Absence Of Cultural Heritage Policy — Amiya Bhusan Tripathy, Former Director General Police, Odisha
He is one top cop who has never rested on his laurels. Even though he retired a good sixteen years back, Amiya Bhusan Tripathy, the former Director General Police of Odisha has been using his skills for the cause of conservation and preservation of Indian heritage.
Tripathy has been associated with INTACH since 1995. He is now the State Convener and a member of its National Governing Board. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), set up in 1984, is India’s largest non-profit membership organisation dedicated to conservation and preservation of India’s heritage. It works towards conservation of the country’s natural, cultural, living, tangible and intangible heritage, documenting unprotected buildings of archaeological or historical significance, and provides expertise in conservation, restoration and preservation of specific works of art, among other activities. Its headquarters are in New Delhi, and today it has chapters in 160 Indian cities, as well as chapters in Belgium, the UK and the United States.
In this year’s Union Budget, the government announced a Rs. 100-crore grant for INTACH, which will be utilised
for research, documentation, conservation training, capacity building and expanding heritage education and awareness activities. In ainterview with Special Correspondent Anil Dhir, A.B. Tripathy talks about his role as the watchdog for cultural heritage, especially in Odisha.
Odisha,perhaps, has the highest number of unprotected and neglected monuments in the country. Who is to blame for this—the State or the Centre?
Today, Odisha had 74 monuments under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India besides 218 which are under the state Archeology Department. A few years back the State government had commissioned INTACH to document the neglected monuments of the State, and a listing of 2,700 unprotected monuments was made. This figure would cross the 3,000 mark today, as many new monuments are being discovered every year. Only 292 of these monuments are under protection, the rest are still open to encroachment, vandalism, neglect and destruction.
INTACH has since made separate listing of monuments in different districts and found the state of affairs alarming. The Archaeological Survey of India and the state government have indulged in sheer neglect of the monuments of Odisha. There is lack of political will. There is an abundance of neglected ancient monuments in Bhubaneswar itself; in the districts the situation is worse.
After B. Lal, in 1948, had undertaken major excavations in Sisupalgarh, the ancient fort on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, the then CM Dr. Mahatab, in 1954, had transferred 564 acres of land to the ASI. This was also notified through an official Gazette Notification. The ASI, never took any steps to take possession of the land. Sisupalgarh could have been one of the major archaeological sites of the country, but due to the sheer apathy of the ASI, the entire land has been encroached over the years and the last vestige of the ancient fort has been wiped out. This is a monumental and irreplaceable loss. INTACH had filed a PIL in the High Court of Odisha in 2009, but to no avail.
There has been a lot of controversy regarding the world heritage site of Konark. Why has the stalemate on its proper conservation not been resolved?
The Archaeological Survey of India insists that Konark has one of the longest conservation histories in India; it spans more than a century. There are 11 reports, all prepared by different authorities in different times. Absolutely no action has been taken on the last six reports. The early work was emergency in nature, like the filling up of sand to save it from imminent collapse. It was only in 1978, that ASI woke up to the precarious state of the temple and took stock.
After the collapse of five stone blocks from the main temple, structural conservation was undertaken between 1985-90 and scaffolding in the vulnerable sections was done.
After declaring it a World Heritage Site, UNESCO appointed a committee headed by two experts of international repute, BM Fielden and P Beckman. They described the state of the temple as alarming and advised immediate preventive measures. The Italian expert ProfIng. Giorgio Croci, made a structural analysis of the temple in 1997. In 2010, the ASI called world experts and erected temporary scaffolding so that they could inspect the top of the temple. The committee made several recommendations, including that of removing the sand. One of the suggestions was to drill a hole and send endoscopic videographic cameras to assess the state of the interior of the temple.
In spite of this nothing has been done. The government and the bureaucracy do not have the will to implement these recommendations. The ASI is doing only superficial patch work, which will spell the doom for this
The only bright lining is the involvement of local pressure groups who are now demanding that proper conservation be done. INTACH has been working with the local stakeholders and has organised seminars and camps for creating awareness.
The government of India hasbeen sanctioning adequate funds for preservation of heritages. Why is this not properly utilised?
Beginning from the 10th Finance Commission, funds have been allocated for the conservation of ancient monuments. Various state governments have made proper utilisation of these funds and have developed heritage sites which has boosted tourism. Even in the 13th Finance Commission, Odisha has been given Rs 65 crores for heritage development. I had met the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik along with the Chairman of INTACH Gen L.K. Gupta in 2010, and insisted that proper utilisation of the funds should be made. INTACH had offered to be associated with the government for this exercise.
