are allowed to continue as they are.

Aside from these two sets of structures, we also have structures that are not on any list. There are several lists in Delhi -- official, quasi official and non official; there is an ASI list, another list prepared by the State archaeology department and a list that the MCD has been preparing for as long as one can remember. Now with MCD trifurcated, this list too will be trifurcated, when will it ever be completed is anyone’s guess. Each one of these bodies is expected to look after the monuments that appear on its list and God takes care of those left over. There is a comprehensive list of the built heritage of Delhi brought out by INTACH, but that unfortunately has no legal status because it has not been prepared by an official body and so the list is treated more as a point of reference and not as an actionable list.

The result is that there is enough to go around for all potential encroachers. A stone pillar, covered with Quranic verses in incised plaster in a beautiful calligraphic style prevalent during the sultanate period, that had been standing guard near Andhria Mor for centuries was threatened with imminent oblivion as the DMRC began to drive its pillars close by. Here was an opportunity not to be missed, overnight a mosque sprung up around the pillar.

A sultanate period tomb was cannibalized and converted into a temple during early 1981. This did not take place in some remote corner of the city but on a very busy road -on Africa Avenue located in an open field between Mohammadpur Village and St. Thomas Church and now the dome is a full-fledged temple with its own gate and a high enclosing wall.

Opposite Qutub Minar, behind the newly sprung up Crescent Mall, in Lado Sarai, there is a largish structure, probably belonging to the Mughal period, it now houses a car garage.

A building known as Lal Mahal located within Basti Nizam-ud-Din is believed to be the former residence of Ibn-e-Batuta, who stayed here during 1330s when he was appointed Qazi of Delhi by Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq. That building, though damaged, stood its ground till a couple of years ago, it was supposed to be on either the state list or the MCD heritage list, no one knew which, meanwhile someone sold the building to people who began to demolish the structure to build a mosque instead. The new owner was eventually stopped when conservationists created a big campaign but by that time more than half the structure had been pulled down, meanwhile someone had made a lot of money by selling property that did not belong to him, but that is something that no longer troubles anyone’s conscience.

On a prominence inside a park opposite W block in Greater Kailash Part I there is a mediaeval dome.

The dome is sealed with crude steel doors with swastika marks soldered on each door and a large swastika and ‘OM’ stuck atop the dome, this combines with other additional detailing to make the structure look like a temple. A few kilometers away another mediaeval dome enclosed from all sides with a couple of air-conditioners fixed in its bricked up arches now houses the offices of the Defence Colony Welfare Association.

One could perhaps explain away the transgressions of those who live in Mohammadpur, Lado Sarai and Andheria more as acts committed by people who perhaps are unaware of the laws of the land or perhaps have no understanding of the value of heritage and its preservation. One could argue that this was an attempt to create a source of income and ensure survival. But how does one explain the conduct of the residents of GK I and Defence colony. They can surely afford not to encroach on heritage structures; they can surely afford to build their own temples or offices. These are people who set the parameters of civilized behavior for others, should they not take the lead in protecting the heritage of this city. It is their heritage as well.
 

The Hindu, 22nd September 2012

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Poetry in stone

Odisha’s Konark temple may not be even the shadow of what it actually was when it was constructed during the 13th century, but it still is a work where the ‘language of stone surpasses the language of man’, writes Somen Sengupta

Not even a drive of two hours from Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, will take you to the ruins of a sun temple built in 1200 AD. Despite being in a state of dilapidation, it remains a magnum opus of architecture. More than hundred years ago when Rabindranath Tagore visited this site it was still lying in debris beneath wild bush and vegetation. Still its magical composition of stone made him so captivated that Tagore wrote: “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man.”

Myth vs history
Yes we are talking about Konark, which is derived from two words: Kona means corner and Arka stands for Sun. So, the term literally means the corner of Sun beam.

Konark is more about myth than history. Mythology says that more than 5,000 years ago, Shambha was cursed by his father Krishna to suffer from leprosy. His crime was that he once entered into the pleasure chamber of his father while he was enjoying a bath with his consorts. With Shambha’s entry, young consorts were attracted to him and they all rushed towards him, leaving his aged father alone. This made Krishna angry and he cursed his son. Shambha reached the banks of Chandrabhaga and entered into a 12-year-long penance in a jungle called Mitravana to please the Sun God. Satisfied by his hardship and sacrifice, the God set him free from the curse. A day after he was cured from leprosy, while taking bath in Chandrabhaga, Shambha found an image of the Sun God made by Vishwakarma. This inspired Shambha to set up what is today known as the Konark temple.

If Abul Fazl is to be believed, the temple was built by a king belonging to the Kesri dynasty in the ninth century. Most historical documents, however, support the case of Narshima Dev I of the Ganga dynasty who built this temple between 1243 and1260 AD as mark of his victory over Bengal. At least 12,000 craftsmen worked incessantly for 12 years to give the temple its shape. One Sibai Samantaray’s name is recorded as a chief engineer of this architectural marvel. Another name, Bishu Maharana, too emerges as chief engineer.

Even after 12 years of hard work when the temple work showed no sign of getting over, the king became agitated. He issued a stipulated period of time to complete it. History says that chief architect Bishu Maharana was in deep trouble because placing of the final copping stone atop of the temple was a gargantuan task. At that time his 12-year-old son Dharmapada, who was there by chance, offered a solution. No wonder, people began talking about Dharmapada for his superior engineering skills and Bishu Maharana’s reputation came under cloud. Soon, the dead body of the young boy was found on the banks of Chandrabhaga. It is believed that he committed suicide by jumping from the top of the temple to save his father’s reputation.

The temple, however, was not destined to exist in all its grandeur for long. Soon it was lost into oblivion after a series of Muslim invasions ravaged the region. This remained the case till the beginning of the 20th century when archaeologists, backed by Lord Curzon, salvaged the temple.

REAL WONDER
The present day Konark temple is not even a shadow of its past. The original temple was gigantic. Built in accordance with the Kalinga school of Architecture, it has three parts: The Natmandir or Nritya Mandir was the first complex; the Jagmohan was the middle complex; and, the Biman or garbhagriha was the place where the deity resided. The Jagmohan of Konark, which is the only signature left today, is 120 ft tall. The Biman, which no longer exists, was no less than 227 ft tall. It was taller than the illustrious Jagannath temple in Puri.

Yet Konark remains matchless. First, constructing a gargantuan temple in the shape of a colossal chariot with 24 wheels and pulled by seven horses is a breakthrough idea. We have seen many Sun temples in various places but nowhere such an epoch-making creativity was showcased.

Again, the 24 wheels and seven horses were related to the Sun God. The seven horses are nothing but the seven days of a week while 24 wheels represent 24 hours of a day. Each of the stone wheels has one hub and eight spokes which are eight prahar of a single day. Even on each spoke various human activities are soulfully depicted — from showcasing a royal woman waking up from bed at the break of dawn to her aggressive sexual activity with her lover in the midnight.

There are nearly 2,000 figures
of elephants decorating the entire Jagmohan. The incalculable numbers of humans, horses, elephants, birds and geometrical designs reflect the carnival of life. Once no less than 22 subsidiary temples existed around the main temple. Of these, only two are still remaining — Vaishnava temple and Mayadevi temple. Mayadevi is one of the wives of the Sun God as per Hindu mythology.

On the main entrance just before of the Natmandir exist two huge lion statues along with dead elephants. It symbolises the dominance of Hinduism over Buddhism as lion and elephants are the symbols of Hinduism and Buddhism respectively. The entrance gates of the Natmandir was built in such a way that the first ray of Sun at the break of dawn passes through its gate and hits a diamond placed in central complex. This way the idol placed there used to get illuminated every morning. The impact used to last for a few moments.

LOST AND FOUND
In 1806, the Marine Board first suggested salvaging this temple from complete destruction. The suggestion was not taken seriously by the East India Company considering huge cost involved in it. However, the Magistrate of Cuttack put a ban on the removal of stone from the site. But the loot continued. At that point of time the king of Khurda took away many slabs and statues from its wall to decorate his own palace. His laborers used to throw slabs from the top of the temple and many masterpieces were destroyed forever. The stupid king destroyed three gates of this temple.

Historical records tell us that the height of the main tower started reducing with each passing year. The height of the main tower recorded in 1837 by historian James Fergusson is lesser than the one recorded in 1825. It again got reduced by 1838 and a storm in 1848 did an immense harm to it. Except the middle part, known as Jagmohan, the entire temple with its 227-ft Biman was destroyed by 1869.

In 1901, the Bengal circle of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) took a project to salvage Konark. It was none other than Lord Curzon who took personal initiative to save this wonder. By the end of 1905 Mukshashala and Natmandir were repaired. In 1906 plantation of trees towards the sea was completed to minimise the impact of sea wind. By removing sand the Mayadevi temple was unearthed in 1909. Till 1939 the restoration work was done by PWD under the supervision of ASI. From 1939 onwards ASI undertook complete responsibility of the temple.

The temple is now a part of UNESCO’s world heritage site. Although ASI has done an outstanding job to protect this temple, nature is taking its toll on it. Sea winds are gradually causing erosion on its oxidised sandstones. So before it is too late let your eyes witness the wonder called Konark.
 

The Pioneer, 23rd September 2012

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Wetland wonderland

Subjected to plunder and deforestation for years, people are finally waking up to the role mangrove forests play in containing erosion, de-polluting air and maintaining a healthy marine ecology

Just as the Olympics are conducted once in four years, environmentalists across the globe also hold their mega meeting once in four years. While the more dramatic Olympics grab headlines, the ‘green guys’ do not get any publicity on that scale, even though the proceedings on natural science directly impacts all living creatures, including mankind. This year, the World Conservation Congress was held in Korea in the quest to use nature for resolving the growing list of economic and social issues. Conducted by IUCN — International Union for Conservation of Nature, from September 1 to 15, its agenda was to find pragmatic solutions to environmental and developmental challenges in the world.

One of the major decisions taken in the congress was to prepare the Red List of Ecosystems that will harmonise the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and other IUCN knowledge products. When used together, ecosystem and species red lists will provide the most informative indicator of the status of biological diversity at national and global levels. Also in focus are the sensitive mangrove ecosystems which are unique but underrated and one of the least considered of all the ecologically niches until the world shattering tsunamis of 2004 and 2011 happened. Thankfully, mangroves are now credited for taming the tides against tempests and safeguarding valuable wildlife and sensitive shorelines.

Mangroves are unique jungles and one of the most productive wetlands on earth. Yet, these coastal tropical forests are among the most threatened habitats. They may be disappearing faster than tropical rainforests, and so far, with little public notice.

Lavishly growing in the inter-tidal areas and river mouths between land and sea, mangroves provide critical habitat for a diverse marine and terrestrial flora and fauna. Healthy mangrove forests are key to a healthy marine ecology and wildlife that thrives in this breathtaking wonderland. Endowed with 7517 km long coastline, the Indian subcontinent is rich in mangrove forests, but it is being ruthlessly plundered.

However, management of mangroves in India is also slowly picking up, especially in the west coast, on the east coast and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. According to the government in 1987, India lost 40 per cent of its mangrove area in the last century. Rapid industrialisation, pollution and increasing population has resulted in degradation of mangroves. Even though legal protection exists to protect this ecosystem under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, are the people actually aware of this?

Very few citizens are responsive to mangrove forests and even fewer have ever seen them. Even those who have seen them will not appreciate their splendour at face value, until the nuances are explained.

On a visit to Andaman Islands, just before the 2004 tsunami, mangroves skirted the islands but nobody spoke of the greenery. We were only told of the beautiful beaches and blue lagoons. Nevertheless, on my more recent visit to Sundarbans in West Bengal, the forest that lies snugly in the vast delta on the Bay of Bengal, there seems to be more respect for this remarkable jungle of undergrowth. Formed by the confluence of many rivers, the Sundarbans is often flooded with a mixture of freshwater and seawater. The interplay of low tide and high tide is one of the miracles of mangroves where tiny islands are created everyday and vanish the next day. It is rated as the most dynamic and dramatic landscape on earth.

The Sundarbans mangrove covers 10,000 sq km

f which about 6,000 sq km is in Bangladesh and rest in India. Due to its vital wealth and statistics, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

This exceptional water world is an amalgamation of creeks, canals and serpentine rivers of varying width from a few meters to several km.

Travelling in a watercraft for two full days from sun up to sundown and gazing at the amazing maze of jungles made me dizzy. The wealth of vegetation was so astounding, that even my two decades of nature watching did not help me recognise even a single species of plant. I was merrily shooting to capture flora and fauna specially adapted to this unique landscape as visual documentary.

Hemant Karkhanis of Godrej Marine Ecology Centre from Bombay says that mangroves not only act as buffer zones between the land and sea but also protect the golden sands from constant erosion.

They are perfect breeding and nursery grounds for a variety of marine animals, good source of timber, fuel and fodder. They also purify the water by absorbing impurities and help us to breathe cleaner air by absorbing the pollutants in the air. In the future, they are a potential source for recreation and tourism.
 

The Hindu, 23rd September 2012

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At Sultanpur, it’s literally a walk on eggshells!

Bird lovers will have to wait for 10 more days to have a look of their favourite birds at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary.

With several birds mainly Sarus Cranes out laying and hatching its eggs on the visitors’ pathways inside the sanctuary, the Gurgaon Wildlife Department has decided not to allow public movement in the area for at least 10 more days. The sanctuary usually opens on September 15 every year but now it is likely to open from October 1.

Cranes had laid the eggs on the visitors’ pathway and had been hatching them there itself. The crane generally lays its eggs in the nest that it makes inside the water. “However this year, the water level in the sanctuary had gone down as a result the bird could not build its nest and so the bird has laid its eggs on the pathway,” said curator of the sanctuary Suresh Kumar.

The bird sanctuary shuts down in the month of May and reopens for public viewing from September 15. However, since the bird was hatching eggs on the visitors’ pathway, the Gurgaon Wildlife Department decided to let the sanctuary remain closed till the eggs were hatched and the young ones could start moving. “If we allow visitors inside the sanctuary, the birds would get disturbed and their eggs would get damaged,” added Kumar.

“The sanctuary is for birds and protection of their interest is our first priority. We have the permission from our senior officials to do so,” said Kulvinder Singh Khattar, Divisional Wildlife Officer.

The official said two young ones of the cranes were already hatched on September 19 and remaining would be done in a week or so. “They are very small and cannot move. It takes about a week for these birds to fly. By the time the sanctuary opens these birds will be on their own,” added Kumar.

Interestingly, besides the cranes, Grey Heron, Egrets, Cattle Egrets and Peafowls are also breeding at the sanctuary. “In a way closing of the sanctuary has come as a blessing in disguise for other birds as well. While the other birds are breeding inside the water islands, absence of human movement in the area will give them the required peaceful zone,” Kumar added.

The bird lovers, too, have welcomed the decision of the sanctuary management. “It is a wise decision. The sanctuary is first for the birds and then the bird watchers. We can wait for a few days,” said Raj Surin, Bird watcher and photographer.
 

The Pioneer, 23rd September 2012

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Prepare road map to protect sparrows: Dikshit

After declaring sparrow ‘State Bird of Delhi’, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has asked the environment department to prepare a road map to protect sparrows and to save the species.

The move will also aim at enhancement awareness about their life and habitat among Delhiites. This was decided at a high-level meeting chaired by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit recently.

The good old house sparrow, which is becoming rarer day by day, was declared as the “State Bird of Delhi” by Delhi Government last month. Interestingly, the Government is yet to come out with a notification in this regard. The move seems to be a part of a new campaign to save the species and enhance awareness about their life and habitat.

Sources said that the meeting was called to discuss a road map to create environment to attract sparrows to the city. According to sources, the Government decided to involve eco clubs of schools in this project. The NGO which is involved in protecting sparrows will publish a booklet and circulate it in schools. Beside this, green patches of nest box will be created to attract sparrows.

The meeting was attended by secretary (environment), Delhi chief secretary and other senior officials. “The knowledge about the status, population and distribution of common birds will help in timely conservation measures that can save these birds from extinction, and help create conservation interest among the masses,” sources said.

