prime concern

Act now, or heritage will be history too
Most heritage sites, as per a CAG report, are in a dilapidated state. Of the 1,655 monuments surveyed, 92 were found missing. While the Archaeological Survey of India should be worrying about conservation, it had much on its plate — like digging in vain for gold at Unnao.
By Vibha Sharma
Kos Minar No 26 at Hodal in Palwal, Haryana, was on the premises of a private house, where a wall has been constructed around it
Kos Minar No 26 at Hodal in Palwal, Haryana, was on the premises of a private house, where a wall has been constructed around it.

The world over, heritage is conserved as a showcase to the historical evidence of the identity, culture and pedigree of a country, but the same is not the case in India — a land of a glorious historical past embodied by a rich repertoire of abundant magnificent monuments.

This is the scathing observation by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its recent performance audit of preservation and conservation of monuments and antiquities. Conservation of “culture is not a priority for India”, it lamented, indicting the Culture Ministry for neglecting museums and monuments.

Apart from glaring shortcomings in the approach towards conservation, the comprehensive account also discovered a sad trail of missing and disappearing heritage sites; and encroached monuments and protected sites being used as cremation ground, even public toilets — like at a site in the ancient Indus Valley. Quoting the “horrifying” case of a site in Dharwad, Karnataka, it said even “Union Minister Jairam Ramesh’s intervention could not make the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) move”.

The national auditor found 92 monuments missing from the 1,655 monuments it surveyed. The 1,655 monuments formed 45 per cent of the total protected sites, meaning that the survey presented the auditors with a good sense of what was happening across the country.

Auditors accused the ASI of not surveying monuments it was supposed to be looking after for decades. This, they said, was one of the reasons why CAG found little or no information when a protected monument fell prey to the greed of builders or local people and went missing.

They found unauthorised religious activities in monuments and shockingly, even the upkeep of Taj Mahal and Red Fort was found wanting for lack of money. Valuable heritage has been left to disintegrate by the people responsible for its preservation — the Ministry of Culture and the ASI.

Monuments untraceable

Attempts by The Tribune to get the version of Culture Minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch on the points raised by CAG proved futile as emails sent to her office went unanswered. Though shortly after the report was released, she contested CAG’s claims of 92 monuments missing, saying that the ASI was looking into the matter and only around 22 monuments were untraceable.

The question though is larger. It is about the lack of interest in something that is of national importance and has the potential to boost tourism and generate revenue. While lack of funds and inadequate human resources for protection agencies is sold as the main reasons for the sorry state of affairs, ASI officials complain of the ministry’s lack of interest.

“The government says it is aware of the problem, then why has nothing been done to resolve it?” they ask. The Culture Ministry is not a priority for the government and allocations are poor because the portfolio is the least coveted.

Divay Gupta of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) acknowledges lack of funds and manpower as the reasons for the mismanagement of heritage, but also points to other issues — lack of wherewithal and knowledge with the conservation agencies.

Limited awareness among people and population pressures are the other causes, says the Principal Director of the architectural division of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, an NGO set up in 1984 to conserve India’s vast cultural heritage.

Divay says the crux of the problem is that in India culture has not been integrated within the overall development framework because of which it is perceived more like a luxury than a driver for socio-economic development. “We have very rarely used the opportunity of looking at culture in its wider context and tend to only look at selected monuments. We are largely still following the British approach towards monuments, treating them as separate from people,” he says.

Archaic rules

Another issue is the rules and regulations and the associated expertise for undertaking conservation, which are just as historic as the monuments they are supposed to be catering to. The ASI, he points out, celebrated its 150 years of establishment last year and is following rules that are just as old. “Most of guidelines and even the level of expertise are out of sync with systems being followed across the world. Conservation as a field has undergone a sea change. The need of the hour is to catch up and come out of the old mindset,” he says.

The ASI is working on half its strength. Also, the level of expertise and inputs from new fields of conservation, which are required to properly look after many of these very complex sites, are rarely available with the government agency. There are no comprehensive conservation plans either. “Long-term strategy plans should be made on project modes with projections of adequate human and financial resources,” says Divay.
Humayun’s Tomb, a UN World Heritage Site, in Delhi was recently restored to its original glory
(Above) Humayun’s Tomb, a UN World Heritage Site, in Delhi was recently restored to its original glory; but the upkeep of Red Fort (below) is wanting due to shortage of funds. Photos: Thinkstock
the upkeep of Red Fort (below) is wanting due to shortage of funds

So what the ASI primarily does is repair, maintain and undertake ad hoc restoration, without really understanding the overall priority within the site.

What needs to be done is explore more options of creative partnerships like public-private partnership (PPP) and corporate social responsibility to bring in additional funds.

