Monuments gone missingAug 7th, 2009 | By editor | Category: The Hindu Speaks, Viewing News
It is hard to believe that 35 national monuments, including tombs, temples, and cemeteries, protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have gone missing, as the Union Ministry of Culture has acknowledged. The irony is that the maximum number of missing monuments is from Delhi where the ASI is headquartered. In 2006, 11 of the 157 national monuments in Delhi, declared protected until 1950, were reported missing; and this number has since gone up to 12. It is not as though there is a problem of plenty: for an ancient historical civilisation, India has an abysmally low stock of monuments designated as nationally important (3,675).
To lose dozens from this stock is unacceptable. It does not augur well for the conservation movement in general and especially the ASI, which, paradoxically, has done a commendable job of developing good conservation practices. The reasons attributed for the disappearance of monuments are urbanisation, commercialisation, and implementation of development projects. Inefficient protection and inadequate monitoring are additional factors. A telling statistic: in 1984 the R.N. Mirdha committee recommended a minimum of 9,000 monument attendants to provide security to the structures — but by 2008 the ASI was able to deploy merely 4,000.
Financial assistance for heritage protection needs to be increased but that is not the main issue. The ASI has spread itself thin and a severe shortage of technical personnel has hamstrung the conservation efforts. This problem must be overcome as a top priority. Secondly, more micro-circles must be set up to manage smaller areas more effectively. The ASI also needs to rethink its ‘fence and forget’ approach. What is abundantly clear is that the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, on which the ASI depends to regulate development around the monuments, has not delivered.
It is time that the conservation efforts were dovetailed with the local area development plans so that heritage zones as a whole are better protected. Then there is the inadequate legal framework combining with the flouting of rules of monument protection. The current legal framework operates at two levels — one looks at nationally important monuments, the other supports State-level monuments. This arrangement covers a total stock of 7,200 State and nationally important monuments, leaving vast numbers of significant structures unattended. What is urgently needed is a third level of institutional-legal arrangements involving local bodies and a committed enforcement of rules and scientifically grounded measures to enhance heritage protection.