Preserving Cultural Heritage: In February 2023, the government shared some exciting news! They decided to let private companies take care of about 1,000 historical monuments with the help of the Archaeological Survey of India. They introduced a cool, upgraded version of the ‘Adopt a Heritage‘ scheme. The idea is to inspire companies, both private and public, to adopt and look after government-owned archaeological sites and monuments. These businesses who sign up for this responsibility will be called “Monument Mitras.”
The government has set an ambitious goal to embrace 500 protected sites by August 15, 2023, followed by another 500 sites soon after. This marks a significant expansion of the ‘Adopt a Heritage‘ scheme initiated in 2017. Despite these plans, there are some worrisome issues with the revamped scheme.
The nation’s diverse heritage is facing potential threats due to concerns related to historical preservation, community impact, increased traffic, tourism-related challenges, and corporate interests. It’s crucial to address these issues to ensure the effective and sustainable preservation of our rich cultural heritage.
Challenges in the Adopt a Heritage Scheme
Lack of Expertise:
- Allowing businesses without heritage preservation know-how to work on and take care of historical sites might result in losing their historical value and misrepresenting India’s rich past.
- Example: A watch company with no bridge engineering expertise maintaining a colonial-era bridge in Morbi, Gujarat, potentially led to a tragic incident.
Undermining the Mandate of ASI:
- The scheme ignores the guidelines of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Sarnath Initiative, which ensure safekeeping and engaging presentation of excavated objects.
Duplication of Infrastructure:
- Some chosen monuments already have tourist facilities, raising doubts about the necessity of additional ticket offices and gift shops.
Diminishing Public Space:
- Allowing businesses to use prime public land near iconic monuments for branding purposes may shrink the open spaces around these historic sites.
Undermining Local Communities:
- The scheme could harm the connections between local communities and historical sites, jeopardizing the livelihoods of those who share stories about the site’s vibrant past.
Alteration of Historical Character:
- Monuments not protected by the ASI may undergo changes to their historical character without facing much opposition from businesses involved in the scheme.
Risk of Monuments Being Converted into Hotels:
- If Monument Mitras fail to adopt monuments within a set timeframe, there is a possibility of them being transformed into hotels, prioritizing tourism and corporate interests over historical preservation.
- Example: Uttar Pradesh government reportedly handing over monuments like Chunar Fort and Nawab residences to the Tourism Department for conversion into hotels.
Challenges Facing Heritage Protection in India
Limited Trained Manpower:
- Many government agencies face challenges in conducting research on structural safety due to limited resources, including experimental and numerical facilities.
- Heritage preservation lacks mainstream recognition as a career, leading to a shortage of skilled individuals at the institutional level.
- There is a disconnect between modern engineering education and traditional construction knowledge, posing a significant obstacle to preserving heritage structures.
- The absence of formal systems in India recognizing the importance of scientific tools for assessing structural capacity hampers effective repair and strengthening strategies.
Informalisation of Systems:
- India lacks formal systems acknowledging the necessity of using scientific tools for diagnosing and quantitatively assessing the residual capacity of heritage structures.
- A formal platform is needed to address the structural safety of the vast stock of heritage structures in India.
Lack of Awareness:
- Domestic visitors often lack civic sense, leading to the defacement of historical monuments through actions like inscribing their names.
- Raising awareness about the importance of preserving historical monuments is crucial to combat this issue.
- Heritage properties, such as the Taj Mahal, are adversely affected by environmental pollution, such as Sulphur dioxide emitted by nearby industries like the Mathura oil refinery.
- Mitigating environmental pollution is essential for the protection of heritage sites.
Lack of Funding:
- Preservation of cultural heritage faces significant financial challenges, with insufficient attention and funding from public authorities.
- Recognizing and allocating adequate resources for heritage conservation is crucial for its sustained preservation.
Outdated Mechanism of Excavation and Exploration:
- Outdated excavation and exploration methods hinder the effective use of technologies like Geographic Information System and Remote Sensing.
- Incorporating modern technologies into exploration processes is essential for comprehensive understanding and preservation of heritage sites.
Inadequately Equipped Local Bodies:
- Local bodies engaged in urban heritage projects often lack the necessary resources and capabilities for effective heritage conservation.
- Strengthening the capacity of local bodies is essential for the successful preservation of urban heritage.
Corporate Support for Education: Companies can use their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds to create awesome history textbooks and develop cool teaching methods. This way, we can learn more about our monuments and why they’re important.
Get Local Businesses Involved: We can ask local shops and traders to donate money to school libraries. This money can be used to get old books, maps, and photos about our local monuments. It’s a cheap way to help students learn about the cool history in their own neighborhood.
Protecting Our Heritage: Companies can use their CSR funds to buy equipment that helps keep our heritage safe. This not only saves old buildings but also keeps the environment clean. Big companies like Tata Sons and ONGC have already done this by giving money to groups that train people to restore old places and create jobs.