CAG says many sites have the potential of commercialisation and generation of additional funds (for example film shooting and socially relevant events) that can be used for their upkeep, like the Delhi Metro has done. But such options have not been explored. At many monuments a pittance is charged for the shooting of advertisements and films. There is no money to preserve heritage, but film shooting comes at subsidised rates at the monuments, CAG says.

The national auditor states that the ministry never explored options of getting private funding despite the establishment of the National Cultural Fund (NCF). Divay, however, says many options have been explored and several MOUs signed between the ASI and NCF, but with limited success.

While it is a fact that the central archaeological department as well as its state counterparts are not up to the mark, some fault lies with the people too, who desecrate historic monuments.

Many heritage sites are extremely complex in nature and some have people living on the premises since generations. We have a “living tradition” with many monuments, so it is difficult to stop people from associating with the sites. But experts say with the help of proper guidelines and awareness, it can be easily resolved.

Population pressures and remoteness of some sites make it difficult for the ASI to monitor them on a daily basis. At times, the sites favoured by the British as protected — a site in Delhi where General Nicolson was shot in 1857 — is of little appeal to Indians. “Such sites may have limited appeal to us as a nation and may, at times, not get the adequate support. There surely is a case of review of some sites,” says Divay.

Some sites have been lost to development like construction of roads and dams. Some may have changed their original fabric and are now difficult to access. Some sites are not lost and are there, like the Satyanarayan Bhawan in Delhi. Of the 15 monuments listed as missing by CAG in the Delhi circle, the ASI explained that one of them — the Satyanarayan Bhawan — had long been de-notified. Apparently, the owners had objected to ASI protection. However, the structure is still standing strong. Only the ASI forgot to remove it from its list.

Not all is lost

For any conservation process to be successful, experts say a proper documentation of each site is a must. The ASI and even state archaeologists should have at least a baseline data file on all monuments and a regular audit every five years for the existing site and to induct new ones as a priority programme.

However, amid all the gloom are some islands of hope as demonstrated by the recently unveiled UN World Heritage Site Humayun’s Tomb in the Capital, which has been restored to its original glory. The restoration of the 16th century imposing monument marked a shift of India’s “preserve as found” policy in conservation to the “conservation and restoration” approach, as followed by many countries.

The PPP model showed the way for similar initiatives. Ratish Nanda, project director for Done, says with the help of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and the ASI, the work was done in two stages — first the 20th century damage was undone and then the restoration was carried out. It took six years (starting 2007) to undo the damage and restore the site to its original form.

He says the monument had been obliterated by inappropriate repairs in the 20th and early 21st century. “Much of these cement-based repairs were required to be carefully removed to prevent further damage to the structure. We removed a million kilograms of concrete from the roof of the tomb. We also removed 13 lightening conductors installed in 2002-2003, with 10,000 nails damaging the monument. Thousands of square feet of cement plaster were removed and replaced with traditional lime mortar,” he explains.

Ratish insists upon greater involvement of the civil society in conservation efforts. “I strongly believe that there needs to be greater civil society involvement with conservation in India and that the ASI needs to facilitate this as the required human and financial resources can then be made available for the preservation of our heritage,” he says.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was of the same view. Unveiling the monument, he said: “The responsibility to conserve and restore our nation’s heritage cannot simply be the sole preserve of government agencies. The involvement of local communities who form part of the ecosystem of this heritage is, therefore, essential in this effort.”

Preservation of heritage is an investment for the present as well as the future. According to the authorities, the tomb project provided 2,00,000 man days of employment for master craftsmen and will increase the footfall of visitors, translating into revenue through tourism.


Kos Minars missing

  • Kos Minar 24 at Banchari, Palwal, with similar architecture as other kos minars along the road, has been encroached upon by farmers.
    Kos Minar 24 at Banchari, Palwal, with similar architecture as other kos minars along the road, has been encroached upon by farmers.

    In Haryana, Kos Minar No. 13, Mujessar Ballabhgarh, and another at Shahbad, Kurukshetra, have gone missing.

  • The ASI was informed by the district authorities that the land of Kos Minar 13 had been allotted to a private company and the ‘minar’ had been demolished. No legal action was taken against the company.
  • In 2004-05, the land of the Kos Minar at Shahbad was acquired by HUDA and plots were sold to private parties. Several buildings have come up there, with no trace of the protected monument. The ASI has no information on when or how the monuments disappeared.

What ASI needs

  • Adequate funds, human resources
  • Rules and expertise in sync with global trends, systems.
  • More staff strength.
  • High levels of expertise, inputs from new fields of conservation.
  • Comprehensive conservation plans.




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