Protecting the Past

In celebration of the Norendra Modi being sworn in as the 14th Prime Minster of the world’s largest democracy we thought that this week we would head across to India to walk through the museums housing some of the world’s most ancient history.

Alas what we found in the halls of India’s antiquity preservation efforts was not encouraging.

To put things into a rather sober context, the Auditor General of India notes:

Heritage structures, sites and antiquities are national assets. The work on heritage  identification and preservation started in mid nineteenth century in India much before the independence. However, since independence, the progress made over the years had not been reviewed comprehensively. In the recent times, there has been an increased consciousness in the Indian community towards the heritage and  its conservation.

In 2012, the Archaeological Survey of India (AIS) completed 150 years of existence.

Many of its major excavation projects were, however, lying incomplete for years. The preservation projects being undertaken by the ASI too have been marred by several inadequacies and limitations. The organisation has serious funds and manpower shortages for the conservation related activities.There is also a rising trend of incidences of antiquity theft and smuggling of antiquities from the country.

In what has to be one of the more comprehensively damning reports that one could read, the Auditor General noted (among many other observations) that

  • ASI had not conducted a comprehensive survey or review to identify monuments which were of national importance for inclusion in the list of centrally protected monuments. Similarly, there were no efforts to identify those monuments which had lost the stature of national importance over a period of time.
  • The ASI did not have a reliable database of the exact number of protected monuments under its jurisdiction. In the absence of this primary information, we were unable to conclude if the ASI was able to fulfill its basic mandate effectively.
  • During joint physical inspections we found that out of the sample of 1655 centrally protected monuments selected by us, 92 monuments (6 per cent) were not traceable. This was far higher than the number communicated to the Parliament by the ASI.
  • The World Heritage Sites did not receive appropriate care and protection. There were numerous cases of encroachment and unauthorised construction in and around these sites. We found that a comprehensive assessment of preservation works that were required had never been carried out.
  • Inspection notes on the condition of monuments were not being prepared by the ASI officials. There was poor documentation of the conservation works. Even basic records such as measurement books, log books and site registers were not being maintained properly. As a result, we could not conclude if the monuments selected for conservation works were need based nor could we ascertain the propriety and genuineness of the expenditure incurred on conservation works.
  • One of the primary activities of the ASI was exploration and excavation of the remains in the country and their study. However, we observed that the ASI was spending less than one per cent of its total expenditure on such activities.

This is a difficult report to read – not because of the prose used but because of the consequences of the inaction of the AIS.

And it is that which is relevant to all organisations.

In reading the report one should ask themselves what is it that you are (not) doing and what are the long term consequences of your (in)action.

What are your (organisational) monuments and antiquities that you are destroying?


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