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We as citizens of India have a special responsibility for preservation of our heritage as one of our fundamental duties as our Constitution stipulates that ‘it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to value and preserve the rich heritage of composite culture.’ It is also true that India is endowed with the richest and the most diverse stock of cultural and architectural heritage, with a significant proportion of them constituting living monuments. However, the cause of preservation and conservation of heritage can be served only by providing statutory backing to the listing. Mere listing is of limited use unless it serves the cause of preservation and conservation of the heritage of the area.
The monuments of national importance are declared as centrally protected monuments under the provisions of The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 and are maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The ASI is a Government of India (Ministry of Culture) organisation responsible for archaeological research and the conservation and preservation of cultural monuments in the country. However, the monuments of local importance found worth protection are looked after by the respective State Governments under their own Acts through their respective State Departments of Archaeology. Hence, it became obligatory for each State Government to establish Department of Archaeology for protection and maintenance of ancient monuments of local importance worth protecting in their respective States.
Though ASI has been in existence for more than 150 years (it celebrated completion of 150 years in 2012), the organisation is mostly known for its incomplete and slow implementation of projects. It is also noticed that the preservation projects being undertaken by the ASI too have been marred by several inadequacies and limitations. It is also true that like most of other government agencies, ASI too has serious problem of funds and manpower shortages for the conservation related activities. In fact, fate of heritage sites which are looked after by the state government agencies are even worse.
There is also a rising trend of incidences of antiques ‘theft and smuggling of antiques from the country. For example, several cases of stealing of antique furniture designed by Le Corbusier for Chandigarh university were reported which were later auctioned abroad for hefty price. Further, country’s premier museums lack resources and planning for proper upkeep, security and display of collected art objects.
Even more disturbing fact is about cases of missing monuments under the control of ASI. In 2006, the ASI had informed government that 35 of the total centrally protected monuments were not traceable which figure were later on communicated to the Parliament also. However, when Comptroller and Auditor General conducted the physical inspection of the monuments, it was revealed that nearly 6% of the sampled monuments were missing! In Delhi itself, as many as 15 monuments were in the missing list. It clearly indicates that regular survey of existing monuments are not being undertaken by the agency.
There are also innumerable cases of unauthorised constructions at heritage sites including World Heritage sites like Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh and Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh. Encroachments are common sight in heritage sites like Red Fort, Qutb Minar and Hampi. Encroachers not only damage the monuments but also come in the way of its preservation and conservation.
To conclude, it may be stated that heritage sites in our country are in a state of neglect mainly because people are not aware of the significance of these sites. For a common man, it is just any other old building. Therefore, steps need to be taken to create awareness about these sites and their significance so that people start considering these structures, sites and antiquities as national assets. As more and more people become aware about the importance of heritage sites they will take increased interest in its conservation and also become more vigilant. This will automatically put the concerned government agencies on high alert about conserving and preserving heritage sites.