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Before past turns into history

Ashpreet Sethi, Sep 1, 2012, DHNS :

FATE OF HERITAGE SITES HANGS ON ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA

The Capital has a rare endowment of rich heritage, but the Archaeological Survey of India is finding it difficult to preserve it due to lack of funds.

To ensure that monuments attract more tourists, ASI Delhi circle will focus on civic amenities. dh photo/ jaydeep sahaIn a bid to ensure that monuments are well-maintained and attract more tourists, ASI Delhi circle has decided to focus on civic amenities once this year’s funds are approved.

ASI officials lament that the union culture ministry is not giving enough money to restore and conserve protected monuments in the city.


“There are 174 protected monuments in Delhi. It is impossible for us to ensure upkeep of all monuments with less funds and a few archaeologists,” says ASI director general Gautam Sengupta.

The ASI is responsible for continuous protection, conservation, maintenance and providing basic amenities to visitors on the premises of protected monuments.

For the financial year 2011-12,  the ASI was given Rs 9.28 crore under the conservation and preservation categories, while Rs 1.61 crore was allocated for civic amenities.

Civic amenities

Tourist amenities such as benches, toilets and drinking water facilities have been provided at all monuments where visitors have to buy tickets to enter: Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar, Safdarjung’s Tomb, Purana Qila, Jantar Mantar, Tughlakabad, Khan-i-Khana’s Tomb and Kotla Feroz Shah.

Interpretation centres have been set up at Humayun’s Tomb by the Aga Khan Trust, and setting up of similar centres at Red Fort, Qutub Minar and Jantar Mantar are in process. Ramps for the  physically challenged visitors have been provided at Qutub Minar, Red Fort, Safdarjung Tomb and Purana Qila.

“Recently, the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) adopted Qutub Minar for providing basic amenities under the Clean India campaign. Under this campaign, toilet blocks at Qutub Minar have been given a facelift by the ITDC,” said Delhi circle superintending archaeologist D N Dimri.

The ITDC is also in consultation with the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC) to provide more facilities like benches and dustbins at Qutub Minar.

‘ASI should prioritise’

Archaeologists working outside the ASI agree that lack of funds is a major concern, but believe that ASI needs to prioritise and alter its concept of restoration. “We only see and hear of the ASI getting restoration and preservation work done at the known monuments. The remaining protected monuments remain neglected,” says a Delhi-based archaeologist.

Director (projects) at the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Ajay Kumar, says lack of funds restricts ASI’s work, which prevents it from completing restoration work at protected monuments.

“For instance, it cost us approximately Rs 70 lakh on structural and art conservation along with landscaping of the Bara Lao Ka Gumbad Tomb in Basant Lok. We conserved the monument along with the state archaeology department. To preserve just one monument we need the right proportion of plaster and stones of the era to which the monument belongs,” says Kumar.

Other experts point out that there is a category of buildings that have disappeared altogether from the ASI’s list of protected monuments due to “simple neglect”. “Another important category is that of buildings over which ASI has little control, such as the important tombs in Nizamuddin Dargah complex, where it appears that it cannot dictate details on   upkeep and maintenance,” says Swapna Liddle, historian and co-convenor of INTACH Delhi chapter.

According to some archaeologists, under the protected category, Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli, tomb of Mubarak Shah in Kotla Mubarakpur and several tombs in Munirka need immediate attention. “I would also hope that visitors’ access to restored buildings is not blocked by locked gates, as it often happens.  The ASI needs to arrange meaningful security, not simply gates and grills,” says Liddle.

Is there a need to privatise heritage structures to preserve their glory? Liddle says public-private partnerships can help save monuments that are in deplorable condition. Historian O P Jain says Delhi needs a heritage legislation.

“The ASI should cooperate with NGOs for this purpose.” In fact, the ASI has been encouraging private companies to adopt a monument and conserve it as part of their corporate social responsibility.

Sheikh Yusuf Qattal’s Tomb in south Delhi is the first successful conservation project, which was completed by January-end. The monument has been adopted by PEC Ltd, a public sector undertaking under the commerce and industry ministry in Delhi.

ASI officials say this concept, introduced by the government some years ago, failed as several companies did not wait for the conservation period to get over. “Some companies signed MoUs, but withdrew the amount after realising that the wait is too long,” says Mohammed K K, former superintending archaeologist, Delhi circle.

Some hurdles

ASI officials live under the constant fear of people breaking rules and causing serious damage to protected monuments. For instance, the latest case of Akbarabadi Mosque at Subhash Park created a stir in the city ahead of Eid.

“We had to intervene as that incident had turned into a religious fight. Since most protected monuments are mosques or places of worship, we constantly fear people getting sentimental,” says Dimri.

According to ASI rules, prayers are not allowed inside protected monuments. In another recent incident, union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad entered Safdarjung’s Tomb to offer Eid prayers.

With the ASI working on heritage by-laws for protected monuments, officials fear that the existence of several structures and public projects around these sites may be at stake if they do not meet the proposed criteria.

The ASI is most likely to declare any construction work within 300 metres of all 174 protected monuments in the city as “unauthorised/illegal” if permissions were not granted to these structures after the amendment to the ASI Act, 1992.

The municipal corporation would be held responsible for such constructions, and they will be razed.

Work done with last year’s funds


ASI managed to restore nearly 35 monuments with the help of last year’s budget. However, the ‘work in progress’ list is longer than the list of completed assignments. “These works were started last year, but will continue this year. On their completion, more work will be identified,” said Dimri.

As per ASI procedures, conservation is done according to the requirement of any monument and availability of funds. However, due to pending work at different monuments, no new project has been identified in the current financial year.

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