The Delhi Government would now consider incorporating common bird monitoring in the school curriculum to make schools and other organisations sparrow and bird friendly. The Nature Forever Society will be providing all help and resources to the Delhi Government in this regard.

However, bird lovers praised the desperate attempt of the Government to save sparrows. They said the campaign would require sincere efforts to conserve these diminutive birds as sparrows are hardly visible nowadays and are near extinct.
 

The Pioneer, 23rd September 2012

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Picking precious stones of legacy

They say that the tomb looks different every time you visit. This time the visit was on a hot and sunny September morning, not the best time for venturing outdoors. The experience, however, was worth the trouble because of the compelling story behind the fading red sandstones, the story of a man who worked and fought hard but died too young -- the story of an emperor.

It was at the Humayun’s Tomb that the motley crowd of heritage enthusiasts, history buffs, eager school children armed with notebooks and curious on-lookers gathered on a bright Sunday morning. They were following heritage consultant Navina Jafa on a heritage walk through time and cultures, and trying to see the human story behind the ruins.

The first stop was a small tomb, a little distance away from the western gates. “This is the tomb of a noble from the court of Sher Shah Suri, it was here some 20 years before the greater tomb was built. Sher Shah Suri sat on the seat of Delhi, while Humayun suffered untold misery travelling through Kabul, Lahore, Iran and Persia fighting battles, overcoming betrayals and finally coming back to Delhi to capture his rightful place in history after the death of Sher Shah Suri,” says Dr. Jafa, before telling the story of how his little son was born when the king was a man without a kingdom or a roof over his head.

“When his son was born, he opened the kasturi flower and inhaling the sweet smell emanating from it, blessed his son and hoped that his life would be like the pervading scent of the flower, that goodness would follow him everywhere. That son was later to become the greatest emperor of the Mughul dynasty, Akbar the great, and he would also be responsible for building this final resting place for his father.”

Although, the tomb was done with the money and power of Emperor Akbar, the idea was all Hamida Begum’s, the mother of Akbar and Humayun’s beloved wife. “Hamida wanted to build an enclosed Paradise Garden surrounding the tomb, which would reflect the concept of paradise according to Islamic cosmology. This had never been done in India, although it was a common practice in the Arab world.”

Next on the list was “Arab Sarai” – a housing colony to keep the hoards of artisans brought by Hamida Begum to build the tomb. There are wells and remnants of a horse stable. “Water” played a key role in the fortunes in many an empire and the Mughuls were no different. There are several water channels all over the tomb, some of which appear to be disappearing beneath the tomb and appearing on the other side. Natural water-courses from the Yamuna have been cleverly utilised and water was said to have been flowing throughout the gardens many waterfalls, without the help of modern technology.

“There are four squares or water channels that intersect in the “Paradise Garden” and are meant to reflect the four rivers said to be flowing in the Islamic heaven.”

The entrance-way by the western gates is entrancing. “Look, the last window of Humayun’s tomb can be seen from here,” says Jafa. The tomb is not meant for Emperor Humayun alone, he is surrounded by at least 100 unnamed souls and only after many chambers are traversed that one can reach the innermost chamber. The ceiling work is still being restored, so one cannot see the stunning inlays and paintings that are said to be there. There are elements of Rajasthani handiwork in the marble canopies that surround the central dome. “See here the latticed windows, a window to heaven perhaps?” says Ms. Jafa, before ending the tour. The walk was organised by the Delhi Government’s Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation for free. The organisation also takes school children on regular heritage walks and even has a Facebook page.
 

The Hindu, 24th September 2012

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The ghostly trail

R.V. Smith turns his discerning eye towards the ghosts that haunt Delhi

Delhi is a spooky place – or so it is believed. Now the Indian Paranormal Society, and a travel company, Let’s Get Packing, have decided to explore haunted places in the Capital and also Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore. Last week they organised a tour, Creatures of the Night which took tourists to Jamali-Kamali’s tomb, the Mehrauli Archaeological Park and Nicholson Cemetery. How many ghosts they contacted is not known but their K-2 meters were able to record some unusual things, like the smell of sandalwood at Balban’s tomb (possibly a Thursday ritual agarbatti for the slave king who was a quite a scrooge) and a shining red triangle at a mosque, to quote a story in a daily. But the ghost-busters were silent on what happened at the cemetery. They expected to see the headless spectre of Gen Nicholson who was shot near the Khari Baoli during the British assault on Mori Gate by a sniper standing at the window of a double-storeyed house. A marble tablet still marks the site. Though mortally wounded, he breathed his last only after Delhi had been retaken, with the words, “Thank God, I can now die in peace”, or something to that effect.

The story about the headless soldier is associated with another site – the Delhi Gate, where a British sentry shot himself after the woman who swept the road every morning, with whom he had fallen in love, got married. The yarn is that he walks from the gate right down Daryaganj street and later disappears into the nearby Lothian Road Cemetery, where he was presumably buried. The pipal tree at the Delhi Gate is also said to be haunted by a banshee (wailing churail) who sometimes troubles passers-by late at night by making a jingling sound with her anklets. Incidentally, the Lothian Road Cemetery, the oldest existing one in Delhi, is believed to be the most haunted as many of those who were killed in 1857 are buried there. Even during the day the cemetery looks a spooky place with tumbled-down tombs all around and a weird middle-aged woman sitting under a tree to quench the thirst of stray visitors in the afternoon.

Another story would have us believe that every Thursday, the last Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and his begum Zeenat Mahal, lead a procession of their courtiers, and members of the harem, out of the Red Fort and back into it. This is surprising since both Bahadur Shah and Zeenat Mahal died in Rangoon (now Yangon) and were buried there. Ghosts are never known to cross such long distances as the one between Delhi and the Myanmarese city, where Zafar is honoured as a pir who grants wishes to those who light candles and joss-sticks at his mazaar, though he poetically mourned that there would be none to do so after his death. Many years ago the Custodian of the Red Fort, Asghar Ali Khan, reported seeing the ghosts of Mughal princes and princesses during his nightly rounds of the fort. Later a photographer of a daily spent a night there photographing paranormal activity but his pictures showed either blobs of light or some weird skeletal images of which nothing much could be made. The Army authorities of the fort tried to bring the issue to an end saying some soldiers used to frighten the custodian by pretending to be princes and princesses but the matter did not die down so easily, with Asghar Ali Khan holding his ground and swearing that he was not so naïve. It later emerged that the Army authorities were trying to put an end to the ghostly yarns as they were hurting its image in the public eye.

Students of paranormal happenings can also try their luck on the Ridge, where some of the bloodiest events of 1857 took place. As a matter of fact, young doctors of Hindu Rao Hospital, which was once a British mansion, reported seeing firangi “bhoots” while going to a canteen for tea during night duty or biking down in the dark to the hospital. Panchkuian Road cremation ground and its roundabout are also said to spring a ghostly surprise now and then, like a motorist who honked to get a man out of the road one night and unable to stop, drove right through him. On looking back he saw the man strolling on Link Road just as before, unmindful of another approaching car. C.P. and Bhadur Shah Zafar Marg also have their own phantoms.

Fashion-cum-cine journalist Amir Rajpal, who died on Sept 7, was an early ghost-buster and spent a night at the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Agra. He managed to get some spooky photos for Sun magazine in the 1970s which created quite a stir in Delhi’s Fleet Street. But the group sponsoring Creatures of the Night tours would be well advised not to go looking for a headless Nicholson, for he was buried with his head quite intact, and there is no evidence of his grave ever being dug up.
 

The Hindu, 24th September 2012

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'Oxford of the East' turns 125

Allahabad University is the fourth oldest varsity in the country

Allahabad University, the fourth-oldest university in the country, turned 125 on Sunday.

The occasion was marked by a cultural event and the showcasing of a 125 feet-long painting canvas. The Central University, once known as the “Oxford of the East,” was established on September 23, 1887. However, Viceroy of India Lord Northbrook, on December 9, 1873 laid the foundation stone of the Muir Central College, named after Sir William Muir, then Lt. Governor of the United Provinces. With the promulgation of the ‘Allahabad University Act of 1921,’ the Muir Central College merged with the university.

The building was designed by eminent architect Sir William Emerson, in a unique mix of Indo-Saracenic, Egyptian and Gothic styles.

Over the following years, the university lost some of its glory, but after a sustained campaign, it regained its Central University status in 2005.

It has had on its rolls a host of distinguished people, including one President and two Vice-Presidents, three Prime Ministers (one, acting), several Chief Ministers, Union and State ministers, and four Chief Justices of India.

The university’s Senate Hall, also a national heritage site, celebrates its centenary this year.
 

The Hindu, 24th September 2012

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15 renovated sites await protected tag

Fifteen monuments that underwent a massive facelift by Intach Delhi Chapter are still waiting be notified as protected under the Delhi Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 2004. Sources in the government said the chief minister's office had requested for some clarifications that had delayed the process but it was expected to take place soon. This includes monuments like Bara Lao ka Gumbad, Badarpur gateways, Gol Gumbad, Darwesh Shah ki Masjid etc.

The project was conceived in 2008 to bring relatively obscure monuments to government's attention and restore them before the Commonwealth Games. These monuments were turned into prime tourist attractions and another list of monuments that needed to be protected was drawn. Bringing them under government protection helps them receive similar attention like the 174 centrally-protected monuments under the Archaeological Survey of India.

While the first phase of monuments is still waiting for notification, the MoU between Intach and Delhi government which lapsed in October, 2011 is yet to be renewed. State archaeology officials said that the matter was expected to come up in the cabinet soon, and this time they were looking at a five-year MoU. "Currently, maintenance of 17 monuments is with Intach, and in addition to that 16 more will be taken up after cabinet notification," said a senior official.

While phase I still awaits final notification, 18 monuments have been identified for conservation in phase II already. The list has been sent to the lieutenant-governor's office for preliminary notification.

Conservationists claim that the delay in notifying the monuments was only making them vulnerable to vandalism or encroachment. "Many of these monuments are located in congested lanes and crowded areas. They can only be protected against encroachment if they are notified as soon as possible. The delay will only exacerbate problems," said a source.
 

The Times of India, 24th September 2012

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Heritage tower in Hampi destroyed for 'treasure'

Thieves on Sunday damaged a 15-foot-tall tower atop the Malyavanta Hill in Hampi under the belief that it had a treasure chest. The miscreants damaged the heritage structure by digging the three-storey Gaali Gopura for a five-foot diameter.

Inspector of police Venkateshulu said four pillars of the gopura were found damaged. The thieves had cut the branches of the eucalyptus trees close to the tower to climb the gopura. "We have recovered tools used by them to dig the gopura,'' he said.

Tourism minister Anand Singh, who visited the spot, said: "It's an unfortunate incident. I have asked police to step up the security at the Hampi sites and ensure such incidents are not repeated."

The minister said he has directed the archeological department officials who earlier visited the site to take measures to restore the damaged tower.

According to mythology, Malyavanta Hill, which hosts a Raghunatha temple, is associated with Lord Rama. It is believed that he once stayed on top of this hill. History has it that Sri Krishnadevaraya, the Vijayanagara emperor, frequently visited Malyavanta Hill to view the sunset.
 

The Times of India, 24th September 2012

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Raj Kapoor’s Pak home to be museum

Bollywood’s greatest showman Raj Kapoor’s ancestral home in this walled city will be converted into a museum, reports Express Tribune of Pakistan.

The walled city of Peshawar has a stronger Bollywood connection than many would expect. The roots of three B-town legends can be traced back to its bustling streets — Dilip Kumar (Muhammed Yusuf Khan), Shahrukh Khan and Ranbirraj ‘Raj’ Kapoor.

The house is situated in Mohallah Dhaki Munawar Shah, inside the walled city, where on December 14, 1924, Raj Kapoor was born in a house owned by his grandfather D Bashisharnath. His father, Prithviraj Kapoor, played his first lead role in Indian film “Cinema Girl” in 1929.

Shaikh Amjad Rasheed, the chairman of IMGC Global Entertainment in Pakistan, has taken the initiative of renovating the haveli and converting it into a museum. “We are planning to renovate Prithviraj Kapoor’s five-storey house and turn it into a museum. We are in continuous interaction with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government and hope that we will soon get the green light to acquire the house from its present owners as soon as possible,” he told Express Tribune.

Minister for Culture Mian Iftikhar Hussain said anyone such an initiative was “more than welcome”.

The house still stands in its original condition in Ander Shehr, but its illustrious inhabitants, Raj Kapoor and Prithviraj ji, moved to Mumbai a long time ago. Back then, the film stars were Peshawar’s exports to the world.

Rasheed explained that the house was of great historical significance and a source of pride for the inhabitants of Peshawar and should be rightfully preserved and dedicated to Raj Kapoor. Renovations will take place so that the house is appropriately rehabilitated, keeping its original structure intact. He claims that the plans for the upcoming project have also been shared with Raj Kapoor’s grandson, Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor, who, Rasheed says, was “extremely happy” to hear the news.

Rasheed also says that the young actor expressed a keen desire to visit Peshawar along with his family for the inauguration of the museum.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government had granted the ‘national heritage’ status to home of Dilip Kumar. It is situated in the narrow alleys of Mohalla Khudadad near the historic Qissa Khwani Bazaar (Market of Storytellers).
 

The Deccan Herald, 25th September 2012

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Treasure hunters pull down monument at Hampi

Treasure hunters looking for gold and silver coins at the Hampi world heritage site in Karnataka have destroyed a Vijayanagar-era (14th to 16th century) structure next to the Malyavanthi Temple dedicated to Lord Ram. Police said a group of people pulled down the Gali Gopura Mandap on Saturday night, going by popular lore of riches being buried under the pillars of the structure.

The treasure hunters dug around one of the four pillars of the mandap and tried to lift it, causing the entire structure to collapse.

Police have found farming tools used for the digging at the site in Bellary district, around 372 km from Bangalore.

State tourism minister Anand Singh said, “I have directed the officials of the Archaeological Survey of India to rebuild the mandap and keep all the materials of the collapsed structure in a museum.” Singh said he had asked the police to nab the culprits.

Hampi Mahesh, a member of the Hampi Hitha Rakshan Vedike which fights for protection of the heritage site, on Monday said treasure hunters were repeatedly trying to steal antique pieces.
 

The Hindustan Times, 25th September 2012

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Art panel opposes vertical growth in New Delhi, heritage zones

The government and urban planners certainly aren't on the same page on the question of going vertical. While Union urban development minister Kamal Nath and various government agencies have been making a case for building more high-rises in the capital, the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) has shot down several significant projects.

Recently, the commission, which advises the government on preserving, developing and maintaining the aesthetic quality of urban design in Delhi, rejected three Central government projects to build high-rises for housing around 10,000 employees. DUAC members, including many eminent architects, not only criticized the design of the proposed 14-storeyed high-rises — projected to cost Rs 4,000 crore — but also called them vertical slums that would ruin Delhi's image as a green and well-planned city.

Two other high-rise projects — Delhi high court's expansion and a residential development project at the Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station in Civil Lines — also hit a hurdle as the commission thought them unsuitable for their heritage zone settings.

Last month, the Centre had presented concepts of three development schemes for 'general pool' residential accommodation covering 165 acres at Kidwai Nagar, Sriniwaspuri, Mohammed Park and Ramakrishna Puram in the middle of Delhi. "The projects involved 150-feet-high, generally repetitive 70 blocks in the middle of New Delhi," said DUAC chairman Raj Rewal. "DUAC objected as they would have destroyed the character of New Delhi, one of the few capitals of the world that retain the ideal of a garden city".

Rewal cited the example of Paris, where buildings taller than seven or eight storeys are not allowed in the centre of the city. "Every city has a character. Such repetitive blocks of high-rises will completely ruin Delhi's character.

The projects' likely ecological impact also influenced DUAC's decision. Architect and DUAC advisor Romi Khosla said, "We are best guided by what has happened in Gurgaon. Can Delhi Jal Board supply water to so many high-rises? We do not have enough water. Schemes like rainwater harvesting can only add 10% but we will still be short of supply". Khosla said it was strange that the government wanted to make so many blocks for its employees when the poor were languishing in slums without any utilities.

