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Tuesday, Dec 17, 2002

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Concrete jungle threatens to `usurp' Moghul monument

By Mandira Nayar

NEW DELHI DEC. 16. Tucked away in the narrow by-lanes of the bustling Mehrauli village here is Zafar Mahal, the palace of the last Moghul. Banished into oblivion like the Emperor who built it, instead of standing in the middle of a green Moghul garden, Zafar Mahal is set in the middle of a concrete jungle -- desperately trying to win its battle against `civilisation'.

``I have been living in the area for about 50 years. Earlier there was nothing around the palace. A truck could have passed through this lane about five years ago. But now buildings have come up very close to the complex,'' laments Om Prakash a resident of the area.

Listed as a conservation area by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the last standing bastion of the Moghul era has suffered for years due to half-hearted implementation of building laws by local authorities. Despite falling under the Archeological Survey of India's (ASI) umbrella of protected monuments, the prohibited area of 100 metres is being flouted by almost every building in its vicinity.

Lost in the encroachments that today surround the Mahal are many smaller monuments. The Tehsil of Bahadur Shah Zafar is one such casualty. The only monument ascribed mainly to Zafar, the tehsil complex and the pleasure garden surrounded by fig trees was the emperor's revenue and administrative court.

The `bagichi' of Zeenat Mahal, Bahadur Shah Zafar's favourite wife, was situated here. Sold to a private developer in the late 1980s, this tehsil was razed to the ground to make space for residential houses.

While the gardens have been turned into tarred roads, the halls of private and public audiences are serving as nothing more than foundations for modern buildings. The royal quarters are the only surviving remains of the Mahal. Although Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had removed illegal structures in 1992 following a High Court order, encroachments continue to threaten the monument.

An uncovered space in the marble enclosure within the palace was supposed to be the final resting place for Bahadur Shah. His "do gaz zameen'', where he wanted to be buried may be immortalised in his poetry, but his last wish went unfulfilled.

An important building that marks the end of an era in Indian history, the palace like the dynasty that once ruled almost all of India might soon be only a chapter in history.

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