Restoration work at many ASI sites 'does not gel with original design': Parliamentary panel
A parliamentary panel has said that restoration work undertaken at many ASI sites ''does not gel with the original design'' and recommended that the central body should ''scrupulously adhere to the cardinal tenets of restoration'' by retaining the structural originality rather than replacing it.
The ''Three Hundred Fifty Ninth Report on 'Functioning of Archaeological Survey of India''' by the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, was presented to Rajya Sabha and laid on the table of Lok Sabha on Thursday.
The Committee noted that there are ''certain places where restoration is being done without taking cognisance of the original design/beauty of the monument'', read the report.
The restoration works at many sites ''does not gel with the original design'', it flagged.
''The Committee in this regard, recommends that the ASI must undertake restoration work, keeping the original structure, its relevance and aesthetics in mind. Restoration work must include maintaining the building's original structure/character and form,'' it said.
The Archaeological Survey of India has informed the panel that the conservation and preservation projects of ASI are taken up in accordance with the National Conservation Policy, 2014. ''The Committee recommends that the ASI must draw from its vast expertise in the field and scrupulously adhere to the cardinal tenets of restoration that seeks to repair retaining the structural originality rather than replacing it,'' the report said.
The Central Advisory Board of Archaeology (CABA) advises the Government of India on matters relating to archaeology in India and may also make suggestions on such matters for the consideration of the government.
The Board may set up sub-committees, as and when necessary, to examine and report on specific issues before it.
During the financial year 2022-23, 33 sites were approved for conducting the archaeological exploration and excavations by the circles or branches of the ASI, and 45 sites were aproved for the same to the state governments, universities, research institutions, the report said.
''No formal meeting of the CABA has been held since 2014. A meeting was held on June 14, 2022 under the Chairmanship of Minister for Culture formulating the same. The old policy for the supply of photographs has been revised and approved; and has been uploaded on the website of the Archaeological Survey of India,'' it added.
The Committee was apprised that the ASI has undertaken the major conservation works at various locations i.e., Kedarnath Temple in Uttarakhand, Ajanta-Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, Sun Temple, Konark in Odisha, Dholavira in Gujarat, Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri, Rani ki Vav in Gujarat, Hampi Group of monuments in Karnataka, Red Fort in Delhi.
Works also undertaken at Taj Mahal in Agra, Raigard Fort in Maharashtra, Rudreshwara Ramappa Temple in Telangana, Hoyasala Temples at Helebidu in Belur and Somnathpur, Vernacular School Building in Vadnagar, Gujarat and Santiniketan in West Bengal, the report said.
The ASI informed the panel that it also undertakes conservation measures in foreign countries. These include Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan; Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Preah Vihear temples in Cambodia; My Son Group of Temples in Vietnam; Ananda Temple and other monuments in Bagan, Myanmar, Friday Mosque in Male, Maldives.
It was informed that works outside India have been widely appreciated by the international community and the authorities in Fayaztepa and Karatepa Buddhist Sites in Uzbekistan are interested to give their conservation work to ASI, the report added.
The Committee has noted that as per estimates, India spends ''a little amount'' on the protection and upkeep of monuments. It approximately amounts to Rs 11 lakh per monument of national importance (Rs 428 crore for 3,693 monuments in 2019-20). ''The Committee feels that this is precious little for a culturally rich country like India,'' the panel observed in the report.
The Committee in its report has also said that it felt that ''indigenous systems and traditional practices are not being emphasised as much as they deserve''.
''The indigenous system believes that buildings live, die and are rebuilt in an organic cycle, described in the concept of 'jeernodharanam'. Authenticity, in this perspective, is embedded in the continuously evolving integrity of the life of the building and its intended use. In this view, the site is more venerated than the fungible nature of the building built over it. It reflects the putative 'cyclica' concept of time,'' the panel observed in its report.
The Committee recommended that the ASI should ''integrate sustainable practices'' in conservation and restoration projects. This includes using eco-friendly materials, energy efficient techniques, and taking into consideration the long-term environmental impact of interventions, it said.
The ASI should put in place a comprehensive monitoring system to assess the condition of monuments and sites regularly. Timely identification of issues will allow for proactive maintenance, preventing small problems from escalating into major concerns, the panel says.
''The ASI must recognise the uniqueness of each historical site and devise its restoration approaches accordingly. What works for one monument might not be suitable for another due to variations in built-in materials, architectural style, and historical significance of the monument,'' it added.
The Committee also recommended to the ASI to recognise the impact of climate change on heritage sites and integrate adaptive strategies into restoration plans.
This might involve modifying conservation methods to withstand rapidly changing environmental requirements. The ASI should also develop contingency plans to address natural disasters that might threaten historical sites. These plans should outline immediate response measures to minimise damage and facilitate swift restoration, the panel said in its report.
The parliamentary panel in its report has also flagged issues related to the 'Adopt a Heritage' scheme launched in 2017.
The Committee notes that concerns have been raised about ''lack of prior experience'' of the private firms involved in restoration and conservation. There have been instances when companies without any expertise in the requisite domain are permitted to undertake those works, it has resulted in ''avoidable damage or destruction,'' the panel observed.
''The Committee, therefore, recommends that only active and experienced 'Monument Mitras' may be hired for the purpose of restoration of monuments. Further, the Committee would like to know the criteria adopted for selecting a particular company for undertaking the restoration work of a monument. In addition, the Committee may also be apprised of the measures taken to ensure transparency and fairness in the process of selection of 'Monument Mitras','' it added.
The Committee has also recommends that the Culture Ministry should also form ''joint committees'' comprising representatives from ASI and state archaeological departments. These committees can facilitate regular communication, information exchange, and decision-making related to heritage sites.
The ASI must establish ''mechanisms for resolving conflicts'' that may arise between ASI and state authorities, the panel has said in its report.
''Open dialogue and mediation processes can prevent issues from escalating. Further, a two-way medium of communication should be developed to facilitate the sharing of best practices and success stories between ASI and state archaeological departments. Learning from each other's experiences can enhance preservation approaches manifold,'' it added.
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