The HC project on Sher Shah Suri Marg was shot down as DUAC felt the "architectural grandeur" of the existing high court building should be respected and the elevations of the existing blocks should not be changed. It also opposed any additions to the existing main block. "The architect could accommodate the FAR presently proposed on the existing block within the new block proposed (Block C). The existing architectural character of the complex should be respected. Since the site is next to the protected monuments of Lal Darwaza and Khair-ul-Manzil mosque, the clearance of Archaeological Survey of India may be obtained,'' said the commission.

As part of the project, the HC's current C block would have been demolished to build a new complex with bigger registries and more courtrooms. An auditorium and a new block for lawyers' chambers were planned on a plot abutting Zakir Hussain Marg. At present, the highest building in the court complex — the lawyers' chambers — is 32 metres high. Portions of C Block fall within 300 metres of Purana Qila.

The commission also shot down the Vishwavidyalaya Metro station project a second time as the height of the proposed blocks made them look out of place in their surroundings.

"In the alternatives now presented, the architects have attempted the combination of blocks with height variation up to 26 floors, 29 floors, 33 floors, 41 floors etc. The commission observed that the architects have attempted to reduce the height of the blocks but considering the height of structures existing in the surrounding areas the blocks proposed still look out of context and are not doing justice to the site,'' said a DUAC member. Architects have now been advised to attempt lowering the height of buildings.

As regards the Vishwavidyalaya Metro project, the private party had submitted a building plan for a multi-storeyed group housing society to the erstwhile MCD. Located right behind the Metro station, the land was initially to be used for parking. However, a few years ago, the Union urban development ministry changed the purpose of the land from institutional to residential. Delhi Metro later auctioned the land to a private party which plans to build a high-rise there. "But the MPD-2021 restricts tall buildings in Lutyens' Bungalow Zone, Civil Lines and North Delhi Campus,'' said a source. DUAC also took into consideration Delhi Univeristy's objections to the high-rise development at the site while scrutinizing the proposal.

DUAC members say the city's Master Plan 2021, which approves trebling the building volumes, may not be suitable for Delhi. "We have seen in many cases that high density low-rises are better for accommodating people. We have to factor in environmental issues," said DUAC member Ashish Ganju
 

The Times of India, 25th September 2012

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The Textile Movement

Using textiles, an exhibition explores questions of labour, colonialism, capital, trade and politics

Many years ago, the areas in central Mumbai -- now called Parel, Byculla and those around them -- were collectively known as Girangaon and housed more than 100 textile mills, primarily cotton. In Marathi, the word 'Girangaon' literally translates to 'the village of mills'. Workers came from various parts of the state around Mumbai and lived in one-room tenements while they worked in these mills. After the Great Bombay Textile Strike of 1982, however, the number of mills dwindled rapidly and not very long after, became the malls and restaurants we know them as today.

Located not many feet away from the erstwhile Girangaon, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Byculla East, presents an exhibition titled Social Fabric which, among other things, explores the impact the international textile trade had on our local mills and workers. The show centres around two works – a 2001 painting by the Mumbai-based artist Sudhir Patwardhan titled Lower Parel and an installation by the German artist Alice Creischer titled Apparatus for the Osmotic Compensation of the Pressure of Wealth during the Contemplation of Poverty – while UK-based Celine Condorelli features alongside. Mumbai-based Archana Hande's paintings on scrolls, which are also part of the exhibition, show the progression (and simultaneous degradation) of India over the years as it has developed.

For many years, Patwardhan has been closely associated with the plight of the mill workers, having lived in the Lower Parel area when he first moved to Mumbai from Pune, a time when the mills were still flourishing. While little continues to be said about the mills, the artist believes the exhibition has great relevance. “There are lots of struggling groups of people and their work (or lack of it) needs to be highlighted. That is one of the things the exhibition is doing.”

That his work on display, Lower Parel , was done in 2001 means it depicts the area from that day, which is a stark contrast to what it has become today. It shows people mulling about on the streets, standing before a large building and a bridge, appearing lost, so to speak. “When I first moved to Mumbai, I used to depict the working class,” he remembers. “After the strike (of 1982) my interest has been to depict what happened to these people, and the painting shows what they were doing then (in 2001).”

While Patwardhan's work draws from his personal experiences, Creischer's is a global look at the economy and colonialism. The former's painting is accompanied by a number of newspaper cut-outs and images of the strike, mill workers, the mills of yesteryear and Lower Parel of today while the latter's installation includes sheets explaining the relevance of the work – which viewers are recommended to read so as to not be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information the work puts forth.

Before progressing into the rooms of the museum that house these exhibits, however, viewers would do well to first take a look at the exhibit on the ground floor – samples from the Collections of the Textiles Manufactures of India by Forbes Watson, from the museum's collection. In the second half of the 19th century, Watson was Reporter on the Products of India at the India Museum in London, which meant his job was to catalogue Indian products. Comprising 18 volumes, the Collection documents perhaps every sort of textile that was available in India at the time. In 1855, samples of these various textiles were collected and put on display in Paris at the Paris International Exhibition to create awareness about Indian textiles. It was after this that the British began bringing industrially manufactured, and thereby cheaper, fabric into India, severely hampering the efforts of the Indian workers. They did so in other colonies, too, similarly affecting the efforts of locals workers.
 

The Indian Express, 26th September 2012

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Precious treasures at a height

The Great Himalayan National Park is a hotspot for biodiversity and is home to some of the most vulnerable and endangered species. In all, there are 375 recorded faunal species within the park. We must protect them

It was only a few years ago when I literally stumbled into the Tirthan Valley in Himachal Pradesh and found myself at a gateway leading to one of India’s ‘youngest’ national parks — The Great Himalayan National Park. A pair of White Capped Red Starts flitted along the banks of the Tirthan river which kept me company as I walked the 10 km stretch to the park entrance from where all the treks begin.

The park was officially declared in 1999, and has over the years expanded by incorporating adjoining ‘protected areas’ and wildlife parks into its fold, bringing the total area under administration to 1,171 sq km.

More recently, in 2010, both the Sainj and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuaries were also added to the GHNP, but will only be formally incorporated once the process known as ‘settlement of rights’ is completed. Covering a large area, the GHNP is contiguous with the Pin Valley National Park (675 sq km) in Trans-Himalaya, the Rupi Bhabha Wildlife Sanctuary (503 sq km) in Sutlej watershed and the Kanawar Wildlife Sanctuary (61 sq km).

Such a large, unbroken and protected expanse of wilderness is like an Eden for flora and fauna to flourish. Geographically speaking, the park seems to encompass almost everything from dense oak and walnut forests, alpine valleys and meadows to patches of high altitude pink rhododendrons which finally give way to a treeless rocky and glacial terrain at 6,100 metres at it’s highest point.

The GHNP is a hotspot for biodiversity and is home to some of the most vulnerable and endangered species. In all, there are 375 recorded faunal species within the park, a number which is likely to increase, as research and studies indicate. These include the Snow Leopard, the Himalayan Black and Brown Bear, the Royle’s Vole, the Himalayan Tahr, the leopard, the Himalayan Pit Viper, the Musk deer, the Monal and the Western Tragopan, to name just a few.

The Western Tragopan, which is also on the logo of the GHNP, is considered to be the rarest of pheasants in the world. Juju Rana, as it is locally known, literally translates as the king of birds. According to local legend, when the creator was making the world she decided to make something special. So she asked all the birds to give one feather each and from that she created the Juju Rana. It is this biodiversity and its uniqueness that has got the GHNP nominated to the status of a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Unesco will be evaluating the national park this coming month and consider awarding it the status of a World Heritage Site — a status which earlier this year the Western Ghats was awarded, but was declined by the Goa and the Karnataka Governments, presumably owing to the gigantic mining mafia that exists in the region. It is ironic that the very minerals and metals the human race is after are below the most pristine and ancient forests. To open up a forest to be scraped and gouged for mining is to seal not only the fate of the forest, but also everything around it and connected with it.

The GHNP has been nominated specifically under two criteria. The first criterion is that the site should contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

The second condition is that it should contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. The nomination itself is testimony to the fact that GHNP is amongst the top most biologically diverse and vital natural habitats on our planet.

Unfortunately, it is this very fact which is also one of the reasons why the GHNP is threatened. The forests with their diversity in both flora and fauna, have long been used by the communities that have lived in and around them. Local village communities used the meadows and wild lands to graze domestic cattle and sheep, collect forest produce, especially medicinal plants, and to hunt for wild meat in a sustainable manner.

The second half of this story is not new. Commercial gain comes sweeping in and turns everything inside out. Accelerating development, including mining, tourism, hydro-electric dams, timber/forest encroachment and even military use, are taking a toll on this protected habitat. One other activity which began small but has grown disturbingly fast to a vast scale is the illegal collection of medicinal plants.

During my time at the GHNP, I was told about how the demand for these medicinal plants comes from the cities and how then these plants are exported out of the country. The locals are shown photographs of the plant, fungus or root that is in demand, given a rate and sent out in hordes. The entire pipeline is extremely organised and run by a mafia.

The biggest demand these days is for a plant locally called Naag Chhatri. It is the root of the plant that is sought after. Needless to say, to harvest it the entire plant is killed. The plant itself is extremely medicinal in nature and is apparently used as a cure for everything — from fever to high blood pressure. The exact number of people involved is not known, but the quantities extracted from the forest are reportedly huge. So huge that it poses a very real threat to actually cause a local extinction of the species.

The GHNP is also a major source of water for the rural and the urban centres of the region. Four major rivers originate from its glaciers: Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa Nal and Parvati flow through and out of the park. Not too long ago, a hydro-electric project was planned in the Tirthan Valley. The impact of the dam would have devastated the area. It was the initiative of a few and the support of the people that led to protests. Thankfully, the project has been abandoned.

The biggest challenge here, like for any other forested area, is that of protection. The Government and forest department appear geared up to meet it, though they need to do a lot more than they have so far.

Many efforts and initiatives have been made, and made most successfully, to create opportunity and livelihood for the communities around the GHNP. With options given to neighbouring residents to earn extra income legally, and those options exercised, pressures on the forest have reduced.

What will continue to protect the GHNP is the sheer inaccessibility to many areas of the national park. There are no motorable roads that closely approach the national park, and it requires at least a half-day trek to reach the entrance.

Many peaks and high altitude meadows have never had a human footprint. In a crowded world bursting at the seams this is perhaps hard to imagine, but a hotspot like the GHNP is still slowly revealing its secrets. Medicinal plants, insects and even previously undocumented mammals lie hidden. Earlier this year, after two years’ worth of efforts in collaboration with the forest department, we managed to get the first video documentation of the Western Tragopan in the wild in India. There are now reports of the existence of the Himalayan Serow, an extremely shy creature that is more of a mix between a goat and antelope. Giant flying squirrels, martins, leopards and bears roam freely through these great forests, a safe haven for now.

In a fast changing world where the true value of a single tree may have been lost along the way, we need to build a brave new world to hold on to these treasures before they are lost forever.
 

The Pioneer, 26th September 2012

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Vertical growth will stress resources in Delhi

Even as Union urban development minister Kamal Nath continues to push for vertical growth in Delhi, urban planners and experts say the city's most basic infrastructure — power, water and parking — is already stretched, and could collapse under the pressure of high-density housing.

The city's planners estimate future infrastructure needs keeping population projections in mind, but the experience of the last two master plans shows population projections are not reliable. In 2001, for instance, the population was 1.38 crore against a master plan projection of 1.28 crore.

Over the years, such unforeseen population growth has resulted in severe shortage of power and water. Although a mid-term review of Master Plan 2021 is intended to address the present shortages, experts fear a shift to the high-rise, high-density urban model will again upset the balance. TOI does a reality check on three essentials:

Power
With an average annual increase of 25% in electricity demand, discoms are gearing up to meet a peak demand of 6,400MW next summer. This year, the May-July period saw new demand records set every other day. "In the last year or two, the demand has surpassed all expectations. More and more consumers are using air conditioners all day. However, growth of Delhi's own power generation has failed to keep pace. Apart from Pragati power station that was commissioned in 2002, the only additions generation capacity are the Bawana plant and Tata's Rithala plant — both suffering due to gas shortage,'' said a power sector expert.

Delhi's dependence on power from outside led to a severe crisis this year after the Northern Grid collapsed on two occasions. "If you promote high-rise development, power demand is also going to increase and discoms may not be prepared to meet the surging demand. Demand is set to surge after almost 900 unauthorized colonies are regularized and discom infrastructure is far from ready to support the enhanced load,'' said a senior official.

BSES Rajdhani CEO Gopal Saxena added: "The moment you encourage high-rises, power demand goes up. Earlier, we had planned for a load of 5kW per house but it has already gone up to 11 kW per house. To feed high-rises, we also have to identify places for right of way and allocate space for laying equipment like distribution transformers and sub-stations.''

Water
Delhi also sources much of its water from neighbouring states. Its only internal source — groundwater — is in short supply, and highly contaminated at many places. Already, there is a shortage of more than 200 million gallons per day, and this does not even take into account people surviving on unregistered tube wells or illegal supply.

"Delhi's water supply infrastructure is old and was not planned for the extensive population growth of the last few decades. DJB is constructing underground reservoirs for a more equitable distribution but the fact is that our water supply is limited. To add to the problem, people use online boosters that considerably reduce pressure in supply lines, leading to poor supply at tail-end areas. Yet, new housing schemes are being launched," said a senior DJB official.

Unable to cope with the stress on its system due to existing multi-storey buildings, DJB CEO Debashree Mukherjee wrote to DDA recently, asking for a change in building by-laws so that buildings more than two storeys high are required to have underground tanks, and the board's responsibility is limited to feeding these tanks. Although it has been criticised by civic agencies for the "unrealistic" plan, DJB says it has no choice if it is to ensure equitable supply across the city.

Parking
Shortage of parking space has already reached crisis levels due to a massive increase in personal vehicles. Brawls over parking space have become common as vehicles eat up space on roads, sidewalks and open grounds. In Delhi, cars require about 11% of the urbanised area for parking when 80% of the population still does not own cars.

The government is now trying hard to work out a suitable policy. Advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment says providing for regulated and organized parking of vehicles and putting restraints on the use of public spaces for parking should be the key to a good policy.

A Central Road Research Institute study found an average car spends only 400 hours a year in traffic. The remaining 8,360 hours are spent parked.
 

The Times of India, 26th September 2012

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Better planning for floods

Flash floods and landslips that have followed unusually sustained rainfall since September 17 have left a deadly trail in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. In Sikkim, following a cloudburst in the Chungthang region, homes, bridges, and stretches of highways were washed away. Among those hit were personnel of the Border Roads Organisation and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. No less than 70 landslips left whole regions cut off in the mountainous terrain. In Arunachal Pradesh, over two lakh people were affected in a wave of floods in five districts. An unusually heavy spell of rain is also threatening the stability of the famed Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, precariously perched on a cliff-face, not far from the border with China. Meanwhile, more than 17 lakh people have been hit in 16 districts of Assam in a third round of floods this year. Assam’s human tragedy has been aggravated by the fact that in the Kaziranga National Park, some 75 per cent of the rhino habitat was submerged. The animals were forced to take shelter on high platforms or move across to the hills of Karbi Anglong district. The Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary also remains substantially submerged. In the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Tinsukia district, noted for its endangered animal species and wet evergreen forests, elephant calves were swept away by flood waters. Majuli, Asia’s largest inhabited river island in Jorhat district, is almost entirely submerged. It is cut off from the mainland with the ferry service across the Brahmaputra suspended.

Rescue and relief work undertaken by the Army, the Air Force, the National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force have provided some comfort, but the scale of the task remains stupendous. The Brahmaputra and its tributaries are a blessing, but also a bane for the region. The river leaves the region fertile and irrigated, even aids mobility by hosting a thriving water transport system. But in its fury, the mighty and meandering hydraulic system has undone and effaced efforts over a long period of time to check and tame it. Lives and livelihoods, crops and infrastructure come under threat time and again. There is, of course, no telling how and when nature will vent its fury. Nevertheless, a clear plan of action based on the science of water management needs to be rolled out for the long term to mitigate damage and help people through what has effectively become an annual round of trouble for the region with the least possible discomfort. Working with the State governments concerned, the Centre should step in to ensure this.
 

