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The monumental task of preserving the Monuments in India – Problems, Policies and bridging the gap between the two

Hindu Monuments

Art, architecture, and culture are the recognized assets of every country, which are passed from one generation to other. The culture of a particular place and nation gives a definite identity to the people, making them unique. The heterogeneous cultures have imbibed the fundamentality in the form of monuments and archaeological sites. India holds an enriched history and has been referred to as the ‘golden sparrow’, because of the diverse cultures and their heritage. Thousands of monuments were built by the dynasties such as Ajanta-Ellora caves, Sanchi stupas, Qutub Minar, Taj Mahal, etc. These heritage sites record the history of the world in the form of social, religious, cultural, ecological, and political terms. The monuments represent the footprint of the temporal evolution of civilizations and ecosystems.

As it is inherited from the past, it should be bestowed on the future for the benefit of subsequent generations. The monuments of India have always been referred to as those representing the variety, extent, completeness, and beauty unsurpassed. The monuments are not only treasures of a particular nation-state but the whole world and have been erected in the past centuries, thereby forming a part of the cultural heritage, which makes it essential that they must be protected and preserved. The monuments of India have been under threat since the phase of independence, and the struggle for their protection is continuing. Henceforth, it is disheartening to observe that the people around us are not aware of the significance of these monuments, as a consequence of which irreparable and irreversible damage is being done to these valuable archaeological masterpieces, which makes it a necessity that there should be efforts and policies introduced for the protection of these monuments.

Issues posing threat to the Monuments in India

Since the partition of India, the country’s monuments have been under threat. In 1947, religious monuments were confiscated during the partition phase. Looters put a lot of strain on India, and there were several attacks on mosques and temples. To some extent, the government was complicit in the attacks, having sanctioned their destruction to profit from the property on which these monuments were built. Because of the weaponry, the stones, walls, and all other precious artifacts were destroyed, and some of them were even sidetracked by the British. The post-independence age, on the other hand, witnessed a lot of reconstruction, research, and analysis for monument preservation. There were various acts introduced and legislative measures with the institutionalization of the Archaeological Survey of India, aiming to preserve the rich culture of India. 

In the present 21st century, India has been facing issues related to the preservation of monuments, because of several factors, which are summarised below:

  • There is an absolute lack of a concurrent and well-designed holistic approach to the preservation of monuments. The government has taken efforts for protecting the rich heritage sites such as The Taj Mahal, and Bodhgaya Ajanta-Ellora, but there have been no efforts for saving the other rich heritage cultural sites.
  • There have been encroachments and other illegal occupations carried around the monuments and heritage sites, which has been an area of major concern. These are majorly done by the local citizens, shopkeepers, and other sellers. These temporary structures degrade the monuments of these sites. Encroachment can be defined as any construction within the periphery of 200 meters of a protected monument and is considered not legal. In March 2021, the government reports stated that there have been encroachments done to a total of 321 monuments in India
  • All of the chemical and biological variables have been classified. These are the conditions that cause the monuments to deteriorate due to excessive humidity, which causes small cracks on the walls; non-attendance of the monuments’ walls after the monsoons; and the problems caused by animals and bats, such as brushing against the walls, making them unclean, and so on.
  • The next important cause for the deterioration is pollution, which hampers the property of heritage and monuments. An example can be cited in the case of MC. Mehta v Union of India, 1986 also referred to as the taj trapezium case questioned the working of the factories around the monument and was further banned from carrying on such activities that would cause pollution and degrade the monument.
  • These magnificent monuments attract tourism, but because of the lack of civic sense among the people and the tourists has caused damage to these monumental sites. The people commit criminal damages either by graffiti, defecation or scribbling on the walls, thereby degrading the monument. 

The Archaeological Survey Of India – Custodian of the Monuments

Monuments

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was established and institutionalized by the Ministry of Culture in 1861 with the sole purpose of exploring, excavating, conserving, preserving, and protecting the monuments and other heritage cultures both at the national and international levels. There have been various functions enlisted to preserve monuments in India. The functions are:

  • It helps in maintaining, conserving, and preserving the monuments and all the archaeological sites and the remains of national importance.
  • The exclusive branch of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been assigned the responsibility for the preservation of monuments by using various chemical processes.
  • The forum has also been allocated the responsibility for conducting an archaeological survey of the monuments 
  • The forum has assigned a person, well qualified in archaeology, and has accorded him/her the duty of publishing content related to archaeology among the masses.  
  • It has been the sole responsibility of the organization to spread awareness among the public related to archaeology and taking efforts for setting up and reorganizing the monumental sites.
  • The excavation branch under the forum has been responsible for analyzing and resolving the issues through the exploration and excavation of the monumental sites.
  • The prehistory branch is responsible for conducting surveys and publishing reports in the excavated areas and has an interaction-based report from the research units.
  • The epigraphical studies branch has been accorded with the responsibility of accurate surveying, documentation, stamping of inscriptions on the walls of monuments, and documentation of ancient coins to prevent any kind of rust.
  • The underwater Archaeology wing is responsible for the maintenance and preservation of all the underwater heritage sites and monuments.
  • The science branch has been formed and introduced for the protection of monuments, museum exhibits, and antiquities by the processes of chemical preservation, which includes chemical treatment and preservation of the centrally protected monuments.
  • The horticulture branch has been solely responsible for the maintenance of the gardens and parks around which the monument is situated with the prime intent of a clean environment and maintaining greening.

