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We can save monuments

What can the Archaeological Survey of India do to protect the country’s splendid architectural heritage from rapid urbanisation? Nivedita Khandekar reports.

delhi Updated: Sep 25, 2009 02:25 IST
Nivedita Khandekar

What can the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) do to protect the country’s splendid architectural heritage from rapid urbanisation?

The answer is quite simple — it has to make full use of all its powers.

The problem is, most of the time it does not.

The ASI generally issues notices to encroachers under Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 and
Rules 1959.

It is followed by an order from the ASI director general to the district collector or magistrate under Section 19(2) of the Act and Section 38(2) of the Rules.

But nothing really helps.

“This is easier said than done,” an ASI official said as he blamed “inaction” on part of the civic agencies and the police and also “the lack of political will”.

But what he did not speak about was the extra power senior ASI officials enjoyed.

An ASI state chief is vested with the powers of estate officer. Which means he/she can issue eviction notices to encroachers under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971.

Agreed ASI Director General KN Shrivastava, “It is indeed a powerful act. We can certainly take action under this Act without waiting for the civic agency’s help.”

What else can be done to protect our heritage? Make students feel proud of their past.

Nayanjot Lahiri, Professor of History at Delhi University, said: “The education system should be such that it has involvement of local monuments.”

“In European countries, school students are taught about local archaeological structures.”

What Lahiri meant was quite clear: if students know about their local monuments, they will take pride in their heritage and have a sense of belonging.

Another hope for the beleaguered monuments is the proposed National Commission for Heritage Bill 2009 — introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

“This has a provision for maintenance of a Heritage Site Roster. This will ensure monitoring of all protected heritage sites,” the official said.