The Hindu, 26th September 2012

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Will not vacate existing memorials, Centre tells Supreme Court

The Centre on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it would not be legally possible to evict memorial trusts which have occupied big bungalows in the capital's posh Lutyen's zone.

Additional solicitor general P P Malhotra told a bench of Justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi that the Union government had taken a decision and formulated guidelines in 2000 banning conversion of government bungalows in future into memorials for departed political leaders.

"But it will not be possible to evict the existing memorials as the government has entered into agreements with trusts which run the memorials allowing them to occupy the bungalows for a specified period. Evicting the memorials prior to the expiry of the lease period will breach the agreement," he said.

The bench reserved judgment on the petition, which the court had converted into a public interest litigation given the rampant unauthorized occupation of official accommodation by functionaries in the executive, judiciary and legislature. The bench indicated that it would examine the necessity of framing guidelines on this issue.

Amicus curiae and senior advocate Ranjit Kumar had given several suggestions to the court including eviction of memorials occupying prime government properties as well as allocation of official bungalows to journalists, eminent artists, NGOs and freedom fighters from the discretionary quota.

Malhotra said the government had formulated guidelines based on a 1997 judgment of the apex court and had allotted residential accommodation to these categories from under 5% discretionary quota. "Let these allotments be not disturbed," he said.
 

The Times of India, 26th September 2012

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Centre submits new guidelines on core areas of tiger reserves to SC

Two months after the Supreme Court banned tourism in core areas of tiger reserves after relying on the existing guidelines, the Centre Wednesday submitted revised guidelines, permitting up to 20 per cent of core tiger habitats as delineated tourism zone.

“Current tourism zones where only tourist activities are permitted and there are no consumptive uses, tiger density and recruitment does not seem to be impacted. For this reason, permitting up to 20 per cent of core tiger habitat as a tourism zone should not have an adverse effect on the tiger biology needs, which is subject to adherence to all the prescriptions made in the guidelines,” read the guidelines by the Environment and Forest Ministry.

Saying regulated tourism results in enhanced awareness, the guidelines favoured permission for “non-consumptive, regulated, low-impact” tourism within the core areas without compromising the spirit of tiger conservation.

“With this importance of tourism in tiger conservation in mind, it is recommended that a maximum of 20 per cent of the core tiger habitat usage not exceeding the present usage for regulated, low-impact tourist visitation may be permitted,” said the guidelines which will be taken up by the Supreme Court Thursday as it resumes hearing a PIL by conservationist Ajay Dubey.

The guidelines contradict the Centre’s previous stand of gradual phase-out of tourism-related activities in tiger reserves. Based on that stance, the Supreme Court had on July 24 ordered that core areas in the 41 tigers reserves be kept out of bounds for tourists till it finalises guidelines for such areas. The core area is the central part of a reserve and should have minimal human disturbance. The buffer zone usually constitutes fringe areas upto 10 km around the core.

Some time after the ban, the Centre sought the court’s permission to “further review” the guidelines, citing concerns that the ban would result in loss of livelihood to local populations and endanger wildlife and forests. The court allowed the Centre to revise its guidelines.

The new guidelines say that no new tourism infrastructure should be created in core areas while existing residential infrastructure should be strictly regulated. “Permanent tourist facilities inside core areas being used for wildlife tourism should be phased out in a time frame decided by the Local Advisory Committee,” it said.

The LAC comprises the divisional commissioner, local MLA and district collector.

The ministry has also said tourism plans for each tiger reserve will be site-specific and ratified by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state.

Steps For states
The Environment Ministry has recommended that states enact their own legislation in sync with these guidelines. Besides, states should charge a “conservation fee” from the tourism industry and use the money to conserve wild life and provide livelihood to local inhabitants. It also wants 10 per cent of the revenue generated from pilgrim centres located in tiger reserves to be used for development of local communities.
 

The Indian Express, 27th September 2012

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Vandals of heritage

Treasure hunters’ must be hunted down
The shocking destruction of a part of the historic Hampi ruins by a group of vandals must not only be condemned in unequivocal terms but equally importantly the incident must also serve as an opportunity to ask how much India, as a country truly respects its much-touted ancient heritage.

Sure, it is easy to gloat about one's rich legacy and diverse civilisational history and how it all goes back several thousands of years, but what about putting in the effort and the resources necessary to protect and preserve that glorious past? Take the incident at Hampi as an example. ‘The Group of Monuments at Hampi’ is a Unesco- designated World Heritage Site. It is an integral part not only of Indian history but also of world history — and its conservation, therefore, is not just a national responsibility but also of interest to the global community. And yet, there were not enough security procedures in place to prevent a group of miscreants seeking ‘treasures’ from doing something as outrageous as blowing up with dynamite a three-storey watch-tower located at the entrance of the 16th century temple atop the Malayavantha Hill. That there will always be anti-social elements, driven by an insatiable desire for material wealth, willing to plunder thousands of years of heritage to make a quick buck and further narrow personal goals, is a given, which is why they have to be checked.

Think of the likes of Subhash Chandra Kapoor, the antique smuggler who was arrested in October 2011 for selling idols, including one from the Chola period, to well-known museums across the world. Or even the politicians who blatantly violate building norms around the historical structures. For instance, constructions by the Delhi Government around Jantar Mantar have rendered the famous sun dial defunct while the West Bengal Government's plan to build a new administrative building in Dalhousie Square threatens the architectural harmony of the area. Or even for that matter consider the non-descript tourist who thinks nothing about defacing several centuries old structure. They are all guilty of damaging national heritage. And they exist not just in India but all over the world — from the Guatemalan city of Mirador where looting of Mayan artefacts is a huge threat to preserving the cradle of that ancient civilisation to the little known Turkish city of Ani that tells the tale of the once-powerful Armenian empire but now lies in ruins, endangered by vandals and encroaching settlers. The focus here then must be on how to protect national heritage. There are already laws in this regard, but are unfortunately too rarely implemented. This needs to change and now. International smuggling rackets must be clamped down upon; extensive security measures must be put in place; misbehaving tourists must be fined; politicians who believe they are above the law must be reined in. If not, we shall lose forever the symbols of our rich culture.
 

The Indian Express, 27th September 2012

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Raj remains get Delhi makeover

More than half the work in the multi-crore, ambitious project to give Coronation Park a makeover is complete. The site, in North Delhi’s Burari area, is where King George V announced the shifting of imperial India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi in December 1911.
Spread over 56 acres adjacent to a forest, the park has been teeming with construction workers, stone-carvers, artisans and heavy machinery ever since the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) took up the project in 2011 to give this historical site a modern makeover.
Cleared in 2009 with an initial budget of Rs 20 crore, the redevelopment plan includes intricately built “chhatris” at specific places, statues of historical figures, a heritage interpretation centre, a restaurant, a flagpost, an amphitheatre and a lake. Besides, landscaping will add to the aesthetics.
Chhatris are dome-shaped canopies widely used in palaces and forts. These were originally attributed to Rajasthani architecture and later adapted as a standard feature in Mughal architecture.
Red and white sandstone and marble have been brought from Rajasthan and Agra for the chattris, walls around the statues and the meandering footpaths.
The park will have two entry points, one of which will be reserved for VIPs.
The path from the VIP gate will have the flagpost and the amphitheatre to its right. Leading to an obelisk at the centre, this pathway will be flanked by four chattris on each side.
The entrance for the masses will be close to an heritage interpretation centre.
“Almost 90 per cent of work on the pathway is complete. A small portion of the forest was cleared to build a jungle trail. A rose garden is coming up near the heritage interpretation centre. Craftsmen are working on the walls around the statues. These will be engraved with information on the history of the place,” an official said.
The park has the tallest statue of King George V on a pedestal. It was brought to the site in 1960 from its earlier location at India Gate. “Conservation of the statue is being done by INTACH,” the official said.
A highlight of the park will be the heritage interpretation centre, which is essentially a museum. Siddhartha Chatterjee, consultant at INTACH, said the centre will showcase the key moments of the past 150 years in the area around Kingsway Camp, apart from providing information and anecdotes on the Coronation Durbar of 1911.
“Events from the past will be viewed through the perspective of India in, say, 2012. This will reflect our diverse past and heritage, including the present-day legacies. We intend to provide an opportunity to the people to recognise and think about the many influences that have come to shape Delhi and our lives,” he said.
Tracing the growth of the city, the exhibition at the centre will cover events since the 1857 Mutiny, the three imperial durbars held at the park, the building of New Delhi, post-Partition history and the changing ecology of North Delhi and the Ridge.
Developments during Mughal-era Delhi will also be part of the exhibition.
All these events will be linked to the larger story of colonialism, nationalism, Independence and the aftermath, Chatterjee said.
Visual material is collected in the form of government accounts, records, maps, archival photographs and illustrations, quotations from historical accounts and reports, newspapers and journals published in Hindi, English and Urdu to showcase the city’s rollercoaster ride through history.
Though work hasn’t stopped ever since “the first bunch of workers moved in with tools in hand”, officials said small, niggling problems have delayed the project. It has already overshot its deadline of March this year and could, probably, run beyond the revised December date.
Officials at the site said the low-lying parkland was flooded with rainwater in the monsoon. “As a result, pumping out water has taken more time than digging and putting pipes to build an underground water-disposal system. To deal with the flooding, four water tanks had to be constructed in the park. Around 75 per cent of the underground drainage system is ready and the remaining, weather permitting, will be completed soon,” an official said.
This is good news for the ground crew doing the landscaping at the site.
But, the official said the floodwater — pumped out and stored — cannot be used on the plants because of high salinity. “Water for the gardens will come from the Delhi Jal Board’s treatment plant located nearby,” he said.
King George V announced the shifting of imperial India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi in December 1911 at this site in Burari, North Delhi
3 coronation durbars — 1877, 1903 and 1911 — held
A plaque at the gate proclaims:
“This memorial was erected to commemorate the Coronation Durbar of King George V and Queen Mary held in December 1911. On this occasion the King announced the transfer of the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi.”
What to look for
30-metre-long iron flagpost, towering above the 20-metre obelisk
Chhatris, or dome-shaped canopies with intricate Mughal jaali work or fine trellis work, at specific places
Statues of King George V and historical figures. The 49-foot marble statue of King George V, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is opposite to the obelisk commemorating the durbar. This statue was at India Gate until 1960
A heritage interpretation centre or museum that will take people on a trip down Delhi’s history
A lake and landscaped gardens
An amphitheatre
A restaurant
A jungle trail
 

2012

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Raj Kapoor’s Pak home to be museum

Bollywood’s greatest showman Raj Kapoor’s ancestral home in this walled city will be converted into a museum, reports Express Tribune of Pakistan.

The walled city of Peshawar has a stronger Bollywood connection than many would expect. The roots of three B-town legends can be traced back to its bustling streets — Dilip Kumar (Muhammed Yusuf Khan), Shahrukh Khan and Ranbirraj ‘Raj’ Kapoor.

The house is situated in Mohallah Dhaki Munawar Shah, inside the walled city, where on December 14, 1924, Raj Kapoor was born in a house owned by his grandfather D Bashisharnath. His father, Prithviraj Kapoor, played his first lead role in Indian film “Cinema Girl” in 1929.

Shaikh Amjad Rasheed, the chairman of IMGC Global Entertainment in Pakistan, has taken the initiative of renovating the haveli and converting it into a museum. “We are planning to renovate Prithviraj Kapoor’s five-storey house and turn it into a museum. We are in continuous interaction with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government and hope that we will soon get the green light to acquire the house from its present owners as soon as possible,” he told Express Tribune.

Minister for Culture Mian Iftikhar Hussain said anyone such an initiative was “more than welcome”.

The house still stands in its original condition in Ander Shehr, but its illustrious inhabitants, Raj Kapoor and Prithviraj ji, moved to Mumbai a long time ago. Back then, the film stars were Peshawar’s exports to the world.

Rasheed explained that the house was of great historical significance and a source of pride for the inhabitants of Peshawar and should be rightfully preserved and dedicated to Raj Kapoor. Renovations will take place so that the house is appropriately rehabilitated, keeping its original structure intact. He claims that the plans for the upcoming project have also been shared with Raj Kapoor’s grandson, Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor, who, Rasheed says, was “extremely happy” to hear the news.

Rasheed also says that the young actor expressed a keen desire to visit Peshawar along with his family for the inauguration of the museum.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government had granted the ‘national heritage’ status to home of Dilip Kumar. It is situated in the narrow alleys of Mohalla Khudadad near the historic Qissa Khwani Bazaar (Market of Storytellers).

The Deccan Herald, 25th September 2012

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Treasure hunters pull down monument at Hampi

Treasure hunters looking for gold and silver coins at the Hampi world heritage site in Karnataka have destroyed a Vijayanagar-era (14th to 16th century) structure next to the Malyavanthi Temple dedicated to Lord Ram. Police said a group of people pulled down the Gali Gopura Mandap on Saturday night, going by popular lore of riches being buried under the pillars of the structure.
The treasure hunters dug around one of the four pillars of the mandap and tried to lift it, causing the entire structure to collapse.

Police have found farming tools used for the digging at the site in Bellary district, around 372 km from Bangalore.

State tourism minister Anand Singh said, “I have directed the officials of the Archaeological Survey of India to rebuild the mandap and keep all the materials of the collapsed structure in a museum.” Singh said he had asked the police to nab the culprits.

Hampi Mahesh, a member of the Hampi Hitha Rakshan Vedike which fights for protection of the heritage site, on Monday said treasure hunters were repeatedly trying to steal antique pieces.

The Hindustan Times, 25th September 2012

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Art panel opposes vertical growth in New Delhi, heritage zones

The government and urban planners certainly aren't on the same page on the question of going vertical. While Union urban development minister Kamal Nath and various government agencies have been making a case for building more high-rises in the capital, the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) has shot down several significant projects.

Recently, the commission, which advises the government on preserving, developing and maintaining the aesthetic quality of urban design in Delhi, rejected three Central government projects to build high-rises for housing around 10,000 employees. DUAC members, including many eminent architects, not only criticized the design of the proposed 14-storeyed high-rises — projected to cost Rs 4,000 crore — but also called them vertical slums that would ruin Delhi's image as a green and well-planned city.

Two other high-rise projects — Delhi high court's expansion and a residential development project at the Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station in Civil Lines — also hit a hurdle as the commission thought them unsuitable for their heritage zone settings.

Last month, the Centre had presented concepts of three development schemes for 'general pool' residential accommodation covering 165 acres at Kidwai Nagar, Sriniwaspuri, Mohammed Park and Ramakrishna Puram in the middle of Delhi. "The projects involved 150-feet-high, generally repetitive 70 blocks in the middle of New Delhi," said DUAC chairman Raj Rewal. "DUAC objected as they would have destroyed the character of New Delhi, one of the few capitals of the world that retain the ideal of a garden city".

Rewal cited the example of Paris, where buildings taller than seven or eight storeys are not allowed in the centre of the city. "Every city has a character. Such repetitive blocks of high-rises will completely ruin Delhi's character.

The projects' likely ecological impact also influenced DUAC's decision. Architect and DUAC advisor Romi Khosla said, "We are best guided by what has happened in Gurgaon. Can Delhi Jal Board supply water to so many high-rises? We do not have enough water. Schemes like rainwater harvesting can only add 10% but we will still be short of supply". Khosla said it was strange that the government wanted to make so many blocks for its employees when the poor were languishing in slums without any utilities.

The HC project on Sher Shah Suri Marg was shot down as DUAC felt the "architectural grandeur" of the existing high court building should be respected and the elevations of the existing blocks should not be changed. It also opposed any additions to the existing main block. "The architect could accommodate the FAR presently proposed on the existing block within the new block proposed (Block C). The existing architectural character of the complex should be respected. Since the site is next to the protected monuments of Lal Darwaza and Khair-ul-Manzil mosque, the clearance of Archaeological Survey of India may be obtained,'' said the commission.

