THE Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, in a statement issued on June 30, has noted with dismay the union cabinet’s approval of the amendment to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 2010. It has been decided to allow centrally funded projects to be set up in the prohibited area of the nationally protected monuments.
The act that was passed in 2010 has the stated objective ‘to preserve, conserve, protect and maintain all ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains declared of national importance, and their surrounding areas up to a distance of 300 metres (or more as may be specified in certain cases) in all directions’. The act replaced the ordinance, AMASR (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance promulgated by the president of India on January 23, 2010. The rationale for preservation of the monuments and sites of national importance is brought out very appropriately by John Ruskin and quoted in the committee report that formed the basis of the 2010 amendment ‘it is no question of expediency or feeling whether we shall preserve the buildings of past time or not. We have no right whatever to touch them. They are not ours. They belong to those who built them, partly to all the generations of mankind who follow us’. Constitution of India, in the Seventh Schedule declares built heritage as a significant public good.
If the amendment is given effect, new construction will take place in the immediate vicinity of protected properties of national importance, ie, ‘prohibited areas’, that is, within hundred metres of their delineated boundaries. Historic structures and archaeological remains are considered to be the most susceptible to heavy vibrations, chemical effects or mechanical stresses in this zone. In most sites, unexcavated structural remains that open up avenues of further research also fall within these prohibited zones. Construction activity of any nature will inflict irreversible damage to the monument as well as to the prospect of future study and understanding of the historic context of the site.
Many historians, conservationists and artists have sought the indulgence of the central government and demanded that the amendment as above should not be pursued. They also appealed to the parliamentarians belonging to various political parties to show their continued resolve to preserve and protect the monuments and sites of national importance. These are a significant part of the soft power of India as also collective universal cultural assets and physical memories of our glorious past.