The government has formed a committee which has identified about 300 projects for conservation. INTACH has been entrusted with the conservation of 30 monuments. As this is a time bound project, it has to be finished by 2015. The government should prepare a database and document the cultural heritage of the state. Besides temples and monuments, others significant sites like forts, palaces, cave art,
prehistoric sites, historical battle fields, Odia folk lore, sites connected with Independence movement, natural
rock formations, etc. too should be identified.
What are INTACH’s role and activities in Odisha?
We have 8 chapters in the state. INTACH has taken up major works like the Odisha Maritime Museum in Cuttack. This is the biggest maritime museum in the country and was made at a cost of Rs 11 crore, funded by the state government. The INTACH ICI Odisha Art Conservation Centre is functioning as a Manuscript Conservation Centre (MCC) under the National Mission For Manuscripts. The Manuscripts Conservation Centre has carried out various activities for the conservation of manuscripts of Odisha. We have recently signed an agreement with the state government to conserve and restore the historic Swaraj Ashram and the residence of Madhusudan Das at Cuttack.
The chapters have undertaken documentation of monuments of their respective places. INTACH has
been carrying out model conser-vation projects; it organises outreach programmes to generate awareness among public through heritage walks, training workshops and interaction with school and college students, networking with stakeholders, both government and other like-minded organisations to further the cause of heritage conservation.
You have been a top cop for years. What is your opinion on the current laws governing antiquities and monuments and their implementation?
The issue, it appears, is not just legislation, the laws of the land are sufficient to deal with the matter. However, as too often the case; it is a problem of implementation. Even when the law sets out strong rules, such rules and objectives will have little meaning if they cannot be practically set to work on the ground. The implementation problem is almost certainly the largest obstacle to heritage protection in India.
Enforcement of existing laws frequently comes into conflict with other national and local objectives, and it is these situations that present the greatest challenges for heritage preservationists. I can give the example of the encroachments that have happened in the old town area of Bhubaneswar. Some of the temples are well preserved, but strangled by surrounding high-rise buildings that were constructed despite rules prohibiting such construction within a certain distance of the monument.
To maintain these sites, it’s better to have people; I believe that locals can add significant value in maintaining heritage sites when they have proper incentives to do so. We need the people around heritage sites to take an interest in them and to invest in them in the long term. We need to motivate them to be committed to protecting these sites so that, when official authorities take a lackadaisical approach, they are there to step in. The Konark Suraksha Samiti is one such example, where the locals have taken up cudgels for the preservation of the temple.
Besides this, the old quarters of cities should be demarcated and no alteration and addition in the form of multi-storey buildings should be allowed. There is an urgent need for setting up separate tourism and heritage boards and urban arts commission which should control and monitor the expansion of the cities and towns within the legal framework.
One of the big lacunae in India, is the absence of a cultural heritage policy or legal provisions to identify the roles and rights of local communities in the management of heritage sites.
What is your say on getting back the numerous sculptures, looted from India, that are there in various museums all over the world?
India has a right to the Koh-i-Noor diamond, the Sultanganj Buddha as well as other priceless artifacts currently lying in British museums. The repatriation of these artifacts should not be viewed as a chauvinistic uproar, rather they are part of our priceless heritage. Most of these artifacts were plundered and wrongfully transferred to British national museums during the colonial period. The Koh-i-Noor was part of the Treaty of Lahore signed between the defeated Sikhs and victorious British. Similarly, the 1,500-year-old bronze Buddha statue was discovered by E B Harris, a functionary of the British raj, from a monastery in Sultanganj in 1861.
There was a systemic loot of priceless artifacts from India in the last ten centuries. The royalties of the erstwhile princely states too still have substantial works of historical importance in private collections. Actually, a vast network, from rag-pickers and village level entrepreneurs, small town middlemen, metropolitan shopkeepers and shippers, to sophisticated art dealers and connoisseurs are channeling Indian artifacts out of the country. This is irrespective of the fact that those links in the chain that operate in India have been dealing in antiquities which, since the promulgation of the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972, may only
be traded by licensed vendors and owned by those who have registered them with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
A few countries have been successful in getting back their cultural icons from foreign museums, but the extent of Indian antiques in foreign museums and collections is mind boggling. International laws now prohibit the sale and trade of such artifacts, but most of the damage has already been done. Many of these items abroad
have a lot of religious significance for Indians, and these should be returned forthwith keeping in mind the religious sentiments.
Besides, an artifact achieves a higher aesthetic level only in its true archaeological setting. A mummy ought to be in an Egyptian pyramid, not placed out of context in a London museum. Many countries have had to enact national laws to prohibit private ownership and export of cultural antiquities. This eventually became the basis for the 1970 UNESCO convention which prohibits the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property. A noble service to mankind’s common heritage can come about with the restoration of these artifacts to their source countries.