Bill to allow construction within heritage sites may run into rough weather
A heated debate is expected to erupt in the coming week when the Union Culture Ministry tries to pass 'the Ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains (Amendment) bill 2017.' The bill if passed in both the houses of Parliament will allow the construction of public infrastructure, especially roads, bridges, under-way, subway within 100 meters of protected monument structures within the country.
A debate is already raging within the civil society to disallow the Government from undertaking such civil construction activities within the periphery of historical sites which have archaeological significance. The UPA Government first tried to pass this bill, but they were prevented due to fierce opposition from the academic fraternity.
The bill tabled last week in the Lok Sabha by the Central Culture minister, Mahesh Sharma, clearly stated an objective for undertaking projects which are required for public purpose. The statement of objects and reasons of the bill says that the prohibition of new construction within the prohibited space of a protected area or protected monument is adversely affecting the various public works and developmental projects of the Government.
It also said that in order to resolve the situation arising out of the prohibition on any construction a need has arisen to amend the Act to allow for construction related to infrastructure development permissible only by the Government agency for public purposes. The bill envisages a new definition of public purpose amending 1958 Act.
The argument put forth by the Government states that engineers of a project had to redesign their plan of construction to surpass a monument's restricted periphery. The Indian Trade Promotion Organisation had to realign 1.1km of the Mathura Road-Ring Road underpass cutting through Pragati Maidan as the project was too close to Purana Quilla and Sher Shah Suri's fort.
The original plan failed to evade the 100-meter cap as mentioned in the old Act.
Meanwhile, a group of eminent scholars, Historians, Archeologists have openly opposed the Government's move to amend the present law. They made an appeal to all members of the Parliament to not support the amendment bill.
Among the signatories are Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Mridula Mukherjee, economist Prabhat Pattanaik, Ratish Nanda of Aga Khan Trust, Narayani Gupta, a former member of Delhi urban art commission and many other notable experts relevant to this subject. They said in their appeal that these monuments were a significant part of the soft power of India as also of the collective universal and cultural assets and physical memories of our glorious past.
In their appeal, they have quoted John Ruskin, the leading art critique of the Victorian era and an art patron, who said, "It is no question of expediency or feeling whether we shall preserve the buildings of the past or not. We have no right whatsoever to touch them. They are not ours. They belong to those who built them, partly to all the generations of mankind who follow us.' During UPA Government's tenure in 2010, a committee was formed where this comment was mentioned in the report.