Standing up for our heritage

Amit Mahajan
The social media is abuzz with the news of resumption of restoration work of the heritage palace complex at Mubarak Mandi, Jammu. Looked upon as the crown jewel of not only the city but also a much-esteemed legacy of the erstwhile Dogra royals, the complex has suffered decades of neglect and destruction – both by nature and by the lesser mortals. Having grown up in the old city and having studied in a school that is located in the neighbourhood of the palace complex, I, like many of my peer, carry the fond memories of the complex that, during our childhood, had many offices and judicial courts. What followed, over the years, were gradual evacuation and shifting of offices, gross neglect of the complex, repeated incidents of fire, theft of rafters and other rare building materials. Time and elements have taken their toll and every passing year has consistently been witnessing wear and tear that, at times, gets boosted when the tectonic activity happens inside an already unstable hill on which stands the prestigious complex. The net result is the sad state of affairs that can be seen today. The complex is not only delipidated, parts of it have become dangerous too.
Reverting back to the social media activity- Mubarak Mandi Jammu Heritage Society (MMJHS), responsible for the restoration work, has recently banned the entry and parking of the vehicles inside the heritage complex. Long used as an unmonitored thoroughfare and as an unauthorised parking, the complex stands shut to such users now. The development has led to two kinds of yells- one is the set of protesting voices of the local residents who live in areas like Pacci Dhakki and Chowk Chabutra while the other one is the official perspective. Obviously, there is a bit of contradiction and a resultant conflict. To summarise the conflict in one sentence, it is on the issue of a thoroughfare and parking through and inside the heritage complex! With the resumption of the restoration work after years of delay, such a restriction has been enforced by the Director of the MMJHS. Let’s examine the issue in a bit if detail.
The residents, especially those who have residences hugging the eastern wall of the complex, i.e., behind the erstwhile High Court building (HQ of State Forces during pre-1947 days), have only one motorable access to their locality and that artery runs right through the complex. The houses on the lower slopes overlooking the Pacci Dhakki (so named because of paved slope via which water from Tawi River used be fetched during good old days), however, have another access via the circular road. Similarly, the localities and mohallas towards Chowk Chabutra have motorable access via the chowk where three roads running from Pacca Danga, Upper Bazar and Jain Bazar converge. The real criticality, therefore, is for the residents who live in the locality that hugs the eastern walls. With the entry of the vehicles banned into the complex, they are rightfully apprehensive about the situation wherein there is a medical emergency and someone needs to be taken to a hospital, especially, in the middle of the night. Other complaints like inconvenience etc are more of a rhetoric as are the unverified claims that the recently installed cattle traps have led to injuries to some!
From the point of view of the MMJHS, the core issue is the impact of movement of such vehicles on already crumbling buildings of the complex. The vibrations produced through vehicular movement and blowing of horns and inevitable mechanical sounds have been assessed as invisible but definite threats by the technical experts. Pollution, of course, leaves carbon deposits on newly restored façades. It is also a given fact that once the complex gets fully restored over next three to four years, such movements will have to stop. A heritage site that has seen the worse and is under protection, will never have such a facility inside its walls. At the same time, even for those who would come to visit the complex, once restored, will also need parking. The solution to the above problem is already being devised. As per the information, a parking committee has been constituted by the Governing Council of MMJHS (the council is headed by the Hon’ble Lieutenant Governor of the UT) to explore the possibilities of creating such a facility in and around Panjtirthi area. The MMJHS, thereafter, plans to provision a few battery-operated carts to ferry guests as well as aged and infirm local residents. The basic idea being more of solution-centricity rather than that of disruption, therefore, is a welcome step.
As an interim, the MMJHS has been allowing the vehicles of affected residents (eastern wall area) to enter the complex and get parked in an adhoc defiladed parking enclosure. Further, the gates that have been locked up to prevent the vehicular movement, are being manned 24×7 by the security guards of MMJHS, to cater for the emergency movements. In any case, inbuilt gates are open round the clock for foot-based movements. As a result, there is no restriction on entry and exit of citizens wanting to take a walk or jog inside the complex (except the portions where danger lurks) or local residents who have no choice but to use the passage.
Beyond the visible, there are certain advantages as shared by a few senior citizens with me as I decided to retrace my own steps inside the complex the previous morning. As they rightly claim, there used to be lot of nefarious activities, especially after the sunset, to include drinking inside and outside the parked vehicles, gambling and even unauthorised supply/sale of illicit liquor. Since there was no check and the complex saw no major legitimate activities after late hours, the area used to become a safe haven for the anti-social elements. The present, though interim, arrangement, however, has put a sudden end to such dealings, thereby, causing a huge amount of discomfort to such elements. The local residents are certainly feeling a pinch because of the need to walk a few hundred metres but that is a small contribution towards a bigger cause!
Bigger cause- yes, it is a big and vital cause! The complex has suffered a lot and many of its buildings are now just heaps of debris. MMJHS, despite its formation almost a decade ago, couldn’t overcome bureaucratic hurdles and no worthwhile work could be undertaken for many years. As on date, only the erstwhile Army HQ stands restored. Over past one year and a half, paper work and clearance of proposals have got speeded up and work has finally started. But for Corona, some visible progress would have been made by now. At this stage, whatever needs to be done for the safety of the buildings, must be done. As responsible citizens of the city and the UT, the least we can do is to support and co-operate with the administration. As explained earlier, barring one particular locality, no other area has a notional (and debatable) right of passage. With the interim measures in place and with long-term solution likely to emerge, there is no real need to protest. If we really care for the heritage and if we really want to see one of the biggest palace complexes of the region getting restored to its old glory, we need to stand up and support the effort. Day-to-day matters of convenience can not and should not be allowed to create hurdles in the process. A heritage complex is nothing less that a prized possession for a segment of populace and such possessions need utmost care and invariably involve a bit of cost. While the government bears the financial burden, let’s do our part of the bit!