National Monuments Authority (NMA) has allowed construction for 3km long elevated section of Agra Metro Rail project in the prohibited area (within 100 m) of three centrally protected monuments without the requisite permission from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). This information has been revealed to Opinion Tandoor in response to an RTI application.
On July 17, 2022 NMA gave the No Objection Certificate (NOC) to Uttar Pradesh Metro Rail Corporation (UPMRC) in a special meeting for construction of elevated section near four centrally protected monuments, namely Guru Ka Taal Gurudwara, Pathar Ka Ghoda, Tomb of Salabat Khan and Tomb of Sadiq Khan. Earlier the NMA had denied permission to UPMRC for elevated section near the four monuments in September 2020 and had asked UPMRC to resubmit its proposal incorporating underground metro alignment in the regulated area (up to 200 m from the prohibited area) of the same.
As per the revised proposal dated July 17, 2022 submitted by the UPMRC, obtained through the RTI act 2005, following constructions have been proposed near the four monuments.
|Monument||Nearest Metro Station and its Distance from the Monument||Closest Distance from Elevated Track|
|Tomb of Sadiq Khan and Tomb of Salabat Khan||ISBT Elevated Metro Station -160 m||60 m|
|Sikandra (Akbar’s Tomb)||Sikandra Elevated Metro Station -343 m||152 m|
|Guru Ka Taal Gurudwara||Guru Ka Taal Elevated Metro Station -109 m||111 m|
|Patthar Ka Ghoda||Guru Ka Taal Elevated Metro Station -58.5 m||25 m|
Not only does the proposed construction of either the metro stations or the tracks or both lie in the regulated area of all the monuments, the distance of elevated station and track from Patthar Ka Ghoda and that of the elevated track from Tomb of Sadiq Khan and Tomb of Salabat Khan lies within the prohibited area.
According to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act 2010, construction is prohibited within 100 m of centrally protected monuments without the permission from ASI. RTI application filed with the NMA asked for the copy of letter of approval or recommendation from the ASI for allowing construction in prohibited area of the monuments. The application was forwarded to the ASI which in its response has stated it has not given any such approval or recommendation.
A follow-up email was sent to the Director of the NMA asking why the authority gave the NOC without the approval or recommendation of the ASI. The Director has responded only in his capacity as the First Appellate Authority under the RTI Act. His response states that only information available and existing on record can be provided and that the Information Officer is not required to interpret information or answer hypothetical questions.
Underground Construction for Metro Permitted in 2021
The 3 km long section between ISBT Agra and Sikandra, close to Delhi-Agra-Kolkata National Highway, is part of the 14 km long Corridor I of Agra Metro Rail project between Taj Mahal East Gate station (close to the eastern gate of the Taj Mahal) and Sikandra station. The corridor has two elevated sections and one underground section. Last year in the month of July, NMA had given NOC for construction work of underground section near three other monuments; Agra Fort, Delhi Gate and Jama Masjid.
The NOCs for both the elevated and the underground sections state that according to the Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) report (detailing the impact of construction work on the monuments concerned), there is no threat to the protected structures because of the proposed alignment of the Metro. Yet, the terms and conditions accompanying the permissions state that the concern for threat to the historic monuments during various stages of construction and post-construction phase has been expressed repeatedly which needs to be monitored on real time basis. A mail was sent by this reporter to the NMA in the month of July this year to seek clarification on this contradiction but no response was received. Such a contradiction can be seen in most NOCs given by the NMA over the years for metro rail projects across the country near historical monuments.
In 2016 the NMA twice denied permission for underground construction work of Kolkata Metro Rail near three monuments in Kolkata. It interpreted the AMASR Act’s provision of prohibition of construction activity within 100 m (prohibited area) of historical monuments to mean that construction could not be allowed up to 100 m in the underground direction as well. The Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation approached the Kolkata High Court which during a hearing in 2017 cited similar permission for underground construction given to Delhi Metro Rail near Kashmiri Gate and Khooni Darwaza in Delhi in 2013. The court also alluded to the investments already made in the project which serves public interest. Consequently, the NMA convened an emergency meeting two days later and approved the construction of underground tunnel and metro station near the monuments.
The latest NOC from the NMA for Agra Metro Rail cites both the 2013 NOC for Delhi Metro and the 2017 NOC for Kolkata Metro as well as another NOC given for Chennai Metro in 2012 as precedents. Thus, precedents for prior permissions have repeatedly paved way for NOCs in future cases. The permission for elevated construction in Agra in the prohibited area of historical monuments without the approval or recommendation from the ASI, runs the risk of becoming a precedent for future cases as well.
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