India Today - - UP FRONT - by RATISH NANDA Ratish Nanda, a con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tect, is In­dia Projects Di­rec­tor for the Aga Khan Trust for Cul­ture

At a pre-di­wali din­ner, I was cor­nered by a busi­ness­man frus­trated by his in­abil­ity to knock down a newly ac­quired prop­erty in Delhi’s Green Park area to build a house to his lik­ing. Clearly in­spired by re­peated ter­ror­ist strikes, he ex­pressed his de­sire to ‘blowup’ the 15th cen­tury tomb within whose vicin­ity stood his plot—thus pre­vent­ing the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment.

Con­ser­va­tion ar­eas in Euro­pean World Her­itage Cities in­clude thou­sands of pri­vate build­ings. Nine thou­sand ‘con­ser­va­tion ar­eas’ ex­ist in the UK alone, where over 6,50,000 pri­vate home­own­ers re­quire per­mis­sion to even change the colour of the front door. Yet, there is pub­lic ap­pre­ci­a­tion of her­itage: the National Trust in the UK has a mem­ber­ship of over 20,00,000 peo­ple, far larger than the 7,000 coun­try­wide mem­ber­ship of the In­dian National Trust for Art and Cul­tural Her­itage ( IN­TACH).

So why as a na­tion do we have such dis­re­gard for our built her­itage?

A legacy of colo­nial rule has been the leg­is­la­tion that re­lied on pun­ish­ment for those who caused dam­age to In­dia’s built her­itage. More than six decades af­ter in­de­pen­dence we con­tinue to re­in­force penal­ties—in­ef­fec­tive penal­ties—with­out any con­sid­er­a­tion of in­cen­tives. In In­dia, where dis­re­gard for the law is ev­i­dent ev­ery­where, con­ser­va­tion can be suc­cess­ful only when peo­ple—own­ers of her­itage prop­er­ties, res­i­dents of con­ser­va­tion ar­eas, real es­tate busi­nesses, tourism in­dus­try, amongst oth­ers— can ben­e­fit from it.

In 1992, fol­low­ing rapid de­struc­tion and build­ing in the set­ting of mon­u­ments across In­dia, a law was en­acted to cre­ate a 100 m ‘pro­hib­ited build­ing zone’ and an ex­tended 300 m ‘reg­u­lated build­ing zone’ around each of the 3,650 mon­u­ments of national im­por­tance. The Act should have in­cluded in­cen­tives to those who could no longer de­velop their prop­er­ties legally to the ex­tent pos­si­ble by those out­side her­itage zones. Af­fected own­ers could have been given rights of land-use change, thus al­low­ing com­mer­cial use in res­i­den­tial ar­eas. They should have been given trans­fer­able de­vel­op­ment rights to al­low them to ei­ther ‘sell’ or utilise un­de­vel­oped por­tions else­where. At the very least, a sim­ple mech­a­nism to ad­dress ap­pli­ca­tions in the ‘reg­u­lated zone’ could have been put in place.

In 2010 Par­lia­ment en­acted the National Mon­u­ment Au­thor­ity with the very sen­si­ble man­date to cre­ate lo­cal area plans for all pro­tected mon­u­ments in or­der to ra­tio­nalise the pro­hib­ited and reg­u­lated ar­eas. Yet clauses in the Act such as spec­i­fy­ing that ‘mem­bers of the au­thor­ity do not re­side within 100 m of a pro­tected mon­u­ment’ dis­play a sus­pi­cious na­ture to­wards civil so­ci­ety—a han­gover from colo­nial rule.

De­spite pre­ven­tive laws, con­struc­tions con­tinue un­abated in her­itage ar­eas, es­pe­cially in con­ser­va­tion ar­eas such as Tugh­laqabad, Mehrauli, Shah­ja­han­abad of Delhi. Sev­eral of our im­por­tant mon­u­ments, in­clud­ing pro­tected mon­u­ments like the spec­tac­u­lar tomb of At­gah Khan, Em­peror Ak­bar’s min­is­ter, which stands in Niza­mud­din Basti, are to­day oc­cu­pied by sev­eral fam­i­lies. Yet there are no in­cen­tives, such as al­ter­nate flats to en­cour­age re­lo­ca­tion, lead­ing to im­proved qual­ity of life and in turn preser­va­tion of our ir­re­place­able national her­itage.

In ad­di­tion to the ASI, state de­part­ments of ar­chae­ol­ogy and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties also have man­dates to con­serve. They fol­low the ‘penalty’ rather than the ‘in­cen­tive’ ap­proach.

In Euro­pean coun­tries where pre­serv­ing the built her­itage is taken as a se­ri­ous re­spon­si­bil­ity by govern­ment, multi-dis­ci­plinary spe­cialised teams com­pris­ing ar­chi­tects, con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tects, ur­ban plan­ners, land­scape ar­chi­tects, ur­ban de­sign­ers, craft guilds, civil so­ci­ety groups, ar­chae­ol­o­gists, en­gi­neers and busi­ness in­ter­ests are cre­ated at each level of govern­ment from mu­nic­i­pal­ity to cen­tral govern­ment to en­sure ef­fec­tive con­ser­va­tion. In In­dia, not even the ASI has ac­cess to hu­man re­sources re­quired to make con­ser­va­tion ef­fec­tive.

Pub­lic anger and dis­re­gard for her­itage only grow when agen­cies such as the Delhi Metro or Pub­lic Works De­part­ments re­peat­edly flout the norms with im­punity; es­pe­cially since it is the mega projects like el­e­vated metro lines or road­ways through her­itage ar­eas cause more dam­age than pri­vate houses 100 m from a mon­u­ment.

Con­ser­va­tion is pos­si­ble only when we can en­sure that peo­ple ben­e­fit from con­ser­va­tion not only through in­cen­tives but through im­proved qual­ity of life such as ac­cess to health, ed­u­ca­tion, san­i­ta­tion, for com­mu­ni­ties re­sid­ing in her­itage ar­eas. Such ef­fort will also en­cour­age tourism and rev­enue gen­er­a­tion, cre­at­ing wealth that can be ploughed back into con­ser­va­tion-led de­vel­op­ment. Not only for the sake of our past but for our fu­ture too.

De­spite pre­ven­tive laws, con­struc­tions con­tinue un­abated in her­itage ar­eas. Au­thor­i­ties also fol­low the ‘penalty’ rather than the ‘in­cen­tive’ ap­proach.

SAU­RABH SINGH /­di­a­to­day­im­

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