Jammu & Kashmir Government’s bizarre silence on Dogras’ outcry on plans to commercialise their glorious heritage and “protected monument”- Mubarak Mandi Complex (MMC), has created more rage than dismay among them. The unusual public furore over the move to make a “Heritage Hotel” in a part of Jammu’s “protected monument” has unmoved the Govt except for Lt Governor Manoj Sinha’s positive assurance of “restoration of Mubarak Mandi as a befitting Monument of historical & cultural attraction for domestic & international tourists” in his monthly outreach programme of Awam ki Awaz. Regrettably, there was no word on creating a “heritage hotel” in it which is a matter of concern for Jammu. To be fair to him, the question was not about the heritage hotel.
It is extremely intriguing that instead of coming clean on this highly sentimental issue of conserving Jammu’s iconic identity, the administration has adopted a route through a few proxies to justify its action to commercialise a part of the Dogra rulers’ iconic heritage complex. Well, this strategy is not unusual in Governments and such things are resorted to more often everywhere. The friendly journos, groups or associations are usually pressed into service to support the Government’s version that indicates the basis and necessity for such action to counter the prevailing narrative but here the official is missing. Silence appears to be the golden rule.
In the absence of any Govt statement to address people’s concerns & misgivings, there are a few voices, (proxies?) which justified the Govt move that was contested by the experts on conservation & preservation of historical monuments and travel trade and public. Much criticism has been reported in the media in the shape of articles, editorials and statements almost on a daily basis. More disappointing is that it is happening despite an expert delegation of the Dogra Sadar Sabha presenting a formal memorandum to LG last month and seeking his intervention and several public appeals to him. On the flip side, this planned monumental “vandalism” on Jammu’s identity and historical legacy cannot be attributed to Kashmiri leadership.
One counter argument on Jammu’s uproar is an ‘advice’ to Dogras to be “rational” as the Govt cannot be expected to ensure uninterrupted flow of funds for conservation of this heritage complex. Let the Govt says publically that it is unable to conserve Jammu’s this iconic heritage and protected monument for want of resources and it had to “rob Peter to pay Paul”. While it hasn’t said so officially but it seems to be the thinking in the Mubarak Mandi Jammu Heritage Society (MMJHS) that looks after the Complex, going by a couple of articles that appeared recently, presumably on the basis of official briefing.
This is a bizarre rationale especially when substantial budgetary allocations from Govt of India for Tourism Infrastructure are allowed to lapse during the last two years. Moreover, J&K is known for squandering millions of rupees on many unsuccessful initiatives. Rehabilitation of surrendered militants, overrun cost of hundreds of projects and works due delayed execution, projects abandoned after spending crores of rupees like Tawi artificial lake, repeated unsuccessful rehabilitation of Dal dwellers, Wullar lake, village Tourism scheme to name a few projects of wasteful expenditure. Thanks to the Govt, J&K lost not less than Rs 10,000 crore on account of loss of its share of Ravi waters for irrigation etc. Overrun cost of delayed Bursar, Pakal Dul, Ratle, Kiru & some more hydroelectric projects too runs into lakhs of crore. Huge resources wasted on the preparation of DPRs, cancelling contracts amidst half executed projects, money blocked in court cases & arbitrations after spending funds on land acquisitions & compensations. It runs into thousand lakhs of rupees. A part of these resources would have been sufficient to build another old Secretariat complex, much less the restoration of the maintenance of the MMC. How sad it is that whenever the issue comes of Jammu’s identity and sentiments; the Govt becomes “pauper” or looks aside. Why? How can any Govt ignore the important role of Jammu in defence of India, nurturing the cradle of secularism and inclusive development all through?
Those who talked about the decisions of ‘adaptive reuse’ of the MMC supposed to be taken by the Heritage Society did so deliberately to mislead the public opinion. Recent articles written by Ajay Khajuria, Capt Anil Gour and published letter of Narsingh Dev Singh (DE) infact, exposed the Society and its “proxies” by putting all such decisions in a perspective. None of the decisions of the Governor/ Lt Governor headed Society explicitly or implicitly authorised commercialization of any part of the MMC. The comprehensive Conservation and Reuse Plan approved in March 2019 didn’t propose any Heritage Hotel but envisaged launch of cultural and associated activities to generate revenue for maintenance and upkeep of the MMC. Commercialization of a part of a protected monument is neither legally tenable nor a part of the approved Conservation and Reuse Plan.
