Heritage sites need dedicated force

Our record of their upkeep is poor and shameful.

A  Parliamentary committee’s recommendation to raise a special force on the lines of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and the Border Security Force (BSF) to protect heritage sites and monuments in the country should be considered and pursued positively by the government. The committee has proposed that the force could be utilised by both Central and state governments to ensure protection of places and structures of historical and cultural importance. Just as preservation of historical sites and monuments calls for special knowledge and skills, the requirement of security forces at such places are also of a different order. The CISF provides security to a few important monuments like the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Red Fort in Delhi, but the force isn’t tailored for the job. It is incapable because its main and specific responsibility is to protect industrial plants and strategic installations like nuclear plants and space research establishments.

With India’s rich history, the country has innumerable sites and monuments which need to be preserved and protected. Many more are being discovered as a result of fresh research and excavations. But our record of their upkeep and maintenance is poor and shameful. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has the duty to protect them but it has been known for its inefficiency, failures and inadequacies. The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) has in the past made many adverse comments about its working. There are 3,675 ASI-protected monuments in the country but they are protected by just about 2,500 security guards. It is not just that the strength of the force is ridiculously inadequate. The members of the force are also not properly equipped to do the work assigned to them.

Many items of historical importance have been stolen from heritage sites and museums. Some of them are priceless. Quite a few have ended up in foreign museums and in private collections. Many others have been damaged. Some ancient structures have suffered because of vandalism. Many places have been encroached upon. The Parliamentary committee has also noted that the ASI has not been able to clear such encroachments. One reason for the ASI’s failure to protect the monuments is lack of manpower. The nature of security and protection needed for the heritage sites and monuments has also changed over the years. That highlights the need for a specialised and dedicated force, as proposed by the committee. We cannot afford to let vandals destroy our heritage sites by giving lame excuse like lack of funds and security personnel. We must be pro-active and ensure that old structures are preserved in a proper manner.

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