- Lok Sabha has passed The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment) Bill, 2017 to allow government to take up infrastructure projects within prohibited areas around protected monuments.
- The Bill amends the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act, 1958.
Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958
- The AMASR Act provides for preservation of ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance.
- It provides for the regulation of archaeological excavations and for protection of sculptures, carvings and other like objects.
- It was passed in 1958.
- The Archaeological Survey of India functions under the provisions of this act.
- The Act prohibits construction in ‘prohibited area’, an area of 100 meters around protected monument.
- It does not permit construction in such prohibited areas even if it is for public purposes, except under certain conditions.
- The central government can extend the prohibited area beyond 100 meters.
- The iconic monuments in India, Taj Mahal, Ajanta Caves, The Great Stupa at Sanchi and the Sun Temple of Konark, among others are designated as “ancient monuments of national importance” and protected under the AMASR Act.
- The Archaeological Survey of India is the custodian of these monuments.
Key Features of Bill
- The Bill amends provision related to construction in ‘prohibited areas’ in the parent bill to permit construction of public works in ‘prohibited areas’ for public purposes.
- It introduces definition for ‘public works’, which includes construction of any infrastructure that is financed and carried out by central government for public purposes.
- The Bill empowers central government to allow public works based on recommendation of National Monuments Authority (NMA) on application forwarded by relevant central government department, that seeks to carry out construction for public purposes in a prohibited area.
- The Bill empowers NMA to consider an impact assessment of proposed public works in prohibited area, including its archaeological impact, visual impact and heritage impact.
- NMA will make a recommendation, for construction of public works to the central government, only if it is satisfied that there is no reasonable possibility of moving the construction outside the prohibited area.
- Proposed Amendment to the act would remove the security net that exists around our nationally protected monuments.
- Our protected monuments, from the Taj Mahal to the monuments of Mamallapuram, have a designated prohibited area — at least a 100-m radius — to protect them, where no new construction is allowed.
- It is similar to the zoning around tiger reserves where the core area is set apart for the animals to live in, and where human disturbance is not permitted.
Advantages of amendments
- Prohibition of new construction within prohibited area is adversely impacting various public works and developmental projects of the Central Government.
- It will pave way for certain constructions limited strictly to public works and projects essential to public within the prohibited area and benefit the public at large.
Comments of Historians and archaeologists
- Historians and archaeologists have expressed concern over amendments proposed to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (1958).
- The pressures of urban development have meant that more and more historical monuments are coming under threat due to development activities around them.
- Rapid urbanization also threatened many sites of historical importance, for example megalithic sites (Iron Age burials) en route Chengalpattu from Chennai.
- Even a Neolithic site near the Murugan temple in a hillock in Kundrathur is now missing due to urban settlements springing up there.
- In 2013, after a CAG report raised an alarm that 92 historical monuments had gone missing due to development activities around them, the ASI started a ground survey to verify them, and found that 21 had indeed become untraceable.
- Citing a Cabinet note, Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor informed Parliament recently that plans were afoot to construct a railway line next to Rani ki Vaw, an ancient step well in Patan, Gujarat, which had been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.
- Allowing an exception for “public works” will open a Pandora’s Box, and it will be all but impossible for the National Monuments Authority or the Archaeological Survey of India to ensure that such construction do not pose a threat to a monument.
- Public works are more often than not very large infrastructure projects. Allowing these in the immediate vicinity of a protected monument will defeat the very purpose of the AMASR Act and will be a violation of Article 49 of the Constitution.