India has always had a bad track record in heritage management. But, two recent newspaper reports have revealed callousness that surpasses all previous levels.
The five-thousand year old banyan tree at Kurukshetra, under which Lord Krishna imparted The Bhagavad Gita is at the centre of a ‘ownership’ tussle between a local body called Hindu Mission and the Kurukshetra Development Board. The tree has been totally closed-in by marble floor. An object of worship, it is adorned with huge bells and red threads. Carelessly, its branches are being chopped off. The point is, the tree, which is a witness to India’s history and tradition and should have been the pride of India’s wealth is not even the property of the Government of India. It does not figure in the protected areas of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Yet another glorious chapter of India’s history — the remains of the Indus Valley Civilisation is being daily plundered by uncaring and ignorant villagers. This too is in Haryana, at a place in Hissar district, a mere 150 km from Delhi. This site is under the protection of the ASI. According to eyewitness accounts, the site throws up antiquities nearly on a daily basis, with a little digging. Several foreigners are reported to be visiting the site and buying up antiquities for piddle sums like Rs 50 to Rs 200.
Sometime ago, UNESCO threatened to remove Hampi in Karnataka from the World Heritage List, when a construction was about to be taken up across the site. The plan was quickly shelved and some efforts were made to document and analyse the site, using computer-aided technologies.
The UPA I, under pressure from the Left, abandoned a project to trace the route of River Saraswati. In any other nation, a scientific exploration of the river that vanished and has substantial literary evidence would have had the government’s complete support and involvement.
The underwater project at Dwarka too has also met with government apathy and indifference. On Ram Sethu, the UPA took a mindless, stubborn view that startled everyone.
In his book The City of Djinns, William Dalrymple mentions how the Pragati Maidan was built right on the site of Indraprastha, the city founded by the Pandavas. No archaeological survey or study was done before work started.
The story of Ayodhya explorations too is sad. There has been very little done by the ASI in terms of systematic cataloguing of the objects found during the digging there, under court orders. In fact the report of the archaeologists who undertook the work during P V Narasimha Rao’s time has not been made public yet.
The ASI is supposed to be posting an inspector at the airports to check smuggling and export of antiquities. Any art object should have a proper purchase bill or a certificate from this inspector to the effect that the object is not more than seventy-five years old. This rule and practice is hardly ever followed.
When the Metro work started in Delhi, route changes were made to protect some monuments. And it happened that they were all of Islamic architecture. Ugrasen ki Baoli, a water body in the heart of the city is fast drying up because of Metro work. The tunneling work drained water from the area, affecting the Baoli’s supply routes.
The contention here is that the Government of India, but for the superficial upkeep of the prominent monuments and tourist sites in Delhi, does not have a well-laid policy for the nurture and care of our priceless inheritance. The ASI works in a monotonous red-tape, delaying and denying any responsibility. Like so many other aspects of governance, culture too needs urgent attention.