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May 14, 2006
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May 14, 2006

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Home > 2006 Issues > May 14, 2006

Heritage Politics

Hampi, the site of grandiose Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara (1336-1565), is on the verge of losing its World Heritage site status, accorded by UNESCO. And tragically this is not the first time that UNESCO has warned about repealing the privilege. The UN body awards World Heritage Site status to monuments that are to be preserved for posterity on account of their cultural history, architectural value and ecological significance, among other things. It entails receiving funds for preservation from international sources. More than losing the funds, it would be such a shame on the nation that we have not been able to upkeep an important heritage of ours.

Hampi is the second largest heritage site in the world. It is spread over an area of 100 After having declared Hampi a World Heritage Site in 1986, UNESCO declared it a site in danger in 1999. Subsequent to that ,the UN body has been sending reports and reminders to the government of India, under whose control such sites come, to submit reports on the status of maintenance and compliance to suggestions on the preservation of the monument. One such deadline went by in February 2006.

Since being declared a World Heritage Site, Hampi has received 92,370 dollars in international aid. A couple of years ago, the Indian Space Research Organisation pressed its expertise into service to map a selected 40 sq. km area through satellite. This would map the area six metres below the ground also, without digging an inch. Several institutions of excellence, like the Indian Institute of Science, the Karnataka University and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts were involved in the initiative.

But from the latest warning from UNESCO, it has become clear that for want of political will and state support, the well-intentioned initiatives have come to naught. The latest threat to the site has been hanging for three years now, in the form of building of a suspension bridge over Thungabhadra river, on whose side this site lies. Several hotels and tourist services have eaten into the space of the monument.

Compare the situation with the Vadodara violence where human lives have been lost over the demolition of a nondescript, abandoned structure, without any architectural or cultural value. Or the amount of money that is being spent repeatedly on the Jama Masjid. Only a couple of days ago, a proposal was approved to spend Rs 96 crore on the beautification and upkeep of the grand mosque in the next two years. The way the Humayun?s tomb has got a facelift, making it a must-see spot in Delhi is a case study in what can be achieved if the government wants to.

It is not our case that monuments like Jama Masjid or Humayun?s tomb should not be preserved. They are very much part of our heritage. The cases were cited to highlight the apathy of the government, as though even in heritage preservation, it discriminates on religious terms. Or is it that the policy-makers? vision does not go beyond the borders of Delhi?

The abrupt stopping of the project on search for river Saraswati and the abandoning of the underwater exploration off Dwarka are all monuments of the UPA government?s apathy to the ancient Hindu heritages.

The last session of UNESCO (December 2005) on World Heritage Sites (in Danger) had passed a resolution that Hampi would be considered for pulling out of the list, as the government responsible is not taking the necessary measures to preserve the site. The committee, which had sent its own experts for appraisal, noted that not enough was being done to safeguard the site. The Culture Minister Ambika Soni has reportedly visited the site along with the Director General of ASI and the UNESCO Director in India, Minjia Yang last week. It will be a monomental folly if national heritage is made to suffer politics of vote-bank.

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