Hope floats for Himalayan heritage sites as Uttarakhand plans own law
The proposed legislation will encompass preservation as well as restoration of historical sites, buildings, or natural bodies that are crucial to the state’s culture, but are not yet covered under any other government policy.dehradun Updated: Jul 24, 2017 20:41 IST
The 145-year-old Almora Jail where India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru served two jail terms during the freedom struggle and the majestic British-era Raj Bhawan nestled in the Nainital hills are two of the most iconic structures in Uttarakhand.
These two and several other historic buildings that hold aesthetic, cultural or environmental significance for the Himalayan state, are set to get an official ‘heritage identity’ besides receiving a major conservation boost in the form of ‘Uttarakhand Heritage Act’.
The proposed legislation will encompass preservation as well as restoration of historical sites, buildings, or natural bodies that are crucial to the state’s culture, but are not yet covered under any other government policy.
“The draft (of the Heritage Act) is ready and has been sent to the state administration. It has also been thrown open for suggestions from individuals and will soon be sent to the state cabinet for approval,” Beena Bhatt, director of Uttarakhand culture department, told Hindustan Times.
Around 71 monuments in Uttarakhand are protected by the state under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, which provides for preservation ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites.
Apart from these, at least 42 monuments are covered by the Government of India through the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under the same Act.
However, the state’s Heritage Act will be different in a way that it would be far-reaching in its jurisdiction. It will cover not only sites and structures, but also streets, artefacts, important natural features, and environmentally-sensitive areas.
“For instance, it will protect sacred groves, lakes, traditional bridle paths, wetlands, or wooded areas, which are integral to the state’s cultural ethos and environment. The sites or features covered under proposed legislation will be graded according to their heritage significance,” she added.
Development activities around the sites granted as heritage tag will also remain restricted.
A heritage authority will be constituted under the proposed law, which will be tasked with the declaration of heritage sites, preparation of conservation plan, acquisition of any site for maintenance and administration of the conservation fund. The authority will have the state’s chief secretary as it chairman and other key officials along with experts such as an architect, a structural engineer, a historian, and an environmentalist among others.
Experts, meanwhile, said that the proposed Act had been long due. “It’s been more than 16 years since the formation (of Uttarakhand in 2000) and a lot of damage has already been caused to our heritage sites. In fact, we’d been pressing for the state to have its heritage policy for a long time but better late than never,” said Dehradun-based noted heritage expert Lokesh Ohri.
Citing examples of states like Gujarat, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh that already have heritage cells within their development authorities, Ohri said, “They’ve been doing commendable work to safeguard local heritage and we hope that the hill state, too, would be able to benefit in a similar manner.”