Last one week or so has been very good for Indian heritage lovers as the UNESCO inscribed both the nominations from India on its World Heritage List. In fact, since last few years, India has been consistently getting its heritage monuments inscribed on the UNESCO list and has added 10 new world Heritage sites. India now has entered the Super-40 club for World Heritage Site inscriptions to join countries like Italy, Spain, Germany, China and France. But for a country with one of the oldest civilisations and where every village has heritage of its own, the number 40 is too less and its bound to increase in the coming years.
Archaeological sites and monuments not only play a pivotal role in furthering the tourism prospects of India, but also act as a treasure trove of our rich and diverse cultural heritage. India is home to a huge number of archaeological sites and monuments. Archaeological Survey of India shoulders the responsibility for maintenance, conservation and environmental development of 3692 Centrally protected monuments. However, ASI has been facing several hurdles which in turn is affecting the quality of work.
Lack of human resource
Lack of adequate number of qualified and competent people to look after the monuments and carry out conservation activities is the biggest problem faced by the agencies that are meant to look after heritage sites and monuments in the country. Even the Ministry of Culture has often admitted that its agencies are faced with lack of sufficient number of skilled professionals as the existing staff don’t possess expertise and skills to efficiently manage the given task.
Considering the shortage of Human Resources in the heritage sector, a Central Institute, namely the Indian Institute of Heritage is being set up by the Development of Museums and Cultural Spaces (DMCS) under the Ministry of Culture with the mandate to develop Human Resources in Museology and other disciplines. This Central Institute will provide avenues for advanced research and education, evolve research advanced approaches for preserving and managing India’s rich tangible heritage besides creating skilled human resources. The Institute aimed after post graduate degrees, Ph.D., Diploma and Certificate courses. Digital outreach shall also be offered.
However, all of these cannot be achieved overnight and will take some years to develop skilled human resources to look after our heritage sites. Till then we have to ‘manage’ with available limited resources. Meanwhile, it would be of great help if the government charts out its plans for establishing regional centres of IIHC in the future, to enable interested youth to pursue their interest in museology and cultural heritage preservation.
No of vacancies in ASI (as on 1/4/2020)
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Natural calamities and pollution
Apart from skilled manpower, utilization of the best known conservation and preservation practices play pivotal role in maintaining and preserving the heritage sites and the artefacts of a Museum. Further, India being a tropical country, fluctuating environmental conditions like extremely hot or cold weather, relative humidity, light levels and contaminants are main challenges. Pollution is another problem faced by our heritage sites and we are still struggling to save the world famous Taj Mahal from the pollution. Of late, we are seeing spate of floods during Monsoon in various parts of the country including in those locations where heritage sites are located. Puri in Odisha and Hampi in Karnataka are some of the latest examples of heritage sites getting damaged due to natural calamities which in turn is said to be the result of global warming.
While the significant archaeological sites have been protected by the Central or State Governments the ones which are of lesser importance are under the care of none. In fact, it is this category of the monuments which is threatened of their very existence. However, of late, the local bodies have also started taking interest in their protection, preservation and development. But still, a lot needs to be done for the protection and preservation of this class of the monuments considering that these are parts of our rich cultural tradition and heritage.
Absence of specifications of conservation works
Its strange that even after more than 70 years of independence, ASI is yet to formulate a list of specifications for conservation works to be undertaken in India, because of which, the CPWD specifications are followed – which are not meant for conservation works.
ASI had notified a revised national policy for conservation in 2014, but years later, the policy is hardly known, even within the ASI staff at circle level. So, there is urgent need to disseminate the policy, hold workshops and discussions regarding the policy both within the ASI and with officials of State Governments.
Lack of funds
Lack of funds is also plaguing the ASI and is struggling to carry out the task of maintenance and management of 3692 sites with its limited funds. The situation has only worsened during the pandemic spread as the government cut drastically the funds allocation for heritage conservation. ASI could spend only Rs 5.25 crore during 2020-21 on conservation work of centrally protected monuments in the country. It may be noted that ASI had spent Rs 9.6 crore on similar works in the previous year. It shows that conservation works have been reduced during the last financial year considerably. What is even more concerning is the fact that this year’s allocation of Rs 5 crore for the purpose is even less than the amount spent last year.
Since, India’s historical sites and monuments are located in varied geo-climatic regions and thus need very well considered conservation strategy. Its high time that the ASI reviews the functioning of its Science Branch, provide it with better funding and ensure that all the conservation processes employed at the Centrally protected monuments are backed by well-documented scientific research. Modern technology such as photogrammetry, 3D laser scanning, blockchain technology etc. may be explored and utilized, wherever possible, to improve the documentation of the monuments since quality documentation at present would allow quality scientific research in the coming future.
Above all, there should be a sense of ownership at the highest echelons of government and across all sections of society to improve the quality and direction of communication about the importance of heritage protection. Best way to preserve sites and monuments is by creating public awareness making people realize that what exists in the vicinity of where they live and worship, is part of their own pasts.