Monday, April 12, 2010

Why a Heritage Act is needed for every Indian State

To dwell a little more on the importance of a Heritage Act… In India, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is the premier institution concerned with the conservation of monuments. The ASI first protected built heritage in India under the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act. Promulgated in 1904, the Act provided effective preservation and authority over monuments, particularly those that were under the custody of individual or private ownership. In 1951, The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Declaration of National Importance) Act was enacted. Consequently, all the ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains protected earlier under The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904 were re-declared as monuments and archaeological sites of national importance under this Act.

In order to bring the Act on par with Constitutional provisions and provide better and effective preservation to the archaeological wealth of the country, The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 was enacted on 28 August 1958. The Act along with Rules came into force with effect from 15 October 1959. It repealed The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Declaration of National Importance) Act, 1951.

In India, about 5,000 monuments alone have been declared as heritage sites. Another equal number of monuments have been identified by the various other State departments of archaeology. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958 declares buildings that are 100 years old and above as monuments and provides for their protection. However, although thousands of buildings in India need to be protected, only few are.

Built heritage is also protected by the State Department of Archaeology. But the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department protects almost nothing by way of built heritage in Madras. INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) Tamil Nadu, though, has been playing a vital role in the listing, documentation and conservation of historical structures and precincts. In Madras, INTACH Tamil Nadu has, as far as I know, listed only about 700 buildings (which appear in Madras - The Architectural Heritage written by architects K. Kalpana and Frank Schiffer, an INTACH publication) or so in about a quarter of the city and has been unable to proceed further for want of funds and lack of local response.

Heritage being a State subject, there should be a Heritage Act for each state, and Heritage Regulations that cover cities under the Town Planning Acts. Tamil Nadu has neither. And INTACH Tamil Nadu has for 15 years been campaigning for this. Without an Act or Regulations, the heritage buildings, most of them landmark buildings of Madras, are slowly vanishing.

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