Dogra Grace

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The derelict walls of Mubarak Mandi Complex in Jammu’s old city are witness to centuries of politics, power and intrigue. But with its restoration to glory tangled into red-tapism, it cries for attention. Saima Bhat reports the fall of Dogra powerhouse

Mubarak Mandi Pic Bilal Bahadur

Mubarak Mandi
Pic Bilal Bahadur

Once an important ‘seat of power’ of autocratic Dogra rulers, Mubarak Mandi Complex (MMC) in Jammu’s old city area is reduced to one helpless edifice! Literally.

A mélange of European Baroque, Mughal and Rajasthani architecture, Mubarak Mandi Complex is a vast network of buildings; 24 blocks to be precise, with the oldest structure dating back to 1710.

Since then MMC is at the centre of region’s complex history with some of the game-changing decisions taken behind its now derelict walls. The power of these stone-and-brick structures started to fade after Dogra autocrat Hari Singh moved the ‘royal seat’ to Hari Niwas Palace in northern Jammu in 1925.

“This place was as important as Taj Mahal or Amar Mahal (Jaipur) for Dogras,” says Prof Lalit Magotra, recipient of Sahitya Akademi Award (2011) for his fictional work in Dogri language. “In my childhood days, one could climb over its walls and see Sialkot (now in Pakistan).”

But once Dogra autocrat began functioning from Hari Niwas Palace, the importance and glory of MMC started to fade with time. It was in 1947, after the change of power dynamics in the region, that MMC became house to a number of government offices. Since then it has survived as many as 17 fires.

In 2007, after most of the 24 buildings comprising MMC have turned into ruins, the state government finally felt the need for its restoration. A year later (2008) State government formed Mubarak Mandi Jammu Heritage Society (MMJHS) and entrusted it with the matters related to the preservation of MMC.

It was decided that the chief minister of state will be its de-facto head, and the concerned ministers will form its executive body, while members will be drawn from the Jammu civil society.

The next big challenge was to get funds for such a huge restoration project. After deliberations, state government recommended procurement of funds through Central assistance schemes and under 13th Finance Commission Award. Under this commission, the Government of India (GoI) approved Rs 50 crores for the restoration of Raja Amar Singh Palace, Dogra Art Museum, Badi Deodi, Royal Court and Gadvai and Mahal of Raja Ram Singh’s Queens. But only Rs 8.51 crores was released as the first instalment.

As per the details provided by the joint director (planning), Tourism and Culture department in the autumn session of the state legislature, so far only Rs 4.37 crores were utilized.

Over the years funds were continuously allotted for MMC’s restoration under different sponsored schemes. An amount of  Rs 4.37 crores was approved Under Central funding for the preservation of building housing High Court, Army Head Quarter and Foreign Office. The state government says the work is complete for this particular building.

Another Rs 16.92 crores were approved under Mega Project Central funding, but so far only Rs 3.38 crores were released as the first instalment. Under this scheme, the restoration of Raja Ram Palace, Darbar Hall, Central Courtyard and Zanana Courtyard will be taken up.

It was MMJHS who chose the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) as the implantation agency for MMC restoration project.

“The total cost of the restoration project was estimated at Rs 235 crores by the INTACH,” says Rohit Khajurai, executive director MMJHS who feels the slow pace of the project is because of GoI’s inability to release funds on time. “Out of promised 230 crores, we have so far received just Rs 8.51 crores. Even this amount was released in very small instalments,” blames Khajurai. “ASI has spent money at the rate of Rs 2 crores per year, which means they need another 115 years to spend approved 230 crores!”

For the restoration of buildings of Royal Courts, Badi Deodi, Gadvai Khana and museum, ASI had estimated the restoration will cost Rs 17.32 crores and each building will take at least three years to get ready for use.

As the government of India is yet to release the funds for the restoration work, society couldn’t pay same to ASI. Khajurai says work goes in a circular process. “When workers are paid for their work only then they can be held accountable.” This is the reason Khajurai says MMJHS doesn’t ask ASI to get more manpower to complete the restoration in stipulated time. Presently only 15 ASI workers are working for the restoration work in Mubarak Mandi.