As part of the project, the HC's current C block would have been demolished to build a new complex with bigger registries and more courtrooms. An auditorium and a new block for lawyers' chambers were planned on a plot abutting Zakir Hussain Marg. At present, the highest building in the court complex — the lawyers' chambers — is 32 metres high. Portions of C Block fall within 300 metres of Purana Qila.

The commission also shot down the Vishwavidyalaya Metro station project a second time as the height of the proposed blocks made them look out of place in their surroundings.

"In the alternatives now presented, the architects have attempted the combination of blocks with height variation up to 26 floors, 29 floors, 33 floors, 41 floors etc. The commission observed that the architects have attempted to reduce the height of the blocks but considering the height of structures existing in the surrounding areas the blocks proposed still look out of context and are not doing justice to the site,'' said a DUAC member. Architects have now been advised to attempt lowering the height of buildings.

As regards the Vishwavidyalaya Metro project, the private party had submitted a building plan for a multi-storeyed group housing society to the erstwhile MCD. Located right behind the Metro station, the land was initially to be used for parking. However, a few years ago, the Union urban development ministry changed the purpose of the land from institutional to residential. Delhi Metro later auctioned the land to a private party which plans to build a high-rise there. "But the MPD-2021 restricts tall buildings in Lutyens' Bungalow Zone, Civil Lines and North Delhi Campus,'' said a source. DUAC also took into consideration Delhi Univeristy's objections to the high-rise development at the site while scrutinizing the proposal.

DUAC members say the city's Master Plan 2021, which approves trebling the building volumes, may not be suitable for Delhi. "We have seen in many cases that high density low-rises are better for accommodating people. We have to factor in environmental issues," said DUAC member Ashish Ganju

The Times of India, 25th September 2012

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The Textile Movement

Using textiles, an exhibition explores questions of labour, colonialism, capital, trade and politics

Many years ago, the areas in central Mumbai -- now called Parel, Byculla and those around them -- were collectively known as Girangaon and housed more than 100 textile mills, primarily cotton. In Marathi, the word 'Girangaon' literally translates to 'the village of mills'. Workers came from various parts of the state around Mumbai and lived in one-room tenements while they worked in these mills. After the Great Bombay Textile Strike of 1982, however, the number of mills dwindled rapidly and not very long after, became the malls and restaurants we know them as today.

Located not many feet away from the erstwhile Girangaon, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Byculla East, presents an exhibition titled Social Fabric which, among other things, explores the impact the international textile trade had on our local mills and workers. The show centres around two works – a 2001 painting by the Mumbai-based artist Sudhir Patwardhan titled Lower Parel and an installation by the German artist Alice Creischer titled Apparatus for the Osmotic Compensation of the Pressure of Wealth during the Contemplation of Poverty – while UK-based Celine Condorelli features alongside. Mumbai-based Archana Hande's paintings on scrolls, which are also part of the exhibition, show the progression (and simultaneous degradation) of India over the years as it has developed.

For many years, Patwardhan has been closely associated with the plight of the mill workers, having lived in the Lower Parel area when he first moved to Mumbai from Pune, a time when the mills were still flourishing. While little continues to be said about the mills, the artist believes the exhibition has great relevance. “There are lots of struggling groups of people and their work (or lack of it) needs to be highlighted. That is one of the things the exhibition is doing.”

That his work on display, Lower Parel , was done in 2001 means it depicts the area from that day, which is a stark contrast to what it has become today. It shows people mulling about on the streets, standing before a large building and a bridge, appearing lost, so to speak. “When I first moved to Mumbai, I used to depict the working class,” he remembers. “After the strike (of 1982) my interest has been to depict what happened to these people, and the painting shows what they were doing then (in 2001).”

While Patwardhan's work draws from his personal experiences, Creischer's is a global look at the economy and colonialism. The former's painting is accompanied by a number of newspaper cut-outs and images of the strike, mill workers, the mills of yesteryear and Lower Parel of today while the latter's installation includes sheets explaining the relevance of the work – which viewers are recommended to read so as to not be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information the work puts forth.

Before progressing into the rooms of the museum that house these exhibits, however, viewers would do well to first take a look at the exhibit on the ground floor – samples from the Collections of the Textiles Manufactures of India by Forbes Watson, from the museum's collection. In the second half of the 19 th century, Watson was Reporter on the Products of India at the India Museum in London, which meant his job was to catalogue Indian products. Comprising 18 volumes, the Collection documents perhaps every sort of textile that was available in India at the time. In 1855, samples of these various textiles were collected and put on display in Paris at the Paris International Exhibition to create awareness about Indian textiles. It was after this that the British began bringing industrially manufactured, and thereby cheaper, fabric into India, severely hampering the efforts of the Indian workers. They did so in other colonies, too, similarly affecting the efforts of locals workers.

The Indian Express, 26th September 2012

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Precious treasures at a height

The Great Himalayan National Park is a hotspot for biodiversity and is home to some of the most vulnerable and endangered species. In all, there are 375 recorded faunal species within the park. We must protect them

It was only a few years ago when I literally stumbled into the Tirthan Valley in Himachal Pradesh and found myself at a gateway leading to one of India’s ‘youngest’ national parks — The Great Himalayan National Park. A pair of White Capped Red Starts flitted along the banks of the Tirthan river which kept me company as I walked the 10 km stretch to the park entrance from where all the treks begin.

The park was officially declared in 1999, and has over the years expanded by incorporating adjoining ‘protected areas’ and wildlife parks into its fold, bringing the total area under administration to 1,171 sq km.

More recently, in 2010, both the Sainj and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuaries were also added to the GHNP, but will only be formally incorporated once the process known as ‘settlement of rights’ is completed. Covering a large area, the GHNP is contiguous with the Pin Valley National Park (675 sq km) in Trans-Himalaya, the Rupi Bhabha Wildlife Sanctuary (503 sq km) in Sutlej watershed and the Kanawar Wildlife Sanctuary (61 sq km).

Such a large, unbroken and protected expanse of wilderness is like an Eden for flora and fauna to flourish. Geographically speaking, the park seems to encompass almost everything from dense oak and walnut forests, alpine valleys and meadows to patches of high altitude pink rhododendrons which finally give way to a treeless rocky and glacial terrain at 6,100 metres at it’s highest point.

The GHNP is a hotspot for biodiversity and is home to some of the most vulnerable and endangered species. In all, there are 375 recorded faunal species within the park, a number which is likely to increase, as research and studies indicate. These include the Snow Leopard, the Himalayan Black and Brown Bear, the Royle’s Vole, the Himalayan Tahr, the leopard, the Himalayan Pit Viper, the Musk deer, the Monal and the Western Tragopan, to name just a few.

The Western Tragopan, which is also on the logo of the GHNP, is considered to be the rarest of pheasants in the world. Juju Rana, as it is locally known, literally translates as the king of birds. According to local legend, when the creator was making the world she decided to make something special. So she asked all the birds to give one feather each and from that she created the Juju Rana. It is this biodiversity and its uniqueness that has got the GHNP nominated to the status of a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Unesco will be evaluating the national park this coming month and consider awarding it the status of a World Heritage Site — a status which earlier this year the Western Ghats was awarded, but was declined by the Goa and the Karnataka Governments, presumably owing to the gigantic mining mafia that exists in the region. It is ironic that the very minerals and metals the human race is after are below the most pristine and ancient forests. To open up a forest to be scraped and gouged for mining is to seal not only the fate of the forest, but also everything around it and connected with it.

The GHNP has been nominated specifically under two criteria. The first criterion is that the site should contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

The second condition is that it should contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. The nomination itself is testimony to the fact that GHNP is amongst the top most biologically diverse and vital natural habitats on our planet.

Unfortunately, it is this very fact which is also one of the reasons why the GHNP is threatened. The forests with their diversity in both flora and fauna, have long been used by the communities that have lived in and around them. Local village communities used the meadows and wild lands to graze domestic cattle and sheep, collect forest produce, especially medicinal plants, and to hunt for wild meat in a sustainable manner.

The second half of this story is not new. Commercial gain comes sweeping in and turns everything inside out. Accelerating development, including mining, tourism, hydro-electric dams, timber/forest encroachment and even military use, are taking a toll on this protected habitat. One other activity which began small but has grown disturbingly fast to a vast scale is the illegal collection of medicinal plants.

During my time at the GHNP, I was told about how the demand for these medicinal plants comes from the cities and how then these plants are exported out of the country. The locals are shown photographs of the plant, fungus or root that is in demand, given a rate and sent out in hordes. The entire pipeline is extremely organised and run by a mafia.

The biggest demand these days is for a plant locally called Naag Chhatri. It is the root of the plant that is sought after. Needless to say, to harvest it the entire plant is killed. The plant itself is extremely medicinal in nature and is apparently used as a cure for everything — from fever to high blood pressure. The exact number of people involved is not known, but the quantities extracted from the forest are reportedly huge. So huge that it poses a very real threat to actually cause a local extinction of the species.

The GHNP is also a major source of water for the rural and the urban centres of the region. Four major rivers originate from its glaciers: Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa Nal and Parvati flow through and out of the park. Not too long ago, a hydro-electric project was planned in the Tirthan Valley. The impact of the dam would have devastated the area. It was the initiative of a few and the support of the people that led to protests. Thankfully, the project has been abandoned.

The biggest challenge here, like for any other forested area, is that of protection. The Government and forest department appear geared up to meet it, though they need to do a lot more than they have so far.

Many efforts and initiatives have been made, and made most successfully, to create opportunity and livelihood for the communities around the GHNP. With options given to neighbouring residents to earn extra income legally, and those options exercised, pressures on the forest have reduced.

What will continue to protect the GHNP is the sheer inaccessibility to many areas of the national park. There are no motorable roads that closely approach the national park, and it requires at least a half-day trek to reach the entrance.

Many peaks and high altitude meadows have never had a human footprint. In a crowded world bursting at the seams this is perhaps hard to imagine, but a hotspot like the GHNP is still slowly revealing its secrets. Medicinal plants, insects and even previously undocumented mammals lie hidden. Earlier this year, after two years’ worth of efforts in collaboration with the forest department, we managed to get the first video documentation of the Western Tragopan in the wild in India. There are now reports of the existence of the Himalayan Serow, an extremely shy creature that is more of a mix between a goat and antelope. Giant flying squirrels, martins, leopards and bears roam freely through these great forests, a safe haven for now.

In a fast changing world where the true value of a single tree may have been lost along the way, we need to build a brave new world to hold on to these treasures before they are lost forever.

The Pioneer, 26th September 2012

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Vertical growth will stress resources in Delhi

Even as Union urban development minister Kamal Nath continues to push for vertical growth in Delhi, urban planners and experts say the city's most basic infrastructure — power, water and parking — is already stretched, and could collapse under the pressure of high-density housing.

The city's planners estimate future infrastructure needs keeping population projections in mind, but the experience of the last two master plans shows population projections are not reliable. In 2001, for instance, the population was 1.38 crore against a master plan projection of 1.28 crore.

Over the years, such unforeseen population growth has resulted in severe shortage of power and water. Although a mid-term review of Master Plan 2021 is intended to address the present shortages, experts fear a shift to the high-rise, high-density urban model will again upset the balance. TOI does a reality check on three essentials:

Power

With an average annual increase of 25% in electricity demand, discoms are gearing up to meet a peak demand of 6,400MW next summer. This year, the May-July period saw new demand records set every other day. "In the last year or two, the demand has surpassed all expectations. More and more consumers are using air conditioners all day. However, growth of Delhi's own power generation has failed to keep pace. Apart from Pragati power station that was commissioned in 2002, the only additions generation capacity are the Bawana plant and Tata's Rithala plant — both suffering due to gas shortage,'' said a power sector expert.

Delhi's dependence on power from outside led to a severe crisis this year after the Northern Grid collapsed on two occasions. "If you promote high-rise development, power demand is also going to increase and discoms may not be prepared to meet the surging demand. Demand is set to surge after almost 900 unauthorized colonies are regularized and discom infrastructure is far from ready to support the enhanced load,'' said a senior official.

BSES Rajdhani CEO Gopal Saxena added: "The moment you encourage high-rises, power demand goes up. Earlier, we had planned for a load of 5kW per house but it has already gone up to 11 kW per house. To feed high-rises, we also have to identify places for right of way and allocate space for laying equipment like distribution transformers and sub-stations.''

Water

Delhi also sources much of its water from neighbouring states. Its only internal source — groundwater — is in short supply, and highly contaminated at many places. Already, there is a shortage of more than 200 million gallons per day, and this does not even take into account people surviving on unregistered tube wells or illegal supply.

"Delhi's water supply infrastructure is old and was not planned for the extensive population growth of the last few decades. DJB is constructing underground reservoirs for a more equitable distribution but the fact is that our water supply is limited. To add to the problem, people use online boosters that considerably reduce pressure in supply lines, leading to poor supply at tail-end areas. Yet, new housing schemes are being launched," said a senior DJB official.

Unable to cope with the stress on its system due to existing multi-storey buildings, DJB CEO Debashree Mukherjee wrote to DDA recently, asking for a change in building by-laws so that buildings more than two storeys high are required to have underground tanks, and the board's responsibility is limited to feeding these tanks. Although it has been criticised by civic agencies for the "unrealistic" plan, DJB says it has no choice if it is to ensure equitable supply across the city.

Parking

Shortage of parking space has already reached crisis levels due to a massive increase in personal vehicles. Brawls over parking space have become common as vehicles eat up space on roads, sidewalks and open grounds. In Delhi, cars require about 11% of the urbanised area for parking when 80% of the population still does not own cars.

The government is now trying hard to work out a suitable policy. Advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment says providing for regulated and organized parking of vehicles and putting restraints on the use of public spaces for parking should be the key to a good policy.

A Central Road Research Institute study found an average car spends only 400 hours a year in traffic. The remaining 8,360 hours are spent parked.

The Times of India, 26th September 2012

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Better planning for floods

Flash floods and landslips that have followed unusually sustained rainfall since September 17 have left a deadly trail in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. In Sikkim, following a cloudburst in the Chungthang region, homes, bridges, and stretches of highways were washed away. Among those hit were personnel of the Border Roads Organisation and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. No less than 70 landslips left whole regions cut off in the mountainous terrain. In Arunachal Pradesh, over two lakh people were affected in a wave of floods in five districts. An unusually heavy spell of rain is also threatening the stability of the famed Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, precariously perched on a cliff-face, not far from the border with China. Meanwhile, more than 17 lakh people have been hit in 16 districts of Assam in a third round of floods this year. Assam’s human tragedy has been aggravated by the fact that in the Kaziranga National Park, some 75 per cent of the rhino habitat was submerged. The animals were forced to take shelter on high platforms or move across to the hills of Karbi Anglong district. The Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary also remains substantially submerged. In the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Tinsukia district, noted for its endangered animal species and wet evergreen forests, elephant calves were swept away by flood waters. Majuli, Asia’s largest inhabited river island in Jorhat district, is almost entirely submerged. It is cut off from the mainland with the ferry service across the Brahmaputra suspended.

Rescue and relief work undertaken by the Army, the Air Force, the National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force have provided some comfort, but the scale of the task remains stupendous. The Brahmaputra and its tributaries are a blessing, but also a bane for the region. The river leaves the region fertile and irrigated, even aids mobility by hosting a thriving water transport system. But in its fury, the mighty and meandering hydraulic system has undone and effaced efforts over a long period of time to check and tame it. Lives and livelihoods, crops and infrastructure come under threat time and again. There is, of course, no telling how and when nature will vent its fury.

Nevertheless, a clear plan of action based on the science of water management needs to be rolled out for the long term to mitigate damage and help people through what has effectively become an annual round of trouble for the region with the least possible discomfort. Working with the State governments concerned, the Centre should step in to ensure this.

The Hindu, 26th September 2012

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Will not vacate existing memorials, Centre tells Supreme Court

The Centre on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it would not be legally possible to evict memorial trusts which have occupied big bungalows in the capital's posh Lutyen's zone.

