Archaeology under tourism dept triggers debate

A view of majestic Gulbarga Fort

The state government has brought archaeology, museums and heritage under the Tourism department, stoking concerns among conservationists fighting to preserve historic sites that the move lacked forethought.

The Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage was under the administrative control of the Kannada and Culture, Information Department. In a notification earlier this month, the government transferred this department under the scope of the Tourism department.

The government’s rationale is that this department was engaged in preservation of monuments that were also tourist destinations. In fact, the move was proposed by the previous Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in its February 2018-19 budget.

Experts counter this view with the argument that heritage conservation efforts may not go hand in hand with promoting tourism.

Tourism secretary T K Anil Kumar maintained that the decision would help synergise heritage planning with development of tourism. “The debate over conservation vis-a-vis tourism is there, but as long as we work under the existing legal framework, there shouldn’t be any problem,” he said, referring to the Karnataka Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1961.The government is doubling down on heritage tourism and has identified 20 heritage sites that will be “comprehensively developed” with tourist amenities. These sites include Hampi, Belur-Halebid, Shravanabelagola, Nandi Hills, Sannathi, Kalaburagi fort and so on.

“Analytically speaking, there’s a conflict between the two - conservation and tourism,” Bengaluru-based architect and conservationist Sathya Prakash Varanashi said. “The move makes sense when seen through the heritage tourism perspective. But tourism itself involves profit-making for the private sector and outreach for the government. The challenge is to strike a balance,” he pointed out. In the recent past, conservation activists opposed moves by the government to allow private players to adopt tourist destinations.

Bengaluru’s track record in heritage conservation is dismal. In 1985, the city had 823 iconic heritage buildings, according to the first such inventory the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) prepared for the erstwhile Bangalore Urban Arts Commission. When Intach revisited the inventory, the number was down to 354.

Swaminathan Natarajan, a heritage enthusiast, said the Tourism department should ensure the autonomous nature of the Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage is maintained.

“All possible measures should be taken to bring back the old glory of the department, where Indian archaeology greats have worked since the pre-independence times,” he said.

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