THE CULTURE Ministry has proposed that construction should be allowed in the “prohibited area” around archaeological monuments, including UNESCO World Heritage Sites, if it is “public works” and funded by the central government.
The ministry has circulated a Cabinet note proposing to amend the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 to this effect. Currently, no construction is allowed in the “prohibited area” — the immediate 100-metre radius around monuments — except for repair and renovation of the existing structure.
The ministry has proposed that construction activity related to infrastructure or essential to public safety and security should be allowed. Once the amendment is passed by Cabinet, it will be tabled in the Budget Session of Parliament.
The National Monuments Authority, which currently grants permission for construction in the “regulated area” — 200-metre radius around monuments — will continue to vet requests for new construction from central government departments. However, if the provision for allowing construction is included in law, it may have little say in the matter.
The Law Ministry has already given its consent to the nature and form of the amendment proposed. Section 20A of the Act, which currently provides protection to monuments from construction activities, will thus have a new definition of “public works” — that which is financed and constructed by the central government.
“In certain cases, it has become very difficult or almost impossible to shift the project from the designated location because of space constraint or land ownership or due to appropriateness of that particular spot for the project,” says the Cabinet note.
It also lists a few examples:
# An elevated road in front of Akbar’s tomb in Agra, proposed by the National Highways Authority of India, cannot be permitted due to an “absolute embargo on any construction whatsoever”.
# Construction of a railway line near Rani-Ki-Vav, a World Heritage Site in Patan, Gujarat, was not allowed. The alignment of the line had to be shifted away from the site, says the note.
# Extension of a hospital building near Tipu Sultan’s palace in Bengaluru, a centrally protected monument, has “also run into similar difficulty since it was hit by the prohibitory provisions of the Act”.
When contacted, Navneet Soni, Member Secretary, National Monuments Authority, told The Indian Express: “There are a few instances of large public infrastructure works in the vicinity of monuments. By works, we mean large works of public interest, not anything and everything. The law now does not allow such works in the prohibited area… As and when a proposal comes, the NMA will take a decision.”
Meanwhile, government sources said informal discussions indicated that the inter-ministerial consultation over the proposal may take up certain suggestions like allowing public works not just financed by the central government but also partially funded with private money, to account for increasing public-private-partnerships in the country’s infrastructure sector.
There are about 3,600 protected monuments and sites across India.