Rethinking heritage conservation in India (April 18 is World Heritage Day)

April 17th, 2011 - 4:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) Conservation of India’s millenia old cultural and architectural heritage will be the focus of the third Pupul Jayakar Memorial Lecture organised by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) here Monday on World Heritage Day.

This year’s lecture will try to throw new light on heritage conservation in India in context of the changing nature of preserving heritage in an era when it has to be commercially viable as well. Heritage expert Deepak Nayyar, a professor of economics, will deliver the lecture on “Rethinking Heritage and Restoration, Discovering a Small Inheritance”.

The role of heritage conservation in achieving sustainability has not been fully recognised nor has heritage needs been integrated into sustainability, says a document prepared by the Getty Conservation Institute early this year.

This failure, in some instances, has led to conflicts between heritage conservation efforts and environmental regulation.

The conflict often resonates in the historic national capital, a classic example of a metropolis where history rubs shoulders with the present, both in its built landscape and its living cultures.

Conserving the metropolis’ rich archaeological treasure is a challenge, says a senior archaeologist and conservationist who has been associated with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which protects 172 monuments in the capital.

The Indian government in 2010 had passed a Ancient Monumnents and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Bill to amend an earlier law.

Under the new law, any construction - whether private or government - within 100 meters of a protected monument is punishable if it is done without the clearance of the ASI.

It says that if a resident lives within 100 metres of any centrally-protected heritage structure without permission, under the new law, he can be jailed for two years or be forced to pay Rs.100,000 as penalty. Only basic repairs can be carried out in such houses.

A conservation expert said the law has “led to a virtual citizens’ unrest in several areas of Delhi where residential neighbourhoods have sprung up within 100 metres”.

Residents who have been living in these localities for years find it a hindrance to “their daily livelihood”.

The ASI has been trying to find a way to “sort out the impasse and misgivings by inviting community participation of conservation of heritage and by raising awareness”, a spokesperson said.

The INTACH, formed in 1984 as a non-profit national heritage conservation platform, has been playing a crucial role in building awareness about heritage at the micro-level with projects, seminars, lectures and exhibitions.

It is also working togther with ASI to clear human encroachment around historic sites.

An exhibition, “Delhi: A Living Heritage”, supported by INTACH, had tried to link the capital’s cultural heritage with its built heritage in 2010 by collating data from INTACH’s Delhi archives. It showed the city’s evolution as a capital from 1450 BC till date - assimilating various cultures for the last 2,500 years.

According to a list prepared by the INTACH, the capital has more than 1,200 heritage buildings.

In 2008, INTACH had inked a pact with the government of Delhi to list the capital as one of Unesco’s list of World Heritage Cities.

The capital has been known to have been continuously inhabited since the second millenium BC. It is widely believed to be the site of Indraprashtha - the legendary capital of the Pandavas during Mahabharata.

Delhi became a major political, cultural and commercial city along the trade routes between northwest India and the Gangetic plains after the rise of the Delhi Sultanate. In 1639, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the walled city of Delhi which served as the capital from 1649 to 1853.

During the British rule, the capital shifted to Kolkata for nearly 200 years, till King George V restored Delhi to its former glory as the capital city in 1911. The city of New Delhi was built in the 1920s.

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