Conservation of heritage sites low priority says expert

'After all, conservation is a religio-socio-cultural issue. The local community has sentiments attached with the heritage buildings, and prefer their say in the conservation plans. The balance between history and cultural sensitivity has to be maintained,' she says.

Ms Rai was in town to discuss conservation plans of heritage buildings in various parts of Haryana, with the state government.

To her credit, Ms Rai has done the mapping of about 1000 historical sites along the GT Road, and along the Badshahi road ( the original highway used by the Maurayas from Phillaur-Noor Mahal-Tarn Taran) in Punjab, with the help of the Government of Punjab, the Government of India and UNESCO. She had also prepared the dossier for nomination of the Darbar Sahib as a World Heritage site.

'I had begun my career with INTACH in South India, but very soon I realised that one had to understand the socio-cultural scenario in order to effectively restore the ancient buildings. She has done the mapping of about 3000 heritage sites in Punjab and at Rewari and Mahendragarh in Haryana, besides taking up restoration of heritage buildings at Una in Himachal, around Jaipur in Rajasthan, and at Kutch in Gujarat.

'I prefer to involve the local population in the conservation works that I undertake. Their cultural and social experience proves helpful in restructuring the buildings. They may not have a sense of history, but they are not disengaged to their heritage,' she adds. She reveals how help of local artisans in Kishan Kot in Gurdaspur district, helped restore an ancient Krishna Temple.
Ms Rai is presently involved in the conservation plan for various aspects of cultural significance of the Darbar Sahib, in a project funded by the Ford Foundation.

'Five hundred years of Sikh history, respect for the Sikh maryada and sacred feelings had to be taken into account in making the restoration plan. Each building ' Sri Harmandar Sahib, Darshani Deori, plinth of Sri Akal Takht Sahib, Ramgarhia Bunga and Baba Atal Gurdwara ' has to be dealt with separately by encompassing suggestions of officials in these buildings. We have mapped the structures, analysed the plaster and other structural material used. The conservation plan will be ready by the end of the year, which will be presented to the Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, before the work begins,' she says.

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