Why we fare poorly on WHS?

Why we fare poorly on WHS?

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India is known for its rich heritage and these heritage sites are reflection of her culture and tradition. By government’s own account India has 3691 protected monuments of national importance and many more are under the protection of state archaeological departments and some other agencies like Railways. Most of the heritage sites under the purview of the central government are looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Further, India is a signatory to the 1972 World Heritage Convention, which was ratified by the Government of India in 1977. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee generally recommends various measures to maintain the OUV (Outstanding Universal Value) for individual World Heritage Sites during the time of inscription into the World Heritage List.

It is prestigious for a country to have a site listed on the World Heritage list. This citation gives boost to tourism and helps local economies to prosper. At present, India has 37 places/building declared as World Heritage sites. Considering the number of heritage sites India has, we have relatively less number of sites included WHS.  Countries like Italy and Spain have much more number of sites under WHS than India.

How much we spend on our heritage sites (in Rs crore)

Heritage site2015-162016-172017-18
Agra Fort3.941.531.17
Ajanta caves1.201.091.51
Ellora Caves0.480.091.06
Taj Mahal2.163.832.99
Konarak Sun Temple2.440.740.44
Fatehpur Sikri1.801.261.62
Khajuraho1.240.910.53
Hampi2.874.575.11
Sanchi0.350.270.35

At present, India has 42 sites listed under tentative list which is pre-requisite condition for inscription as World Heritage Sites. For the final nomination, a proposal is sent with nomination dossiers containing details of the site and its conservation plan. Since 2008, Site Management Plan (SMP) was mandatory for the nomination dossier. Till 1993, ASI used to prepare these dossiers in house. Subsequently, this work was mostly outsourced to external consultants. With the increased use of consultants, considerable decline in acceptance of proposals was noticed. This fact was brought to the notice of the government by CAG, However, the government is still persisting with the practice of outsourcing the job. One of the main reasons for the same is the lack of sufficient manpower with ASI.

Also, many deficiencies were pointed out in the past in the appointment of consultants for the preparation of dossiers and the selection process differed from case to case. In the past CAG had pointed out lack of transparency, tendering irregularities and undue favours to consultants.

Even after preparing the dossiers ASI doesn’t seem to have any internal guidelines to follow for selection of a monument/site for the tentative list. A tentative list is an inventory of those properties which each State Party intended to consider for nomination.  It is a mandatory requirement before a site is finally considered for nomination. Past experiences show that there is no standard procedure for follow up of each tentative site or prioritisation amongst the tentatively listed sites for final nomination.

India loses out on non-revision of tentative lists on time. As per UNESCO guidelines the tentative list have to be reviewed and updated every 10 years. However, lists are updated without following any timeframe. In the absence of regular revision, tentative list often contains inconsistencies and overlaps which act as hurdles in getting favourable response from UNESCO for our monuments.

It should be noted that from the tentative list, nomination dossiers are prepared. The nomination document is the primary basis on which the committee considers the inscription of the properties on the World Heritage List. Again, there are no specific criteria for the selection of sites to be nominated from the tentative list. However, sites are picked up randomly for preparation of dossiers for final nomination. It is not uncommon in India for a site a to be picked up for final nomination without being appeared in tentative list. Even after the preparation of nomination dossier rarely any attempts are made to develop the site per se which only goes against the cause of our sites in the final listing WHS.

If we want our heritage sites to be recognised world over, then we need to do much more home work than we are presently doing. People at ASI in particular and also at large need to be aware of the significance and benefits of getting out monuments listed on WHS. More than filling up the vacancies at ASI there is more urgent need to train and educate those who are already in the organisation about the Indian heritage, its significance and various formalities which need to be followed to get them listed on WHS.

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