Moreover, the people must understand the finer distinction of ‘protected monuments’ and ‘heritage buildings’. Protected monument is declared as such under an Act on the basis of historical, cultural, architectural, archaeological or artistic interest which has been in existence for at least one hundred years. In view of their importance, these required to be protected against any injury, removal or dispersion and converse for posterity. It also represents the history, architecture and culture of the area, region, State and symbolises its identity. The iconic Mubarak Mandi Complex is a ‘protected monument’ declared under the Jammu & Kashmir Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1920 vide SRO-126 of April 26, 2005 that had to be preserved and conserved. All heritage buildings are not protected monuments. About 70 structures in J&K are declared as protected monuments under the Act.
Interestingly, the notice that invited the Expression of Interest (EOI) for development of Heritage Hotel in Zanana Mahal (Queen’s Palaces) at Mubarak Mandi Complex, Jammu, has not indicated this vital fact. Why did they hide this important fact? They perhaps knew that the ‘protected monuments’ cannot be commercialized.
There seems to be an attempt to confuse the status of the MMC by indicating Zanana Mahal as the palace of the queens of the Dogra rulers and linking it with similar palaces of other States that have been converted into heritage hotels. These palaces are indeed heritage buildings but unprotected private properties of the former rulers. Even in J&K, two such palaces, Hari Niwas Palace in Jammu and Grand Palace in Srinagar, have since been converted into heritage hotels long ago by Dr. Karan Singh’s family. References too have been made to heritage hotels in Rajasthan that have become popular destination for “heritage marriages”. These palaces are private properties and had never been declared as “protected monuments” and Mubarak Mandi Complex comparison with them is flawed.
While claiming that “reuse of heritage buildings is an upcoming trend in India because of its cultural, architectural, artistic and economic benefits,” none has, so far, named any “protected monument” that have been put to “reuse as hotels”. It is abundantly clear that none of relevant Acts & Rules: the Jammu & Kashmir Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1920, the Jammu And Kashmir Heritage Conservation And Preservation Act, 2010, National Policy For Conservation of The Ancient Monuments, Archaeological Sites And Remains 2014, Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Rules 2011; allows commercialization of the ‘protected monuments’.
Situated on the western ridge of the Tawi River, the MMC comprising 25 heritage buildings, had been the residence of the Dogra rulers, considered to be the historical, cultural and architectural pride of Jammu. Out of these buildings, the Govt proposed to convert 3 to 4 royal residential palaces into heritage hotels while other buildings would house Dogra Art Museum, Craft Bazar, Convention centre, Emporia, Interpretation Centre, library etc.
The Zanana Mahal Complex for which EOI has been invited for making Heritage Hotel is located in the eastern part of the Heritage Complex along the Tawi River with a majestic view of the riverfront. It has unique architecture and exquisite interior decorations in the form of wall paintings, mirror work, decorative ceilings and exceptional spatial qualities
Zanana Mahal doesn’t have an easy approach and as such would require a lot of changes to make it hotel rooms with attached bathrooms, dining halls, bar, saloon, lobby, modern kitchen etc. For the purpose, septic tanks, water reservoirs, parking etc too have to be created besides escalators to transfer guests from circular roadside to the proposed Hotel. For all these amenities and many more, the successful bidder would have to modify the existing structures to make the rooms livable. Won’t all these activities violate the Acts and rules governing the protected monuments?
This is not the first time that attempt is made to convert some of the buildings in MMC into a hotel. It was done during political dispensation and the plan was shelved after the uproar in the State Assembly. Narsingh Dev Jamwal who was the member of the Mubarak Mandi Heritage Society had strongly opposed the move to commercialise MMC and demanded that the “protected monument” should be handed over to the ASI as had been done in respect of other ‘protected monuments’ in J&K.
In the absence of a political dispensation, the administration should consider inviting the agitated members of the Jammu civil society and experts for a meaningful dialogue and evolve consensus on this sensitive issue which has hurt Jammu’s sentiments. Any move on this Dogra pride must have people’s support and be conserved in line with the stated vision of the LG Sinha of making Mubarak Mandi “a monument of historical & cultural attraction for domestic & international tourists”. (feedback:[email protected])