Legislations safeguarding the Heritage

Heritage

The efforts for protecting and conserving monuments in India were taken in 1810 when the government introduced legislation namely the Bengal Regulation XIX of 1810 with the main purpose of protecting the cultural heritage in Bengal. Further, there were efforts made by the Indian government as well. Let’s take a look at the legislation:

  • The Constitution of India The Constitution has guaranteed rights to citizens and at the same time has accorded duties that should be performed for maintaining a balance of responsibility in the society. Article 51A(f) has granted a fundamental duty to the citizens for valuing and preserve the cultural heritage of India. Secondly, Article 253 opines that the center has the power for introducing any act, for the welfare of the citizens and the nation-state, even if the subjects are mentioned in the state list.
  • Indian Treasure Trove Act, 1878The Act was introduced for protecting and preserving the treasure found accidentally from any monument, archaeological sites, and antiquities with historical and archaeological value. Section 20 and Section 21 impose penalties and punishments with imprisonment of six months and a fine if the people act in default and fail to return the treasure to the concerned authorities.
  • The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904 The Act was introduced by the government to provide preservation and protection to the monuments and the provisions aimed at exercising control over the criminal damages of trafficking in antiquities and excavation in the places. The act also extended its applicability to the protection of the ancient monuments and the objects which were of historical, archaeological, and artistic value. 
  • The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1951 The Act declared the monuments, historical and archaeological sites, and the sites of cultural heritage as those of national importance.
  • The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010 The Act was enacted in 2010 with the main purpose was to authorize the government for instituting National Monument Authority (NMA) and another Competent Authority. The authorities would be solely responsible for repairing and renovating the monuments in any of the prohibited areas, that are the centrally protected monuments.

What role does the Judiciary play?

Independence of Judiciary

Judiciary has played a cardinal role in addressing the issues related to every legal domain. It has a core role in keeping a check on the ministries and executing the proper functioning of the agencies. Time and again, it has passed judgments concerning the protection and preservation of monuments. Some of them are as given below:

  • In the case of MC Mehta v Union of India, 1996, the Supreme Court had passed orders for protecting the richest cultural heritage site of India Taj Mahal, as the damage was being done to the monument because of the chemicals used by the industries and foundations, that emitted harmful pollutants, thereby resulting in acid rain. The acid rain harmed the environment and also eroded the white marble of the monument. The court passed its judgment in the favour of the petitioners and issued notices to the industries to relocate their industries.
  • In the case of Archaeological Survey of India v Narendra Anand and others, 2012, the archaeological survey of India had appointed a committee that was involved in the construction in the prohibited areas that acted as a violation of the notifications issued by the central government. Hence, the ASI was ordered and directed by the courts not to permit any kind of construction within the prohibited areas of the monuments.
  • In the case of Emca Construction company v Archaeological Survey of India, 2010, the appellants were granted permission for the reconstruction of the monument named Humayun’s tomb, even though the property was situated within hundred meters of the prohibited areas. The court stated that the acts of the appellants acted in violation of the provisions of The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904. They further opined that mining operations were completely barred in the vicinity of any of the historical or ancient monuments.
  • In the case of Dr. Chandrika Prasad Yadav v Union of India, 2004, it was observed that the historical monument and site Mira Bigha, Jahanabad was witnessing thievery and pilferage because of the treasures in the place by the idol seekers. The court condemned the actions of the people and stated that the acts were in violation of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act,1958, and further ordered the district magistrate of the areas to keep a check on the preservation and conservation of the monuments and historical sites.
  • In the case of Dr. Anhita Pandole v State of Maharashtra, 2008, the high court opined that holding hoardings on the monuments, heritage sites, and other ancient sites are in violation of the preservation and conservation of the monuments.
  • In the case of Mr. Rajeev Kumar Yadav vs Archaeological Survey Of India, 2019, wherein the petitioners alleged the illegal and unlawful construction by the respondents near the protected historical monument named Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan‟s Tomb, the court opined that the construction must be prohibited as it acted in the violation of the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.

What could be done?

There are a few recommendations for the proper preservation and conservation of monuments, these are as follows,

  • There is a need for proper guidelines with respect to the functioning and execution of the legislation that has been enacted and introduced.
  • The Archaeological Survey of India has been the custodian for the preservation and conservation of monuments, however, the forum is not able to comply with the mandated provisions. Furthermore, a committee must be appointed for keeping a check on the activities of the ASI.
  • There has been a reported misappropriation of funds through the audit reports by the politicians, which as a result affects the preservation of the monuments.
  • There is a lack of technology which results in the poor documentation of the artifacts and antiquities. Hence, the agencies have to make appropriate efforts for creating a proper database and facility that would help inadequate surveillance of the monuments.
  • There should be tribunals specifically dealing with the cases of archaeology. The institutionalization of environment courts can also be done for resolving the disputes relating to the environment and preservation of monuments.
  • The professionals should keep a timely check on the encroachments and criminal punishment should be imposed on the people.
  • The Archaeological Survey of India must be rearranged with professionals, for maintaining accountability and transparency in the system.

Conclusion

At every phase of the monument preservation process, there are bottlenecks and issues. The challenges can only be remedied by a multi-stakeholder approach in which all government entities, departments, citizens, lawmakers, policymakers, and the judiciary put forth equal effort. Even when national and international regulations exist, the rich legacy and culture of monuments go unprotected and unregulated. The monuments have become encroachers’ pastimes, with vandalism, graffiti, and scribbling perpetrated on them.

Henceforth, it becomes necessary to provide proper conservation schemes for the monuments. The introduction of a proper heritage plan has also been a failure, not only on the part of the government but also on the part of the Indian citizens who recklessly exploit the rich cultural heritage of India. Hence, it can be concluded by stating that the laws introduced for the preservation of monuments lack empathy and proper execution, and efforts must be taken for improving the environment and protecting the monuments from any kind of atrocities.

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