Additional solicitor general P P Malhotra told a bench of Justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi that the Union government had taken a decision and formulated guidelines in 2000 banning conversion of government bungalows in future into memorials for departed political leaders.

"But it will not be possible to evict the existing memorials as the government has entered into agreements with trusts which run the memorials allowing them to occupy the bungalows for a specified period. Evicting the memorials prior to the expiry of the lease period will breach the agreement," he said.

The bench reserved judgment on the petition, which the court had converted into a public interest litigation given the rampant unauthorized occupation of official accommodation by functionaries in the executive, judiciary and legislature. The bench indicated that it would examine the necessity of framing guidelines on this issue.

Amicus curiae and senior advocate Ranjit Kumar had given several suggestions to the court including eviction of memorials occupying prime government properties as well as allocation of official bungalows to journalists, eminent artists, NGOs and freedom fighters from the discretionary quota.

Malhotra said the government had formulated guidelines based on a 1997 judgment of the apex court and had allotted residential accommodation to these categories from under 5% discretionary quota. "Let these allotments be not disturbed," he said.

The Times of India, 26th September 2012

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Centre submits new guidelines on core areas of tiger reserves to SC

Two months after the Supreme Court banned tourism in core areas of tiger reserves after relying on the existing guidelines, the Centre Wednesday submitted revised guidelines, permitting up to 20 per cent of core tiger habitats as delineated tourism zone.

“Current tourism zones where only tourist activities are permitted and there are no consumptive uses, tiger density and recruitment does not seem to be impacted. For this reason, permitting up to 20 per cent of core tiger habitat as a tourism zone should not have an adverse effect on the tiger biology needs, which is subject to adherence to all the prescriptions made in the guidelines,” read the guidelines by the Environment and Forest Ministry.

Saying regulated tourism results in enhanced awareness, the guidelines favoured permission for “non-consumptive, regulated, low-impact” tourism within the core areas without compromising the spirit of tiger conservation.

“With this importance of tourism in tiger conservation in mind, it is recommended that a maximum of 20 per cent of the core tiger habitat usage not exceeding the present usage for regulated, low-impact tourist visitation may be permitted,” said the guidelines which will be taken up by the Supreme Court Thursday as it resumes hearing a PIL by conservationist Ajay Dubey.

The guidelines contradict the Centre’s previous stand of gradual phase-out of tourism-related activities in tiger reserves. Based on that stance, the Supreme Court had on July 24 ordered that core areas in the 41 tigers reserves be kept out of bounds for tourists till it finalises guidelines for such areas. The core area is the central part of a reserve and should have minimal human disturbance. The buffer zone usually constitutes fringe areas upto 10 km around the core.

Some time after the ban, the Centre sought the court’s permission to “further review” the guidelines, citing concerns that the ban would result in loss of livelihood to local populations and endanger wildlife and forests. The court allowed the Centre to revise its guidelines.

The new guidelines say that no new tourism infrastructure should be created in core areas while existing residential infrastructure should be strictly regulated. “Permanent tourist facilities inside core areas being used for wildlife tourism should be phased out in a time frame decided by the Local Advisory Committee,” it said.

The LAC comprises the divisional commissioner, local MLA and district collector.

The ministry has also said tourism plans for each tiger reserve will be site-specific and ratified by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state.

Steps For states

The Environment Ministry has recommended that states enact their own legislation in sync with these guidelines. Besides, states should charge a “conservation fee” from the tourism industry and use the money to conserve wild life and provide livelihood to local inhabitants. It also wants 10 per cent of the revenue generated from pilgrim centres located in tiger reserves to be used for development of local communities.

The Indian Express, 27th September 2012

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Vandals of heritage

‘Treasure hunters’ must be hunted down The shocking destruction of a part of the historic Hampi ruins by a group of vandals must not only be condemned in unequivocal terms but equally importantly the incident must also serve as an opportunity to ask how much India, as a country truly respects its much-touted ancient heritage.

Sure, it is easy to gloat about one's rich legacy and diverse civilisational history and how it all goes back several thousands of years, but what about putting in the effort and the resources necessary to protect and preserve that glorious past? Take the incident at Hampi as an example. ‘The Group of Monuments at Hampi’ is a Unesco- designated World Heritage Site. It is an integral part not only of Indian history but also of world history — and its conservation, therefore, is not just a national responsibility but also of interest to the global community. And yet, there were not enough security procedures in place to prevent a group of miscreants seeking ‘treasures’ from doing something as outrageous as blowing up with dynamite a three-storey watch-tower located at the entrance of the 16th century temple atop the Malayavantha Hill. That there will always be anti-social elements, driven by an insatiable desire for material wealth, willing to plunder thousands of years of heritage to make a quick buck and further narrow personal goals, is a given, which is why they have to be checked.

Think of the likes of Subhash Chandra Kapoor, the antique smuggler who was arrested in October 2011 for selling idols, including one from the Chola period, to well-known museums across the world. Or even the politicians who blatantly violate building norms around the historical structures. For instance, constructions by the Delhi Government around Jantar Mantar have rendered the famous sun dial defunct while the West Bengal Government's plan to build a new administrative building in Dalhousie Square threatens the architectural harmony of the area. Or even for that matter consider the non-descript tourist who thinks nothing about defacing several centuries old structure. They are all guilty of damaging national heritage. And they exist not just in India but all over the world — from the Guatemalan city of Mirador where looting of Mayan artefacts is a huge threat to preserving the cradle of that ancient civilisation to the little known Turkish city of Ani that tells the tale of the once-powerful Armenian empire but now lies in ruins, endangered by vandals and encroaching settlers. The focus here then must be on how to protect national heritage. There are already laws in this regard, but are unfortunately too rarely implemented. This needs to change and now. International smuggling rackets must be clamped down upon; extensive security measures must be put in place; misbehaving tourists must be fined; politicians who believe they are above the law must be reined in. If not, we shall lose forever the symbols of our rich culture.

The Indian Express, 27th September 2012

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Raj remains get Delhi makeover

More than half the work in the multi-crore, ambitious project to give Coronation Park a makeover is complete. The site, in North Delhi’s Burari area, is where King George V announced the shifting of imperial India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi in December 1911.

Spread over 56 acres adjacent to a forest, the park has been teeming with construction workers, stone-carvers, artisans and heavy machinery ever since the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) took up the project in 2011 to give this historical site a modern makeover.

Cleared in 2009 with an initial budget of Rs 20 crore, the redevelopment plan includes intricately built “chhatris” at specific places, statues of historical figures, a heritage interpretation centre, a restaurant, a flagpost, an amphitheatre and a lake. Besides, landscaping will add to the aesthetics.

Chhatris are dome-shaped canopies widely used in palaces and forts. These were originally attributed to Rajasthani architecture and later adapted as a standard feature in Mughal architecture.

Red and white sandstone and marble have been brought from Rajasthan and Agra for the chattris, walls around the statues and the meandering footpaths.

The park will have two entry points, one of which will be reserved for VIPs.

The path from the VIP gate will have the flagpost and the amphitheatre to its right. Leading to an obelisk at the centre, this pathway will be flanked by four chattris on each side.

The entrance for the masses will be close to an heritage interpretation centre.

“Almost 90 per cent of work on the pathway is complete. A small portion of the forest was cleared to build a jungle trail. A rose garden is coming up near the heritage interpretation centre. Craftsmen are working on the walls around the statues. These will be engraved with information on the history of the place,” an official said.

The park has the tallest statue of King George V on a pedestal. It was brought to the site in 1960 from its earlier location at India Gate. “Conservation of the statue is being done by INTACH,” the official said.

A highlight of the park will be the heritage interpretation centre, which is essentially a museum. Siddhartha Chatterjee, consultant at INTACH, said the centre will showcase the key moments of the past 150 years in the area around Kingsway Camp, apart from providing information and anecdotes on the Coronation Durbar of 1911.

“Events from the past will be viewed through the perspective of India in, say, 2012. This will reflect our diverse past and heritage, including the present-day legacies. We intend to provide an opportunity to the people to recognise and think about the many influences that have come to shape Delhi and our lives,” he said.

Tracing the growth of the city, the exhibition at the centre will cover events since the 1857 Mutiny, the three imperial durbars held at the park, the building of New Delhi, post-Partition history and the changing ecology of North Delhi and the Ridge.

Developments during Mughal-era Delhi will also be part of the exhibition.

All these events will be linked to the larger story of colonialism, nationalism, Independence and the aftermath, Chatterjee said.

Visual material is collected in the form of government accounts, records, maps, archival photographs and illustrations, quotations from historical accounts and reports, newspapers and journals published in Hindi, English and Urdu to showcase the city’s rollercoaster ride through history.

Though work hasn’t stopped ever since “the first bunch of workers moved in with tools in hand”, officials said small, niggling problems have delayed the project. It has already overshot its deadline of March this year and could, probably, run beyond the revised December date.

Officials at the site said the low-lying parkland was flooded with rainwater in the monsoon. “As a result, pumping out water has taken more time than digging and putting pipes to build an underground water-disposal system. To deal with the flooding, four water tanks had to be constructed in the park. Around 75 per cent of the underground drainage system is ready and the remaining, weather permitting, will be completed soon,” an official said.

This is good news for the ground crew doing the landscaping at the site.

But, the official said the floodwater — pumped out and stored — cannot be used on the plants because of high salinity. “Water for the gardens will come from the Delhi Jal Board’s treatment plant located nearby,” he said.

King George V announced the shifting of imperial India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi in December 1911 at this site in Burari, North Delhi

3 coronation durbars — 1877, 1903 and 1911 — held

A plaque at the gate proclaims:

“This memorial was erected to commemorate the Coronation Durbar of King George V and Queen Mary held in December 1911. On this occasion the King announced the transfer of the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi.”

What to look for

30-metre-long iron flagpost, towering above the 20-metre obelisk

Chhatris, or dome-shaped canopies with intricate Mughal jaali work or fine trellis work, at specific places

Statues of King George V and historical figures. The 49-foot marble statue of King George V, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is opposite to the obelisk commemorating the durbar. This statue was at India Gate until 1960

A heritage interpretation centre or museum that will take people on a trip down Delhi’s history

A lake and landscaped gardens

An amphitheatre

A restaurant

A jungle trail

The Indian Express, 27th September 2012

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City’s oldest ISBT is ready with new look

Kashmere Gate Phase-I of renovation almost complete, will be ready for ops next month

After putting scores of passengers through hardship, the Maharana Pratap ISBT at Kashmere Gate is all set to greet passengers with an air-conditioned waiting lounge, food court, glass elevators and escalators from next month.

According to Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) officials, the Phase-I of the renovation project — after missing the deadline thrice, since it began in June 2011— is finally complete and the operations will resume from next month.

“The interior area is being be given an international look. Keeping in mind passenger facilities, we have already put in place the escalators, lifts, an enquiry booth and improved ticket counters. The toilets, which were in a dilapidated condition before, have been renovated to match international standards. The work on the escalators, lifts, ticket booths, apart from the granite flooring, have been completed,” a DIMTS official said.
The passengers will now be greeted with a spacious enquiry counter, occupying a central space at the terminal. LED display boards, showing the arrival and departure time of buses, have also been put up.

As part of the project, structural strengthening and retrofitting of the existing building against earthquake have also been carried out.

“We have taken all steps to ensure maximum security of passengers, since enhanced security was a major part of the renovation project,” the official said.

A door-frame metal detector, which will be manned by two security guards round the clock, has been installed at the entry point.

“We have installed high-resolution CCTV cameras across the terminus. These are rotating cameras and can be controlled by police personnel stationed in the control room. Other security equipment such as boom-barriers and an access-controlled system for buses have also been put in place,” the official said.

The DIMTS official said the work on the building management system and the public information system was yet to be completed.

The building management system monitors and controls all machinery in the building such as the ACs, pumps and seweage treatment plant.

“Though the LED display boards have been set up, work on installing the machinery to announce arrivals and departure of buses and public help desks is still going on.

“The monsoon led to a delay in the work that requires wiring. We are now laying electrical wires by using trench-less technology. Since extra power is required to run sophisticated machinery, including the escalators and lifts, we have contacted discoms for extra power supply. Once this is done, the terminal will be fully functional,” the official said.

The installation of a rainwater harvesting system and a fire-security system is also underway. “Currently, the cleaning and polishing work is on.

The Indian Express, 28th September 2012

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Digging their heels in tiger land

With bauxite mining operations breathing down its neck and the possibility of a deep drilling project, Maharashtra’s Sahyadri Tiger Reserve is under threat

While the Maharashtra government says it is the first in the country to notify core and buffer areas in all its four tiger reserves in the State, in a recent affidavit to the Supreme Court naturalists have pointed out that the tiger habitats are under pressure from poaching and bauxite mining. They are also concerned about a deep drilling project to study seismicity in the Koyna region falling in the core area of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve (STR).

The STR, notified in 2010, is beset by bauxite mining within one km of the boundary of the Chandoli National Park in Kolhapur district which forms part of the reserve, in violation of existing norms. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) gave environmental clearance for two mines in December 2006. One of them is located on 254.52 hectares of private land with a capacity of 60,000 tonnes per annum (tpa).The other mine was permitted to extract 3.37 lakh tpa and mine lease area was 776.78 hectares — 586.76 hectares of which was forest land.

In the clearance letter to both the companies, namely M/S Prakash Anandrao Gaikwad and Swati Minerals, it was stated that the Chandoli National Park is located at a distance of 10 km from the mine just outside the buffer zone.

However, Nana Khamkhar and Rohan Bhate of Creative Nature Friends toldThe Hindu that the issue was taken up with the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court, saying that the two bauxite mines were located within one km of the park and the MoEF’s environmental clearance was based on incorrect facts. Mr. Khamkhar said there was a Supreme Court order of 2006 which clearly says mining was not permissible within one km of the boundary of national parks. The National Board for Wildlife has to clear proposals for mining within 10 km of national parks.

The other concern for wildlife conservationists is the proposal for deep drilling in the Warna reservoir, which is part of the core area of the STR. Located in Chandoli National Park, this area is acknowledged by the Forest Department to be a breeding area for tigers and cubs have been sighted here, Mr Khamkhar said.

Dr. Purnachandra Rao, senior principal scientist from the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, however, said, “The proposal for the deep drilling project will take us right to the spot where earthquakes are happening. Drilling will have to be done for six to seven km and the 10-year study could help answer a lot of questions remaining on earthquakes.” The Koyna region experienced a massive quake in 1967. The proposal will study intraplate earthquake mechanism in the region which is prone to tremors. There is a two-fold interest for the NGRI since there are two reservoirs — Warna and Koyna — in the vicinity, Dr. Rao said

This was an internationally important programme spearheaded by the NGRI which had approached the Maharashtra Forest Department two months ago. “We are sensitive to issues and there is no cause for panic,” Dr. Rao added.

Principal Secretary (Forests), Praveen Pardeshi, said that the bauxite mines were given permission before the restriction of the 10 km limit came into being. They had the required clearances, he said.

However, Assistant Conservator of Forests, Chandoli National Park, Sitaram Zure said that after complaints of mining, the Forest Department had informed the MoEF in February about the permission for two mines being given on false information that they were located 10 km away from the National Park boundary. Mr. Zure said the National Tiger Conservation Authority had also examined the matter and sent a report. He said that notices have been issued to the two companies by the Mining Department.

Regarding the deep drilling project, Mr. Pardeshi said the proposal was to drill in the Warna reservoir, which fell in the core area of the STR. The NGRI had only sent a letter, there was no formal proposal as yet and it would be first considered by the State Wildlife Board before approval by the National Board for Wildlife. He was of the opinion that the study should be permitted in the interest of science.

Mr. Bhate opposed the study saying it would require new roads and places to stay in the reserve and the noise levels due to drilling would be very high.

The four tiger reserves in Maharashtra are Melghat Tiger Reserve in Amravati district, Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Chandrapur district, Pench Tiger Reserve in Nagpur district and Sahyadri Tiger Reserve spread over Ratnagiri, Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur districts. The State government approved the inclusion of Chandoli National Park and the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary to the Sahyadri in 2010 to create a tiger reserve spread over 741.22 sq km. Later, the STR’s area was expanded to 1165.56 sq km by providing 424.34 sq km as additional buffer area, in the interest of tiger conservation.

