ASI presents conservation policy draft, after a hundred years

Tue 04 Jun 2013

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has revised the century-old national conservation policy and presented a draft that it hopes would help protect more structures and take care of monuments better.

However, some experts think the new policy constitutes only a gentle tweaking of an old idea, and not any radical revision — that is badly needed.

The ASI, established in 1861, takes care of about 3,670 nationally important monuments. An estimated 75,000 monuments remain unprotected, and some notified by the ASI have gone “missing.” Unregulated development activity around monuments, lack of public participation and poor visitor experience are major complaints about the present approach.

Presented in the form of 15 articles, the draft policy tries to address these issues. It acknowledges the need to broadbase the definition of monuments to include industrial sites, cultural routes and rural heritage.

If the policy finds fruition, the government would be compelled to estimate the carrying capacity of each monument in terms of the number of tourists it can accommodate and regulate visitors. It recognises different ways of conserving buildings, including retrofitting and reconstruction.

There is an emphasis on making monuments accessible to the differently abled. Special modes of access will have to be built, and where that is not possible, special areas have to be created within or around a monument to provide maximum view.

The policy requires that only ancillary structures, and not the main monument, be put for “sympathetic and compatible” reuse. It advises against reconstructing damaged sculptures and inscriptions, but permits reconstructing of geometric patterns and interiors of heritage structures. Communities that are traditionally associated with monuments would be encouraged to continue their “intrinsic relationship,” in order to strengthen conservation efforts and improve community participation.

A.G. Krishna Menon, convener, INTACH Delhi Chapter and author of the INTACH Charter for conservation, says the policy is not a “forward-looking document” and does not reflect developments in conservation philosophy and practice since 1923 when the ASI published its Manual of Conservation. He feels the ASI does not acknowledge Indian ways of preserving and remains stuck in old colonial policies.

“The traditional concept of jeevanodharan allows craftsmen to reconstruct monuments based on architectural evidence, but the policy acknowledges only archaeological evidence,” Mr. Menon says. “Maybe exceptionally important structures such as Taj Mahal could be treated as frozen historical records, but other monuments could be conserved differently. Preserving and sustaining traditional ways of building is as important as preserving structures, and the new policy does not enable it. As a result, conservation would continue to the preserve of archaeologists and would not relate to the other disciplines or communities all of whom are stakeholders of heritage.”

Abha Narain Lambha, a conservation-architect based in Mumbai and co-author of a book on the history of the ASI, appreciates the fact that the policy addresses issues of tourism, private-public partnership and facilities for the differently abled. However, to her it is not sensitive to historic structures that are under use. She points out that once “a living structure” (structure in use) is declared as a monument under the new policy, it could be conserved only “as exemplars of a bygone civilisation.” This narrow view does not accommodate the continued use of historic structures.

“The ASI is protecting monuments in an isolated manner and does not consider the urban context. For instance, protective measures should care for line of vision and scale of buildings, which are critical to the experience of monuments. But the new policy does not enable such urban design measures.” Ms. Lambha says.

The draft national conservation policy is open for public comments. It can be accessed at ASI website (click here).


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