Over 250 national monuments under encroachment

And, as if this was not enough, a majority of the encroachments date back to the pre-1992 period, when the authorities actually woke up to the scale of the problem. Though the country does have the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, and the Public Premises Act, 1971, lack of support from various state governments and severe staff shortage have allowed encroachers to have a free run.

Official documents accessed by The Tribune point to the failure of the ASI to rid the protected monuments of encroachers.

The Uttar Pradesh circle of the ASI, which has the task of preserving and protecting protected monuments in and around Lucknow, Agra and Patna circles, enjoys the infamy of having the t — 85 — protected monuments under its control under encroachment. The state of Karnataka, which boasts of world-famous Sanchi and Stupa monuments, follows the list with 56 encroached monuments. They are followed by the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Delhi Circle), where 14 protected monuments and sites are under the control of outsiders, and Gujarat, where 13 monuments are under constant threat from encroachers.

Of the important protected monuments and sites of heritage value in New Delhi, Kashmere Gate, Lothian Road Cemetery the Purana Qila, tomb of Razia Sultan and the Sunehri Masjid near the Red Fort are all encroached upon. Despite repeated attempts, none of these monuments has been got freed.

The ASI has the task of protecting a total of 3,663 monuments and sites of national importance across the country. Following pressure from members of the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, which is headed by CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, and NGOs, the ASI conducted a nation-level survey of all 3,663 monuments and sites under its control and found that over 250 were under encroachments.

Officials in the ASI attribute the failure to evict encroachers to the lack of prompt support of state governments and state law-enforcing agencies as also meagre funding from the Union Government.

However, taking a strong note of the failure of the ASI and the government to reclaim these monuments, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture has asked the ASI to redouble its efforts in this regard. It has also asked the Tourism Ministry, under whose control the ASI falls, to consider putting up modern surveillance gadgets such as close-circuit cameras, etc. at all important monuments and sites and also increase staff for protecting these monuments. Presently, Taj Mahal is the only protected monument in the country where security is considerably tight. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) is responsible for protecting the monuments.

Meanwhile, it is also learnt that in a bid to better conserve, maintain and protect all monuments and sites, the Union Ministry of Tourism and the ASI are contemplating involving the private sector in a big way.

Explained a senior official, who did not wish to be quoted, “Basically, the proposal is to involve big companies and establishments to adopt one monument each and take the responsibility of its conservation and maintenance. In this way, the private players will be able to gain publicity, while the monuments will get a better up-keep.” 

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