The draft national conservation policy that has been presented by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for the protection of monuments, archaeological sites and other remains is welcome. The new policy is a revised version of the century old conservation policy that has so far been implemented by the ASI. Flaws in the old policy, which has served a purpose but has become dated, have become evident over the years as the ASI has distilled lessons from its rich experience of conserving monuments for over a century. The ASI has drawn inspiration in its conservation work from the 1915 Indian Archaeological policy which stated clearly that conservation was the paramount duty of the archaeology department and was going to remain so for long, interestingly enough, because of the immense and persistent previous neglect of historical monuments. Despite a century of effort, similar neglect still prevails and is a justification for a fresh approach towards conservation. It is a fact that the buildings, monuments and other edifices, concrete expressions of India’s rich and diverse historical and cultural heritage, are in danger and the ASI has been fighting a losing battle in trying to preserve them. While the ASI protects 3,670 monuments, an estimated 75,000 remain unprotected and some of these have even gone ‘missing’. Even well-known sites such as the ninth century Khajuraho temples have developed cracks in recent times.
Monuments are subject to the increasing pressures of development and of unregulated economic activity as also increasing visitations all of which have an adverse impact on them. These, in turn, place further challenges in the path of conservation efforts. The new policy is, therefore, a response to these new challenges as also an effort to introduce contemporary approaches to conservation, management and protection while proposing the various principles to be adopted for interventions within and around a monument. Thus, the policy recognises the need to broadbase the definition of monuments to include industrial sites, cultural routes and rural heritage. It also takes into cognisance that the burden of preservation of monuments is far too much for the government alone to bear and sees private-public partnership as a way out, emphasising the role of local communities and traditional craftsmanship as an integral part.