The Nawabi-era architectural design of the centrally protected Chhota Imambada’s gate has been changed by the local police while carrying out restoration work of the police outpost located within the gate itself, according to officials of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Hussainabad and Allied Trust (HAT) and heritage enthusiasts.

For his part, IP Singh, assistant commissioner of police, Chowk area, under which the police outpost comes, said, “The matter is in their knowledge. We have ordered a probe into it.”

Nevertheless, officials of ASI, HAT, which owns the structure, and heritage enthusiasts call it a case of extreme illegality and brazen violation of the Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) (AMASR) Act, 2010. The Act strictly prohibits construction or renovation within a 100- metre area of a protected monument.

“It’s a purely illegal act. We have served notice on the police station to stop the work immediately,” said Manoj Saxena, deputy superintending archaeologist, Lucknow Circle, ASI.

Also, the restoration of the police outpost, locally known as Satkhanda police chowki, is in violation of the high court’s order, directing HAT to fund and ASI to ensure restoration of the same gate. Officials with HAT said the illegality first came to light early this week when a group of masons was found busy demolishing the shade of the gate to pave the way for a new one to suit their own requirement and design.

“By the time, we got the information and rushed to the spot, the entire shade, all made up of red lakhauri bricks, was demolished by masons. On enquiring, they simply responded that ‘Chowki prabhari sahib ka adesh hai (It is the police outpost in-charge’s order)’,” an official of HAT told HT.

The team discovered that it was not the only illegality. “We also found that the interior of the chowki had all changed. In place of old lakhauri walls, there were new cement walls,” the official added.

When the officials objected to the illegality, police personnel assured them that they would stop the work immediately and apply for permission for the same, according to officials. “But overnight, they re-started construction work and completed the structure. They got it painted so that it gels with the remaining structure,” the official further said.

“Chowki in-charge of Satkhanda chowki that is located in the gate itself is carrying out the restoration of the police outpost, illegally. Also, they are changing the design of the gate to which I strongly objected and got the work stopped,” stated the letter of the property supervisor, HAT, to the city magistrate, who is the secretary of the trust that was formed by King Mohammed Ali Shah in 1839 to meet the religious and charitable needs of the community and to maintain the Nawabi-era structures owned by the trust.

Sushil Pratap Singh, city magistrate and secretary of HAT, said, “I am unaware of this illegality. If this is so, we would serve notice and will initiate maximum action against the erring person.”

Officials with the trust said that the police outpost was established in the 1990s to maintain law and order in the area, which was very sensitive due to sectarian disputes. Since then, the police outpost had become a permanent feature of the gate. Officials also called it a contempt of the high court order as the matter of restoration of the same gate was pending with the court.

Restoration work of the gate was started in 2014 following an order of the Allahabad high court. In compliance with the high court order passed on May 12, 2014, a meeting of officials of the district administration, ASI and directorate of archaeology, UP, was held under the chairmanship of the then principal secretary, department of culture, UP, on May 17, 2014 and it was directed that the restoration work of the eastern gate of Chhota Imambada would be done by ASI and would be funded by HAT. The HC order was an outcome of a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by S Mohammed Haider, a corporate lawyer and heritage activist, who had approached the court in 2013. In the PIL, Haider had sought the court’s intervention for ensuring repair, maintenance and removal of encroachment within the premises of the monuments.

The gate’s restoration, however, is still pending.

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