Monuments in India: issues and Challenges

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The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation wants monuments like Swaminarayan Temple, Chakudiya Mahadev and Karnamukteshwar temple and others to be included in the list of heritage monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

What is an Ancient Monument?

The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 defines an ‘Ancient Monument’ as any structure, erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of interment, or any cave, rock-sculpture, inscription or monolith which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than 100 years. It includes:

  • Remains of an ancient monument,
  • Site of an ancient monument,
  • Such portion of land adjoining the site of an ancient monument as may be required for fencing or covering in or otherwise preserving such monument,
  • The means of access to, and convenient inspection of, an ancient monument

Categorization of Monuments in India:

  • A monument or a site is declared to be of National Importance by the Archaeological Survey of India provided it meets the following requirements:
    • The monument or archaeological site is not less than 100 years old.
    • It has special historical, archaeological or artistic interest, making it worthy of declaration as of national importance.
    • It qualifies under specified provisions of definition of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
    • The interested public do not have major objections to such declaration.
    • The authenticity and integrity of the ancient monument or archaeological site and remains have not been damaged.
    • It is free from major encumbrances.
  • There are at present more than 3650 ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance.
  • The Central government on the recommendation of the National Monument Authority (NMA), classified all the ancient monuments or archaeological sites and remains as follows:


Constitutional Provision:

According to Article 51 A (f) of the Constitution of India, ‘It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.’

Legal framework:

  1. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act, 1958- It provides for the preservation of ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance. It also provides for the regulation of archaeological excavations and for the protection of sculptures, carvings and other like objects.
  2. The AMASR (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010 -The Act prescribes the limits of regulated and prohibited area around a monument by amending section 20 of AMASR Act 1958. The key features of the Act include:
  • The Act states that no building activity is allowed in the ‘prohibited zone’ which is within 100 meters from the notified limits of the monument.
  • Two hundred meters further from the borders of the 100 meter prohibited zone is the ‘regulated area’. Here some building, repair and restoration activity is allowed with permission from the Competent Authority who forwards it to the National Monuments Authority for their expert opinion.
  • The Act also provided for creation of National Monument Authority.
  1. According to AMASR 2010, heritage bye laws are required to be prepared in respect of each protected monument /protected site by NMA

Major Agencies:

Major Issues:

  1. Lack of Master Plan: Except the world heritage sites e.g. Taj, Humayun’s Tomb, Ajanta, Ellora, Bodh Gaya etc. other monuments of national importanceface negligence of local or state administrations. The lack of proper master plan foster haphazard growth around the sites and as a result sites lose their charm
  2. Encroachments/illegal occupation: Encroachments around ancient monuments has been a major concern. These encroachments are done by local shopkeepers, souvenir sellers or local residents. These temporary or permanent structures are not fit with architecture of monument or environment. For example: CAG Report, 2013 noticed encroachment within the premises of the Taj Mahal near Khan-i-Alam’s Bagh.
  3. Pollution: There are several types of environmental pollutions which hamper the heritage properties. e.g. Taj Mahal was badly affected by Sulphur dioxide etc. emitted by oil refinery at Mathura and more than 200 furnaces used in Taj ganj area. The environmentalist groups with the help of Supreme Court banned emission of these polluting agents
  4. Tourism and irresponsible Behaviour of Visitors: Increasing tourism and lack of civic sense among majority of tourists have caused large damages to monuments degrading their aesthetic value. Criminal damage such as graffiti and defacement directed towards the monuments has been a major concern.
  5. Degradation and lack of conservation: Biological agencies such as mosses, fungus, algae, and insects affect construction materials like timber, bricks, stucco etc. Further, temperature and moisture which is a prime agent of degradation of monuments pose a serious concern. However, the conservation practices have been primarily directed towards World Heritage sites, while other monuments have been largely neglected and thus degraded over time.

Steps taken:

  1. National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities (NMMA), 2007:

Objective: To prepare a National database on Built Heritage and sites from secondary sources and a National database on Antiquities from different sources and museums.

It seeks to:

  • Prepare National Register for Built Heritage, Sites and Antiques
  • Dissemination the database to planners, researchers etc. and for better management of such cultural resources
  • Promote awareness about monuments and antiquities
  • Publication and Research
  1. Adopt a Heritage:

Adopt a Heritage Scheme (ApniDharoharApniPehchan Project) was launched on World Tourism Day (September 27th 2017). It is an initiative by Ministry of Tourism in close collaboration with ASI

Aim: to develop the heritage sites / monuments, make them tourist-friendly to enhance the tourism potential

How does it work?

  • Under this scheme, heritage sites/monuments and other tourist sites would be entrusted to private sector companies, public sector companies and individuals for the development of tourist amenities
  • They would become ‘Monument Mitras’ and adopt the sites.

Note: Dalmia Bharat Ltd has signed a MoU with Ministry of Tourism and ASI for adoption of Red Fort monument (April 24th 2018)

Criticism: Historians and activists have called Adopt a Heritage Scheme as an attempt of government towards “privatization” of India’s heritage monuments. There has been concerns raised as private firms involved in the restoration and conservation might not have prior experience in restoration


The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, in its audit report on preservation of monuments and antiquities (2013), notes “irregularities in carrying out conservation works” and lays out the following major shortcomings:

  1. Inadequate human resource: There are acute shortages of staff in all key positions in the ASI. This adversely affects the security and maintenance of monuments.
  2. Lack of reliable database:As observed by the CAG report, the ASI does not have a reliable database of the exact number of protected monuments under its jurisdiction.

  1. Improper Conservation Policy: The ASI does not have an updated and approved Conservation Policy to address the conservation and preservation requirements. There is an absence of any prescribed criteria for prioritisation of monuments which required conservation works. As a result, monuments are selected arbitrarily for carrying out conservation works.
  2. Issue with governance: Governance from the Ministry of Culture is lax and deficient on aspects of adequacy of policy and legislation, financial management, monitoring of conservation projects and provision of human resources to concerned agencies
  3. Funds: There is lack of funds for conservation projects and maintenance. Further, faulty budgeting of conservation works aggravates the problem

Way Forward:

  1. The ASI needs to enhance the use of modern scientific technology, build capacity of its officials to ensure better conservation of monuments
  2. The Culture Ministry should take immediate steps to resolve manpower shortages especially in the crucial departments engaged in conservation related works.
  3. Immediate steps should be taken to check the incidents of encroachments with the cooperation of District and Police authorities.
  4. For proper management and conservation of monuments, there should be a master plan for each monument, taking into account its location, area, structure, footfall and other vulnerabilities.
  5. Private companies should be incentivised and encouraged to take up restoration and preservation works of monuments as part of their CSR
  6. It is of utmost importance to aware general public about India’s heritage and inculcate civic sense among tourists to restrict any form of vandalism
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