How do we protect our heritage? On what basis? Through whom? India has a rich heritage which goes beyond the tourist money earning monuments in Delhi, Jaipur, Fatehpur Sikri, Bodh Gaya, Rajasthan, Khajuraho and various temples. The 'active' sites are protected by their use and endowments. The tourist sites have been privileged, but the neglected sites suffer from dilapidation and decay.
The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 (originally enacted in 1904 by the British government in India) and the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act 1972 do not provide an adequate framework and are jumbled in their empowerment and aims. Separate legislation like for Hampi, Champaner and Majuli experiment with originality, functionability and conservation. Meanwhile, private parties have extended into the fray – some sophisticated and some with the mind set of business contractors.
In the absence of comprehensive and rigorous laws regulating heritage conservation in India, the Supreme Court has been more advanced than the executive or legislature in providing protection to heritage in India. The Supreme Court has established that heritage is part of Article 21 of the Constitution, and in numerous cases involving conflicts between heritage conservation and industrial development, the Court has ruled in favour of heritage conservation. But the Court cannot really deal with the how-to-do features of heritage conservation.
Heritage extends beyond monuments and sites to landscapes, customs, paintings, traditional knowledge, living areas, and other facets of intangible heritage such as songs. The National Commission for Heritage Sites Bill 2009 has defined the term “heritage site” under section 2 (c) of the Bill. This definition is essentially similar to the 1972 World Heritage Convention definition and limits its scope to heritage of ‘outstanding universal value.’ Therefore heritage of national and local importance is outside the purview of this Bill.
PILSARC is involved in an ongoing project on heritage conservation and law in collaboration with the School of Planning and Architecture. It is hoped that this project will lead to a draft national law which incorporates broader understandings of heritage conservation. For more details on the project, please contact the PILSARC office.