Melghat is the oldest of them, having been declared a tiger reserve in 1974. The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve was notified in 1995, Pench in 1999 and Sahyadri Tiger Reserve in 2010.

The Hindu, 28th September 2012

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CBI probe ordered into attacks on rhinos

Army to be deployed in Karbi Anglong hills; Centre takes serious view of situation

Two more rhinoceroses were shot at by poachers in the Kaziranga National Park on Thursday in two separate incidents. These took place in Karbi Anglong district, one near Kuthori around 4.15 a.m. and the other around 12.30 p.m. in the Jagadamba tea estate. The poachers took away the horns of the rhinos.

In the first incident the rhino was found dead, while in the second, the victim was found battling for life, bleeding and writhing in pain. Both mammals had strayed out of flooded areas of the national park, which is also a World Heritage Site, and were moving in the foothills outside the notified area of the park.

Following these two incidents, which occurred a day after poachers shot at a female rhino and made off with its horn, the Assam government ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into all incidents of rhino poaching in the State in the last three years. The government has also decided to deploy the Army in the hills of Karbi Anglong adjacent to the Kaziranga National Park areas, as it suspects militants could also be involved in poaching.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi ordered the CBI probe and announced a cash award of Rs. 5-lakh to anyone who gave information on poachers.

Environment and Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said a team of veterinary and wildlife experts was attending on the two injured rhinos.

Among other measures aimed at curbing poaching were elevation of the post of director of the Kaziranga National Park to Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) rank from the existing rank of Conservator. N.K. Vasu, an IFS officer, was appointed new director of the park. He earlier served as director of the park when he was a conservator.

The Minister said the strength of the front line staff in the park had now increased to 562; 11 sections of the Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) are now deployed there. Besides, 34 new appointments in Forester grade I and 64 forest guards will take place soon. The Environment and Forests Department is also procuring 200 SLRs as part of its plans to equip the AFPF personnel with modern and sophisticated weapons.

Since January, 15 poachers have been apprehended. In 2011, three poachers were killed in an encounter with forest guards, while nine others were arrested and five weapons seized. In 2010, nine poachers were killed and 15 arrested.

Meanwhile, a protest rally was taken up by activists and supporters of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and several other organisations in Kaziranga and other places. They demanded the resignation of Mr. Hussain for failing to protect the rhinos.

Priscilla Jebaraj reports from New Delhi:

Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan has ordered an immediate investigation by a team of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau into the incidents of poaching of rhinos which are fleeing the flooded areas of Kaziranga. She said the investigation should be completed in a week, and the perpetrators brought to justice. Ms. Natarajan has also written to Mr. Gogoi seeking all assistance in this regard and to prevent future incidents. The team comprises C. Behra, Regional Deputy Director, Eastern Region, Kolkata; A.K. Jha, Assistant Director (Intelligence), BHO, Delhi; L. Kuruvilla, Assistant Director, Southern Region, Chennai; and K.K. Sarma, Wildlife Inspector, Northern Region, Delhi.

The Hindu, 28th September 2012

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Endangered even more

Rhinos in Kaziranga are becoming soft targets

From being an abode to the famed one-horned rhino, the Kaziranga National Park is fast turning into a killing field for these rare and endangered species. The high-security Kaziranga, a Unesco World Heritage Park, is Assam's pride, playing host to two-thirds of the world's Great One-horned Rhinos. Indeed, the wildlife reserve has been touted as one of the greatest success stories in the country's conservation efforts. But of late, that reputation has been sorely tested. The reasons have varied from natural calamity to man-engineered catastrophes. Currently, the national park is in the throes of severe floods. The surging waters have inundated more than 80 per cent of the park killing nearly 22 animals, including four rhinos. Assam's worst-ever floods in June this year saw over 600 animals of the park including rhinos and elephants perish.

But the more disquieting news and cause for greater alarm is the rising incidence of poaching. Poachers constantly on the prowl, inside and outside parks, have taken advantage of Kaziranga's inundation to go on a rampage on Wednesday. Two rhinos, which had strayed out of the park to escape the floodwaters, fell prey to the poachers. The killings were as gruesome as they were ruthless. The poachers mindful only of their own pelf and security, sawed off the rhino's horn even as the animal lay bleeding and alive, before making good their escape. It was easy, because along with the animals, the floodwaters had reportedly washed away more than 100 anti-poaching camps of the forest guards inside the park. The incident was a re-run of a similar poaching of a female rhino in January 2008 and happened barely 48 hours after the recovery of a rhino carcass without its horn in the park. Although, forest officials claimed that the carcass was an old one, the missing horn points to poaching. The park has lost four rhinos within a span of a week. The death toll due to poaching has reached 14 this year alone.

While it is frustrating that poachers could so easily kill rhinos in the high-security park, the incident also points to the flourishing of — despite many crackdowns by the authorities — organised poaching syndicates. Although the rhino’s horn has no proven medicinal effect on humans, myths about its aphrodisiac qualities and medicinal worth in curing cancer thrive, especially in many South-East Asian countries, making the sale of horns a highly profitable trade. The incident also highlights the loopholes in the existing security mechanism and the failure of the State Government to plug them. Furthermore, a strong intelligence network with the locals is necessary to keep tabs on the movement of poachers. Had there been a stronger security in the peripheral areas of the park, such deaths could have been at least preventable.

The Times of India, 28th September 2012

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Delhi’s first royal tomb lost to shrubs and goats

It may have been identified as anarchaeological park under Master Plan of Delhi 2021, but the area surrounding the early 13th-century Sultangarhi tomb — the first royal tomb in Delhi — is far from being a tourist attraction. Lack of proper signage and pathways, and the obscure location of the approach road have made it difficult for visitors to access the site in the city's southwest. The only people who pay the occasional visit to the ASI-protected tomb are locals.

The master plan defines an archaeological park as "an area distinguishable by heritage resources which has the potential to become an interpretative educational reserve for the public in addition to being a tourist attraction". However, the definition on paper only remains a vision. A reality check showed that the park is nothing but a neglected green area which could have become a major tourist destination had the Archaeological Survey of India and Delhi Development Authority paid some attention to its upkeep. The other two archaeological parks identified under the master plan are at Tughlaqabad and Mehrauli.

Located in the midst of the green area, Sultangarhi tomb is on ASI's list of 10 ticketed monuments but statistics reveal that the body earns no revenue from the tomb. A lone ASIguard sits at the gate clutching a bundle of tickets, ready to welcome the rare visitor. The ticket counter was burnt down by locals a few years ago.

only people who visit the spot are local villagers who come to offer prayers. For others, it is impossible to get here from the main road as the approach road is difficult to locate," said the guard. While the tomb itself is in a good condition, the ruins surrounding it are marred by moss-covered walls. A Tughlaq-era well located a stone's throw away has also been neglected for decades.

"Some years ago, Intach had undertaken conservation work on the ruins and put up information boards. But over the years, the ruins have been vandalized and encroached upon," said an official.

Sources add that the lack of proper pathways and presence of anti-social elements in the vicinity act as a deterrent for visitors. More importantly, awareness on the park's historical significance is missing. Also, there are no security personnel to safeguard the premises.

Inky portions of the green area were identified as the archaeological park but boundaries have not been carved yet, said a DDA official. Urban experts say that outlining boundaries is crucial for the park's maintenance otherwise encroachments are bound to crop up.

"What DDA needs to do is place on record what is the significance of defining a green area as an archaeological park and implement a proper management plan to preserve the park's historical character as well as to keep the green belt alive. Facilities have to be created so that the park is ready to receive visitors," said an expert.

The Times of India, 28th September 2012

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Courting the cotton culture

The Capital will inaugurate an exhibition on traditional handloom khadi and malkha to coincide with Gandhi Jayanti

From the villages of India to the prêt collections of international designers, Malkha, a mix of malmal and khadi has travelled a long distance. Paying a tribute to this wonderful fabric, the National Archives of India is hosting a Khadi & Malkha exhibition from October 2 to 11 in the Capital.

India has had an interesting journey with cotton -- it has grown, spun, woven and worn cotton and clothed other nations in it for over 200 years now. The looms run on in the 21 century, with almost no industrial pollution and depredation of the earth’s resources.

“The Indian cotton textile industry has outlasted the industrial revolution’s challenge, and today provides an environmental, ecological alternative to energy-intensive mechanical production, providing employment to millions of people in the different processes of cloth production from the carding, spinning, warp laying, sizing of the warp, the weaver and the maker of tools for all these. Making cotton cloth entirely in rural areas links the small and marginal farmers of cotton to the cloth that is made from their harvest,” say the organisers of the exhibition.

Not to forget the patronage khadi received from M K Gandhi, who used it symbolically in the fight against the colonisers.

The interest in khadi has never faded in India and has even reached foreign shores. What makes khadi and malkha popular are its slubbed texture and draping qualities.

The Hindu, 29th September 2012

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Walk through the pages

Navina Jafa's book elaborates on the art of preserving and presenting heritage. She spoke to Ektaa Malik

With a megaphone in hand, she is a familiar fixture on the city’s historical and cultural circuit.She often makes people wake up at early hours and enlightens them on Delhi’s monuments. Navina Jafa knows their stories like the back of her hand. Her mother was worried she would grow up to be angrez, because Jafa was brought up in the West Indies. But there was nothing to be afraid of.

Navina took her Indian heritage seriously. She is a Fullbright Scholar with a PHD in history and trained in Kathak. The heritage walks she organises are well attended. She elaborates, “I wanted to balance my western education with Indian culture, visualising Bharat versus India. I attended lectures by Kapila Vatsyayan. Did art history and art appreciation courses at NGMA and elsewhere. But I wondered why I felt asleep at lectures, when I loved history. That’s why I’ve organised the walks.”

She continues, “I remember attending Dussehra celebrations on the lawns of Red Fort and circuses being hosted there. Look at it now. The monument has become isolated, inaccessible by the general public. I am trying to bring people closer to that aspect of our cultural heritage. I maintain, that higher the Taj Mahal goes in its stature internationally, the more people will get alienated.”

Jafa has produced a book, Performing Heritage, Art of Exhibit Walks (Sage Publications).

It required the impossible task of sitting in one place and facing the computer. “I am a performer and have always been active. To sit still constantly and labour over words was tough.”

Jafa’s is in her element during walks, dramatically pausing to elaborate on stories humanising characters.

She doesn’t bore attendees with just dates and architectural information.

“A performance dies when it is over. But when you write, its immortal. I tried to make the legacy of these monuments live through the book. And I tried to highlight that presenting monuments is an art.”

When she takes people to Humayun’s Tomb she speaks about a caretaker of Afsar ki Sarai. “I speak of him as Romeo Caretaker who would come to his work, teasing and eyeing women on the way.People might forget Humayun, but they relate to Romeo. To her the monuments are not just stone. She talks as if of a favourite child. “They are living entities. I involve the local economy and experts. They might not have a degree but they know the place like their home.” The book is written in simple language, sans academic jargon. Its similar to her walks.

The Daily Pioneer, 29th September 2012

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Sparrow all set to get official bird tag

The Delhi government is ready to notify the sparrow as the Capital’s first official bird.

On August 15, chief minister Sheila Dikshit had made a declaration and launched a “rise of the sparrows” campaign. “We’re working on an action plan. Efforts are being made to sensitise people, especially children. The notification may be issued next week,” government sources said.

“The chief minister, who heads the environment ministry, is keen on protecting sparrows and bringing them back, besides raising awareness about their life and habitat,” said a senior official.

Mohammad Dilawar, founder of Nature Forever Society, has set up an online portal, Common Bird Monitoring of India (CBMI), where people can register and monitor the birds.

“We have tied up with the government in this conservation project. We’re drafting guidelines for the creation of more habitats and getting these birds back to Delhi,” Dilawar said.

“In our food chain, this bird, like many others, is a bio-indicator. We’re saving this bird because it means we have made our environment better,” he said.

A forest department official said, “In Lutyens’ Delhi, we have not spotted these birds in the last two-three years. Methyl nitrate, emitted by vehicles, is one reason why these birds are becoming extinct. Vegetable production along the river, which used to attract sparrows, is also becoming a thing of the past.”

The Hindustan Times, 29th September 2012

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Green the dirty drains

Rather than turning their faces away from ganda nalas that happen to be essential to Delhi’s drainage system, authorities and residents should try protecting and greening them

There is hardly any town in the country that does not have its ganda (dirty)nala (drain). In many places the ganda nala has become a part of the city’s psyche and even the city’s directional landmark. Delhi today boasts of 22 such major drains and both Meerut and Saharanpur have at least one each.

Look closely and you will find that each one of them is the combined output of a network of many such smaller nalas, some of which might even be originating from your own house, housing complex or the locality. Ever given a thought to these nalas, their origin and if they were always ganda?

The fact is that most, if not all, are the creation of the natural topography of the place in question and originated as storm water drains that carried the high flows during monsoon rains to either yet another drain or to a nearby water body or a river. In case of Delhi, it is the river Yamuna that has acted as the end destination of the city’s high flows. Thus these nalas were essential features of the natural drainage system of a town or city. Also in olden times, most of them acted as the town’s greenways and sites of recreation. It was much later and mostly during the last and the present century that we as part of our ‘development’ process converted them into ganda nalas.

Anything that is ganda abhors us and we have a tendency to wish or shoo it out of sight. It is also a fact that many of these ganda nalas exhale nauseating stench and become a source of vector borne diseases, especially when water in them tends to stagnate. No wonder there is a frequent clamour from affected people to seek their covering and concretisation.

But is it the ganda nala which is at fault deserving to be ‘fixed’ by the municipal authorities? Travel to a ‘developed’ western nation, and one is hard put to locate such ganda nalas? Surely they exist there, too, but have mostly been ‘fixed’ either under a road, a culvert, a parking site or into pipes. But if that was the correct ‘solution’, then why is there now, a growing clamour to “daylight” such infrastructure?

“Day lighting” or a ‘greening of grey (concrete) infrastructure’ is the process by which cities like Philadelphia in the U.S. endeavour to ‘green’ themselves, by rediscovering their lost or hidden streams and storm water drains and then expose them back to the elements. This is taken up even when the costs for such reversal prove prohibitive as a lot of effort, including enabling science, technology and legislation is required to re-nature such sites.

Not many might recall that in the year 1996, a dissertation by researcher Pallavi Kalia at the TVB School of Habitat Studies, New Delhi looked at the drainage system in the city of Delhi and then tested successfully the following hypothesis:“ The natural drainage channels, existing as a part of a city’s fabric, if developed through capitalising on their inherent characteristics, can be transformed from being corridors of filth and squalor, into means of reinforcing the imageability of the city, apart from making it functionally more efficient and ecologically more sustainable.”

While the referred study had focussed primarily on the Barapula drainage sub-system in Delhi, its applicability to the rest of the city was found to be obvious.

Now as Delhi bids for a heritage city and a world class city status, it would be best advised to not limit its ‘green city’ claim to just the tree cover that it has justifiably achieved. How it protects and suitably develops its natural drainage channels and reclaim those that it has already lost shall be the litmus test of its claim to a world class city. And since the tentacles of its natural drainage system spreads to every nook and corner of the city, it shall as much be the responsibility of the State authorities as of every resident of this city to work towards protection, preservation and improvement of its natural drains.

The role of the city’s residents and their associations (RWAs) in transforming every filthy drain in the city into a welcome greenway is immense. For where does the ‘filth’ that clogs the drains actually emanate from? Secondly, does it not make much better sense to appreciate, value and work together to clean and green our drains now, rather then spend a fortune at a later date to “daylight” them, a la many cities in the West?

(The writer is the Convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)

The Hindu, 29th September 2012

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Another Monument of Neglect

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The question of how do we in India relate to our heritage is very easy to answer. By and large we do not relate to our heritage in any way, unless what we do to them can be construed to mean that we treat them as our own. This is especially true of the built heritage scattered all around us whether in metropolitan agglomerates, million plus cities, small towns or in remote villages. Our attitude is the same - supreme disdain and callousness.

