Though we have just 38 UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites (which is less compared to some of the European countries) there are innumerable unlisted heritage monuments in every part of the country. A nation’s history is portrayed in its heritage and it’s true in India’s case. Most of these heritage sites are under the purview of Archaeological Survey of India and many more are looked after by the state archaeological departments.
Heritage sites come under the purview of Ministry of Culture which gets less than 1%of our annual budget and this tells on the condition of our archaeological sites in the country. One of the best examples that can be given is that of Taj Mahal and its surroundings. There are no exceptions and almost all heritage sites and their surrounding areas are in the same conditions of neglect. Many heritage sites have become the victims of land sharks and have seen their areas shrinking due to encroachment over the years.
Last year the government moved to amend the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act that previously prohibited building activity within 100 metres from the limits of a monument. According to the government the existing rule (brought in by previous Manmohan Singh government) adversely impacted various public works and developmental projects of the central government and the cabinet allowed for government-funded infrastructure projects to be constructed near historic monuments.
Also acts commission and omission of the government all these years indicate that it’s main (or only concern) is about tangible and physical things inherited from the past, giving least significance to intangibles. But intangibles inherited from the past is as important as tangible heritage. In fact, it’s much more important to maintain intangibles than tangibles as in the case of former if we lose once they can never be regained. Because of our inaction and negligence country has lost the art of making so many handicrafts in the past. Similarly, the art of making mud house is fast dying due to invasion of so called new technology and inability on our part to protect and promote conventional practice.
Similarly, India’s unique geographical location and weather pattern had given rise to peculiar water storing and conservation practices which in today’s age of water shortage would have become very handy. Traditional India’s imperative to store and manage water arose from the inescapable logic of the seasonal monsoon, which delivers more than three quarters of India’s total annual rainfall over a period of four months. The rich climatic and geological diversity of the subcontinent gave rise to a broad array of systems and techniques allowing water to be conserved for the dry season.
Equally commendable was the traditional ways of harnessing ground water. The traditional karez system was used extensively in the Deccan region, as can be seen in Bijapur and other locations. The technique is worthy of emulating to solve the current water scarcity.
But traditional water management systems depend on collective responsibility for their maintenance and upkeep. When collective systems fail, private and unregulated extraction takes their place, as is today the case in much of India. By contrast, traditional systems limit the supply of water to the natural rate at which it replenishes, making them sustainable in the long run.
As the water crisis looms over the country, the reactivation of historic water systems and the updating of traditional practices can make a helpful contribution to the challenge. At the same time, it can contribute to changing our water consciousness and help activate a new ethic of care and conservation.