Are we really interested in protecting our culture?

Are we really interested in protecting our culture?

Dandi Memorial is a memorial in Dandi, Gujarat that honours the activists and participants of the Salt Satyagraha which was led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1930. It has been delayed due to non-payment of dues to CPWD for construction work.

Identity of the nation and its people are recognised by its culture. Culture plays an important role in establishing the uniqueness of a country especially in these times of globalization. Preservation and conservation of ancient cultural heritage also reflects on nation’s culture and vice versa. The government places great importance to preservation and conservation of our cultural heritage sites not only because of their potential to attract tourists but also they reflect on our past and our history. However, some of the recent actions of the government speak otherwise.

Expenditure as a % of GDP falling

Despite the government’s repeated statement that it aims to protect the culture of our country, its acts are quite contrary to its utterances. For example, if one analyses the expenditure of the Ministry of Culture its going down as a percentage of GDP over the last 5 years.

YearExpenditure on Culture (Cr Rs)Expenditure as % of GDP
2014-152069.170.0197
2015-162011.820.0177
2016-172302.550.0187
2017-182530.500.0192
2018-192602.190.0185

Budget allocation slashed at RE stage

For example, the Cultural Ministry had projected a demand of Rs. 4323.61 crore for 2019-20 against which it received an allocation of Rs. 3042.35 crore only, comprising Rs. 2953.21 crore under Revenue Head and Rs. 89.14 crore under Capital Head. Appalling was the Finance Ministry’s decision to reduce it further to Rs. 2547.00 crore at RE (Revised Estimates) 2019-20 stage. It is worth to note that the amount allocated at RE stage (2019-20) is less than the expenditure incurred during 2018-19. As a result, the Ministry had to revisit the expenditure and prioritize the activities keeping in view the reduction made. Sharp reduction during the RE stage is the result of tendency of the Ministries, including Cultural Ministry, to back load their annual expenditure. Its also true that most of the work carried out by Archaeological Survey of India, being seasonal in nature, can take place only after the monsoon season.

ASI’s capex programme affected

Ministry’s rationing of funds towards expenditure will impact some of its capex projects. Due to the paucity of funds, construction of Pt. Deendayal Institute of Archaeology at Greater Noida is facing difficulty. Remember, the project was sanctioned in 2016-17 at a cost of Rs. 289.37 crore and was to be completed by June 2019. However, due to paucity of funds, a sum of Rs. 85.0 crore remained to be released to the executing agency namely NBCC during 2018-19. No funds were allocated for this project during 2018-19 at RE stage. The project has so far not been completed due to non-payment of funds to NBCC. According to the Ministry, a sum of Rs. 45 crore still remains to be released to NBCC. Timely completion of the Institute is directly linked to the availability of skilled personnel required for conservation and development of our ancient monuments and tangible heritage.

Dandi Memorial too delayed

Similarly, another project, Dandi Memorial, has also been delayed due to non-payment of dues to CPWD for construction work. Dandi Memorial is a memorial in Dandi, Gujarat that honours the activists and participants of the Salt Satyagraha which was led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1930.

The reduced allocation will impact the activities under the umbrella schemes of the Ministry such as Kala Sanskriti Vikas Yojana and Development of Museum etc. and organizations such as Archaeological Survey of India, National Archives of India, National Museum, etc.

Adarsh Monuments Scheme affected

The Ministry had selected 52 monuments for upgradation under Adarsh Monuments Scheme in 2018-19 and 2019-20. However, after that no monuments have been selected for upgradation, ostensibly, due to paucity of funds. At this rate, one can imagine when ASI would be able to provide amenities at all the 3,691 Centrally protected monuments.

Increased allocation to ASI

However, one positive aspect of the latest budget is that ASI has received a 20% higher allocation at BE (Budget Estimates) 2020-21 stage compared to the Rs. 1036.41 crore allocation made at BE 2019-20. However, considering the fact that ASI has to look after 3691 monuments that come under its protection, even the increased allocation for protection and conservation appears very meagre. Most of the expenses of ASI in 2020-21 may go towards construction of office building for Ranchi Circle at Ranchi, Construction of integrated building at Taj Nagari Phase-II, Agra, Purchase of land/ready built office, Accommodation for ASI offices, Land acquisition around the centrally Protected monuments in different places of the country and for construction of new site museums.

Re-introduction of AMASR Bill

Apart from issues relating to Budget allocation another government decision to re-introduce the Bill which allows Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment) Bill 2017 to carry on construction activities may dishearten the heritage lovers. AMASR Bill regarding the restriction of construction work near protected monuments was introduced in 2017 and was passed by Lok Sabha in January, 2018.  The said Bill was subsequently submitted to Rajya Sabha and the same was referred to the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha. However, the Bill got lapsed due to dissolution of Parliament in 2019. The proposed amendment allows government to take up infrastructure projects within the 100 metre prohibited periphery around protected monuments. Since most of the heritage sites are very old construction activities near such sites may cause damage heritage monuments. Thus, this may act as new threat for our heritage sites which are already in poor condition due to lack of proper maintenance.

Preservation of our cultural heritage – both tangible and intangible – should be given its due importance since the damage caused to the same, due to the lack of funds or otherwise, is often irreversible in nature. Therefore, the government should not evaluate a heritage project purely on cost-benefit basis as most of our heritage monuments are of immeasurable value and they also do the job of connecting us to our past.

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