Whether this attitude is the product of a people who have become inured to heritage because they have had a surfeit of it or because they only have a distorted sense of a Hindu past and a Muslim past is difficult to say. Unless we can turn a building either into a mosque or a temple we do not seem to care much for it, the moment we can convert a heritage structure into a place of worship we begin to repair and refurbish it and keep at it till we remove all vestiges of history and antiquity from it.

Those structures that cannot be so converted into places of worship seem to leave us cold and untouched and we treat them as a ‘no man’s land’ and therefore easy pickings for all comers. Some of the uses that we put heritage monuments to include driving nails in the walls to hang kitschy calendars, to attach wires to dry our daily wash and to stretch cables to our houses. We use the courtyards for playing cricket, for sleeping in, for drying our grains. We paint the walls in hideous shades of green or saffron to erect shrines along the periphery. We encroach upon entire structures and convert them into extensions of our houses, or to conduct our businesses from. Using the niches under monumental structures for starting bicycle or auto repair shops, for storing construction material or using them for rearing poultry or pigs etc are all part of our daily routine. The number of monuments that have been used as public conveniences is too large to be enumerated.

Except for downright encroachment, one can witness many of these activities in and around Masjid Moth, located inside the Masjid Moth village that derives its name from the sultanate period mosque that is now a protected monument. One corner next to the exterior of the west wall of the mosque has been converted into a reserved parking lot for some elected representative, there are two cars with the Delhi Assembly stickers parked in this reserved lot, the sticker on one of them at least expired on December 31, 2011. The owner must be someone powerful with scant respect for the law, considering the expired sticker and the land grabbed for parking.

The mosque has been in the news recently ( To be or not to be, Metroplus, The Hindu, September 22, 2012) because the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is building a hostel for its staff within the prohibited 100 metre limit for construction next to a protected monument. One wonders how were the builders given the NOC by the competent authority appointed by the National Monuments Authority.

Vikramjeet Singh, an IT professional and enthusiastic photographer of historical monuments, and I went to Masjid Moth to do our own investigation. The hostel under dispute is certainly within the 100 metre prohibited limit. We measured it through Vikramjeet’s Tablet that has GPS on it. Measuring distances has never been easier, you do not even have to be on site, open Google Map, identify the two points, tap them and the actual linear distance between them is displayed.

Open and shut case, one would be inclined to say, but things are not so easy on the ground, the hostel is coming up behind another AIIMS hostel built earlier than the mid 1990s. This structure is five storey high and is less than 50 meters from Masjid Moth. A Sai Mandir has come up between the monument and the older hostel building. The temple was certainly not there, not in its present dimensions in any case, when I used to work with BiTV that operated from Uday Park close by.

Now even if this new hostel comes up and even if it is a couple of floors higher than the earlier hostel, it will not be a visual hindrance because the line of vision is already obstructed by the earlier structure. To my mind, the AIIMS hostel issue is actually a red herring that is being dragged through the debate of violation of the 100 metre prohibition in order to divert attention from the large scale constructions going on within 10 to 15 meters of the monument and it is these that the ASI has to do something about.

One learns that complaints have been lodged about recently concluded or ongoing construction in house nos. 108, 137 and 139 aside from two dozen others. MCD staff did arrive for a survey but they were obstructed by those involved in breaking the law and their supporters. We were also told that the local MCD councilor arrived and convinced the MCD staff to go back. Work goes on at frantic speed and would be a fait accompli before anyone can take cognizance of the offence.

We need to accept that heritage preservation cannot be done without involving and educating the population that lives in the neighbourhood, it cannot be done through laws that are sought to be applied mechanically and it cannot be done if we continue to treat the people as adversaries and enemies.

The Hindu, 29th September 2012

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Gali, nukkad, chauraha...joys of Old Delhi

All India Radio’s series on the galis of the old city sheds light on their rich heritage, says R. V. Smith

“Par Kaun Jaye Zauq Dilli ki gallian chhod kar.” How true this observation was by the ustad of Bahadur Shah Zafar (when he declined an invitation from the Nizam to settle down in Hyderabad) is manifest even today. People working on good jobs in New Delhi prefer to stay in the galis and kutchas of the Walled City, rather than moving out to the posh colonies, despite the dirt and squalor surrounding them. To bring home this point and focus on the historical aspects of these places, All India Radio’s FM channel has started a programme, Gali Gali Gold. The first to be covered was Kucha Patriram in Sitaram Bazar. Patriam is believed to have been a wealthy trader and astrologer who gave his name to the locality, which has as its neighbourhood Koocha Pandit— where the Kashmiris settled down during the reign of Shah Jahan after he moved his capital to the newly-built Shahjahanabad.

The Pandits earlier used to live in Agra’s Kashmiri Bazar, before moving to Chillint Ghatia (when dancing girls took over that place) where the Rainas, Kauls, Kunzrus, Dars and Nehrus made their abode. Motilal Nehru was in fact born in nearby Maithan after his father moved there from Delhi in the aftermath of the war of 1857. Later the family went away to Allahabad where Jawaharlal Nehru was born in Anand Bhavan. The Kashmiris rubbed shoulders in Chillint (so named as most of the houses in it were built of small chiselled bricks) with resident families like the Kakkers, Mathurs and Sarins. The latter two were families of hereditary medical practitioners (like the Bagchis) the most famous among them being Dr. Mukand Lal, the first MBBS of Agra, who was appointed assistant civil surgeon after he had taken his degree from then distant Calcutta. Dr. Mukand Lal was a fascinating person. He was standing in front of his clinic one day when he saw a woman being taken for cremation. On inquiring the cause of her death, he was told that she had died before delivering her child while still in the pangs of labour. That set him thinking and taking his gun he accompanied the mourners to Taj Ganj Ghat where just before the body could be set alight, he fired his gun. The “dead woman” gave a shriek and delivered her baby. The mourners returned home singing and dancing with the revived woman and her bonny child.

Another incident relating to him was the opening of a grave, supposed to be of the family of Abul Fazl, in Bagh Ladli Begum. When the grave was opened a body wrapped in green cloth was discovered but soon disintegrated on contact with fresh air. In the succeeding days several members of the family of the Seths of Mathura, who had bought the deserted bagh died one by one. The incident was reported in The Pioneer, then published from Allahabad, with Rudyard Kipling on its staff and later Winston Churchill as its war correspondent. Mukand Lal’s son was Dr. Bhupendra Shankar, who is still remembered as the mercurial “Dr. Bhup”— an ardent Shikari to boot.

Nehru got married in Sitaram Bazar, Old Delhi. The AIR team of Archana Ralhan Shefali, Vijay Singh and five others has also covered Suiwalan, where needles were once made for zari work; Masjid Khajoor got its name from a Khajoor (date palm) tree planted in a mosque by a man who had returned from Haj after seeing such trees in Arabia and; Gali Imli was named because of the big tamarind tree in it. Katra Khushal Rai was the place where St. Stephen’s College was first opened and where the famous playback singer Mukesh is said to have been born before his family moved to Daryaganj.

Besides Bhowani Shanker (Namak Haram) ki kutcheri, there are more galis still to be covered, among them Gali Imam Wali or Imamia where the Bokhari family came and settled down from Bokhara during Shah Jahan’s time and took over the hereditary imamship of the Jama Masjid. Then there is Gali Pahari which leads to Bhojla Pahari— an inhabited hill, Gali Dhobian— the abode of washermen, Paranthewali gali, Gali Telian— where oil sellers lived and Gali Cheetian in Sadar Bazaar (probably the lane was plagued by too many ants). More famous however are Gali Saqqewali — where the watersellers, who sold water filled in skin mashaqs, reside; Gali Kababian— or lane of kabab sellers, where the original Karim restaurant is situated and, the gali of royal cooks (Shahi bawarchis) in Matia Mahal who take orders for weddings now but were earlier attached to the royal kitchen in the Red Fort. Other galis abound too, the names of some of which are lost in antiquity.

According to the AIR survey, which will presumably cover the kutchas (like Katra Neel, Katra Ustad Hamid and Ustad Hira) of Chandni Chowk, “The residents of the localities are losing interest in their past. They are not sure how their street got its name… But they are nevertheless conscious that the old city is fast losing its charm because of the ‘builder mafia’ and the sorry state of civic amenities. However, religious harmony is one thing that is still vibrant in Purani Dilli along with its delicious khana.” Last Saturday the team covered Naughara. The programme is fast picking up on the popularity chart and you could tune in to AIR FM Gold (radio frequency 106.4 MHz) every Saturday from 7.10 to 8.00 pm to get an insight into Old Delhi life and manners.

The Hindu, 29th September 2012

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A chirpy haven

Since 2002, birds started abandoning the once-attractive marshlands of theKeoladeo National Park. So did regular visitors. Thankfully, revival efforts have once again made it a birdwatchers’ paradise.A Wildlife Week special....

The best restaurant for birds in Asia has just started reviving after a seven-year subjected sabbatical. Known as the Keoladeo National Park (KNP), its expanse is merely 29 sq km, one of the smallest in India, yet it contains the richest feed for birds. Copious rains and a 100-km pipeline bringing water from the Chambal River to Bharatpur this year has brought back fortune. As India celebrates Wildlife Week in the first seven days of October, KNP in Bharatpur, too, has woken up to a bright new era after desperate days, mourning months and years of despair.

Often called Bharatpur bird sanctuary, KNP has numerous degrees to its credit. The first one was acquired almost 290 years ago when the then Maharaja of Bharatpur qualified it to build a bund at the confluence of rivers Ghambhir and Banganga. Thereafter, the combined flood waters and lush vegetation attracted thousands of wild waterfowl. As nature and history were conniving to create vistas of wilderness, KNP got its second degree as the most magical marshland. The third incident was its formal inauguration by the then Viceroy of India as the best duck shooting reserve in 1902. Droves of ducks were ruthlessly shot dead by trigger-happy British and Indian royalty every winter as pastime. It was murder most foul; killing hapless fowl and today a row of stone slabs graphically depict the potshots. One etching blatantly illustrates that on a balmy November of 1938, an unbelievable 4273 birds were shot on a single sortie!

Thankfully, between 1977 and 1980 a protective masonry wall came up encompassing the entire sanctuary, a first of its kind in the country. The KNP was declared a Ramsar site, a criterion given only to select marshlands in the world.

Thereafter, it was upgraded to a national park in 1981 and finally declared a World Heritage site in 1985.

The deserving degrees did help the park flourish as millions of migratory birds from across the world descended in dollops desperate for food and fortitude. Local Indian birds also congregated after monsoons creating a breeding and feeding frenzy. An assortment of babblers to warblers, peacocks to pelicans, pigeons to wigeons, barbets to buzzards all thrive in their own preferred plots and slots. Hence KNP is also called a ‘bird paradise’ by wildlife enthusiasts.

Known the world over as a sanctuary for a bevy of birds, nearly 400 species have been recorded so far. KNP also has mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Over 400 species of flora have also been researched by botanists. Many Indians and foreigners make yearly pilgrimages to KNP, not merely as bird watchers, but to capture beautiful birds with cameras. On my numerous trips to KNP, I have noticed foreigners armed with portable parabolic antennas and zealously encapsulating melodious birdcalls.

Though it is endowed with a matrix of grasslands, scrublands, woodlands and marshlands, KNP heavily depends not only on abundant water but also on human interventions. The splendours of seasons fabricate monsoons, winters and scorching summers by changing the demeanour of the landscape ever so often. Sometimes it is slush with lush vegetation or bone dry with shrinking pools and puddles.

KNP in the past did have its quota of conflicts and challenges. Forest fires ravaged the park in the late 70s and in early 80s as villagers went on rampage when cattle’s grazing was banned. Plenty of problems cropped up and suitable solutions were found but the vital ingredient — water — the real nectar of life was missing. Since 2002, birds started abandoning the once-attractive marshlands, so did regular visitors, tourists from abroad and even diehard fans like me were looking elsewhere. Local wildlife also vanished and there was the danger of KNP losing its World Heritage tag.

This year as Wildlife Week celebrations begin across the nation from October 1-7, KNP is overflowing with millions of fish fingerlings. On my visit last week, I met Kailash Navrang, a journalist at Bharatpur, who has been taking bird pictures for over three decades. He said, “We are pleased that the park has rejuvenated after many years and we are certain of an excellent season ahead. Presently, 2000 pairs of cormorants, herons, storks, etc. are busy making nests to bring up their progeny as they have assured water and food. Winters will bring in more migratory birds and we are back in business.”

The Hindu, 30th September 2012

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A gate in the city wall

For scores of Delhiites, especially the Generation Next, the name Kashmere Gate has come to represent one of the busiest Metro stations. Several others associate the name with the inter-state bus terminus (ISBT). Unfortunately, not many know about the origins of the name.

Kashmere Gate was one of the 14 gates of the city wall of Shahjahanabad. Needless to add, the name is derived from the fact that it opened north and started a road through it leading towards Kashmir.

Incidentally, it was a September many monsoons ago that changed the face of Delhi.

"On the 14th September 1857, the British force stormed Delhi. It was after sunrise on that day that the undermentioned party advancing from Ludlow Castle in the face of a heavy fire and crossing this bridge, which had been almost totally destroyed loaded powder bags against and blew in the right leaf of this gate thus opening a way for the assault column," reads the memorial plaque at the gate. Soon after, the Mughal rule gave way to the British Raj.

With increasing population, change was inevitable. But after Independence, it was far more rapid.

"Earlier, traffic passed through the arches of the Kashmere Gate. Gokhale Marg started from opposite Ritz cinema and went right up to Mori Gate roundabout. There was no ISBT, it was St Stephen's cricket ground then," said Sameer Anand, whose family is in the area since the early 1970s.

The Hindustan Times, 30th September 2012

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Heritage project loses direction

The Delhi government's initiative to protect heritage buildings by installing metal signage on the main thoroughfare of Chandni Chowk has come a cropper. About 30 metal signboards, which were put up by Intach in Chandni Chowk area in 2003, are conspicuous by their absence. The few signboards which can still be seen are either coated with bills or advertisements, or are used by traders to hang clothes and slippers.

While some of the boards are broken, others have been uprooted and filched, according to the traders and residents. The remaining boards serve as hangers. "It was a good initiative marred by lack of maintenance. The government comes up with so many initiatives for protecting heritage buildings, but they are still crumbling," said Sanjay Bhargava, general secretary, Chandni Chowk Sarv Vypar Mandal. "The State Bank of India building, which has been declared a heritage building, was revamped, though it is not allowed. As no civic agency took action, the face of the building has changed," said an exasperated Bhargava.

The broken pavements and unclean surroundings speak volumes about the neglect. "Nobody cares about the signage. Why should they, when the buildings themselves have fallen into disrepair. For instance, the waste dumped in front of Chunnamal ki Haveli, another heritage building, has not been picked up for almost five months," said Rashid Rehman, a trader.

Intach officials said responsibility of maintaining the signboards did not lie with them. "We were entrusted with one-time installation by Delhi Tourism, but maintenance was not our responsibility. The idea behind these boards was to make the public aware of the value and significance of heritage buildings. In 10 years, many boards have been damaged and some civic agency needs to maintain these boards. Since these boards have been uprooted or broken, we will replace them. Many people object to the boards in areas they call private property. However, our main problem is funds, as we don't get money for maintenance," said an Intach official.

Interestingly, during Commonwealth Games, Archaeological Survey of India put up red sandstone boards in front of heritage sites, as it believed they would last longer than metal signboards. North Delhi Municipal Corporation has been apprised of the issue but to date no action has been taken. "These roads were with Public Works Department till Wednesday. It's been only three days since we got a copy of the order giving us back the roads. This thoroughfare is one of them. We will make arrangements and maintain the boards properly," said P K Gupta, commissioner, North corporation. In April this year, about 499 roads with width of 60 feet and more were transferred to PWD from the municipal corporations. But due to this transfer, the Chandni Chowk redevelopment plan of the corporation took a hit.

The Times of India, 30th September 2012

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