The Karnataka High Court has expressed its displeasure over the neglect of the historic Madikeri Fort and has directed the Government Advocate to register a Contempt of Court Case against officials for not obeying Court directives.
The Court was hearing the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by J.S. Virupakshaiah, a retired IAS Officer and a resident of Somwarpet. The petitioner contended that the Fort and Palace premises are heritage sites, dating back to more than three centuries. They are neglected and the exterior walls of the Palace are infected with fungus.
The government is running its offices on the Palace premises and despite this the monuments are neglected with no action plan initiated by the officials. The petitioner had prayed before the Court to issue directions to the Government to vacate its offices and hand over the monuments to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to maintain it.
Saving the monuments
The petitioner had said that the Government officials under the Zilla Panchayat had been functioning from the old Palace for many years. There are also offices of two MLAs and MLCs of Kodagu. A request was made to the ASI to take measures to preserve the Palace. The Government office buildings should be vacated first in order to take up the repair work. It was therefore inevitable to approach the Court, he contended. Also, there is an urgent need to save the historic monuments as incessant rains were causing harm to the structures.
Virupakshaiah said that the District Administration had promised to hand over the Palace by October end, to take up a temporary makeover. There is, however, no use of temporary work. In order to inspect the present condition of the Palace and the Fort, the officials from the ASI visited the Fort premises and have submitted a report to the Court on the matter, he added.
The petitioner told the Court that in January this year, the roof of the Palace in the Fort premises suddenly collapsed. The walls of the Palace are discoloured and the soldiers’ quarters have totally collapsed. The leaking roof of the main building was covered with plastic sheets as a temporary measure.
A Division Bench comprising Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Krishnakumar noted that despite the Court order to shift the Government offices by Oct. 30, nothing has been done so far. Upset at the officers’ attitude, the High Court has directed the Government advocate to name the officials and file a Contempt of Court Case against them. The High Court has now posted the hearing to Oct. 31.
History of the old Fort dates back to the 17th century AD. It was built by King Mudduraja of Haleri dynasty. Tipu Sultan rebuilt the Fort with stone. The Palace was built by Lingaraja Wadiyar II in 1812. The Fort was acquired by Dodda Veera Rajendra in 1790 and later came under the rule of British in 1834.
Earlier, the Deputy Commissioner’s office too was housed in the same building. However, it was shifted to the present building four years ago.
The offices of the Agriculture Department, District Library, Court complex and Balamandira are functioning in the Old Fort premises.
The officials said that if the entire Palace is handed over to the ASI, the Central Government will release funds.
Offices must be shifted before Oct. 31: DC
Kodagu Deputy Commissioner Annies Kanmani Joy has directed the Assistant Director of Land Records to shift the Government offices from the Old Fort to the new building of Zilla Panchayat, before Oct. 31 as per the High Court orders.
After shifting, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will take up renovation works of the historic monuments. Officials from the ASI visited the Fort premises and inspected the condition of the Old Fort building. The team of officials also furnished a report to the Court, on the probable steps towards the repair of the building. Following the same, the officials from various Government Departments agreed to vacate their offices.