Callous approach

The Comptroller and Auditor-General’s (CAG) recent report on the Archeological  Survey of India (ASI) has exposed many inadequacies and failings in the working of this body which has a vital role in the preservation of the country’s history and culture.

The ASI, funded by the government, has the responsibility to preserve the monuments and other repositories of the past through appropriate policy and its implementation. But there has been widespread criticism of its acts of omission and commission. The CAG’s criticism is the latest. The auditor has also criticised the ministry of culture, which controls the ASI, for being deficient  on policy and legislation, financial management, provision of human resources and supervision. That is a comprehensive indictment and both the ministry and the ASI need to improve their working.

With a history of over 5,000 years the country has innumerable monuments and sites to protect and preserve and their number only increases with more discoveries and excavations. But the CAG has found that the ASI does not even have a reliable data base on the exact number of protected monuments under its jurisdiction.  A number of protected monuments were found missing on inspection and even world heritage sites were not properly protected. Many objects of antiquities have been stolen from sites and even museums. Apart from indifference, there have also been charges of corruption. Funds are said to have been misused for preservation of monuments which do not exist. Some important  monuments are under threat from environmental pollution and the problems have not been effectively  addressed.  Public scrutiny of the ASI’s activities has also been poor, perhaps because the involvement of the public is also low. This needs to change.

A major point in the CAG’s criticism is that the ASI has not updated its conservation policy for a long time. There has been a longstanding demand for revising the century-old policy and the ASI has taken a first step by publishing a draft version of a new policy. Though there is a more expansive definition of monuments and recognition of the need for involvement of the community in their preservation, they call for a wider debate. It has also been seen as deficient in many respects. The draft should be discussed, finalised and adopted for a clearer perspective on the ASI’s responsibilities.  The CAG report is reminder of the need for a more proactive policy and action to protect the past. 

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