Fed up with the slow process of restoration, the ruling government informed the assembly in the autumn session that ASI was given the project as the conservation of the heritage buildings is a painstaking process and need extraordinary skills. They also informed that “presently one building housing Army Headquarters and Foreign Office has been restored, and about sixty per cent work is complete on another building that houses Royal Courts, Gadvai Khana and Badi Deodi.”

The house was also informed that three projects worth Rs 71.29 crores have been sanctioned under different programmes. And for same Rs 16.26 crores were released and utilised so far. But some of the executive members of the MMJHS decry that ASI is not doing justice with their work as they are working very slowly.

One of the society members wishing anonymity said, “We asked ASI to speed up the pace of their work but I was surprised when they denied, claiming, their institute has to manage heritage buildings across India so they are short of manpower.”

Sensing ‘callous’ approach of ASI, the society members met the Prime Minister of India, who as per sources, advised them to take help from some private agencies.

“One agency from Rajasthan was hired and they even started their work for 15 days, but then because of the changes at administration level the project was taken back from that agency,” says one of the members.

But the present executive director sees this issue in a different way and calls it a ‘tragedy’.  “That agency was not reliable. They had no credibility. They demolished Diwaan-e-Aam, which was built in 1925. You tell me, how can an agency assigned to conserve a heritage you demolish it.”

However, the executive members of MMJHS blame the present director and other administrators for not portraying the correct image of the work done. “There is no re-use plan for the building where the work is complete,” questions a member, who adds, “If a private agency recommended by different governments can restore the heritage buildings like Amar Palace in Jaipur, which is threefold bigger than Mubarak Mandi, then why can’t they do it in Jammu.”

Moreover, anybody can see how the walls of the renovated building have started to get off, says a local.

Retired Prof Magotra, who is also one of the executive members of the MMJHS, says, “This society has a maximum of its members from government and less than fifty per cent of the members are from civil society. The restoration work is going at snail’s pace because of the casual approach of the executive level officers.”

He adds, “It is sad that Mubarak Mandi complex comes under the Tourism sector, a ministry headed by the CM himself. But so far only a few meetings were held for same with no serious outcome.”

Magotra is compelling state to hire some private agencies from Rajasthan and Jaipur, who have expertise in the restoration of heritage buildings. “Instead they have transferred all money to ASI without taking into confidence the executive body of the MMJHS.” And he opines, “You must understand, transferring money to ASI means no audit will be done. Government just wants to be on the safer side.”

Before the restoration work could take off, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Jammu chapter was assigned to work on this project, who came up with 34 volumes plan for the restoration and preservation of the complex. They had a reuse plan as well so that the complex continues to have a football.

INTACH had planned for the establishment of Heritage Hotels to promote tourism along with maintenance backed by a strong revenue generation model for this complex.

“We had a plan of turning Rani Chadak Palace into a hotel but the civil society of Jammu took it otherwise and called for Jammu bandh and stopped that plan,” says Khajuria. Besides that ASI, as per their protected monument rules, also refused to change the palace into a hotel.

Presently society members are not able to decide if the renovated building can be converted into a conventional hall, auditorium, conference rooms, museum or an amphitheatre.

But Magotra is hopeful that the second instalment of funds will be released soon as they were able to get a utilisation funding certificate from the state government.

Another issue that made to headlines recently was the conversion of Mandi complex into a parking space. But the present director, Khajuria claims to have removed all encroachments and the ‘parking space mafia’.

“When I took charge around 2000 cars were parked in the complex. I removed at least 900 cars without any corporation from the administration,” says Khajuria. He also says the area is congested as the mandi is located in the old city and people need space for parking their vehicles. Taking this issue into consideration the administration has presently given permission to park 60 vehicles near the museum.

Besides the preservation of heritage complex, the state government had put on anvil a Rs 40 crore Ropeway Project connecting Mubarak Mandi to Bagh-e-Bahu crossing river Tawi. The Mubarak Mandi ropeway on completion is expected to attract more tourists to the city of temples.

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