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INTACH has earned its position

Having been fortunate enough to have served INTACH for the last 10 years (initially as vice-chairman and,from 2004 until last week,as chairman) I feel some response...

Having been fortunate enough to have served INTACH (the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) for the last 10 years (initially as vice-chairman and,from 2004 until last week,as chairman) I feel some response to The Indian Express editorial (‘INTACH,broken?’April 6,2010) is called for.

It is true that there has been a strongly contested election this month,and I have not commented on that,as I feel it is an internal matter for the organisation. What I must comment on,however,is the impression that INTACH has become a “quasi-governmental agency,” that we have secured some sort of monopoly on conservation through being “comfortably embedded in the Delhi power-culture circuit,” and that we are in any way “broken.”

A quick look at the INTACH website or at our most recent annual report will show the scope of our activities. We function through a network of over 150 chapters,and several thousand dedicated members. We are headed by a chairman,who receives no salary or other remuneration. Our other division heads are all respected professionals and specialists in their fields,and our professional staff,working under the division heads,is extraordinarily talented and committed. Although our headquarters office is indeed in Delhi,we work throughout India,from the smallest villages to the largest cities.

Linking INTACH to Delhi’s “power culture,” is thus both irresponsible and incorrect,as is the mention of supposed ties to the Congress Party. The government has,indeed,come to respect and listen to us,but that has not affected our independence in any way whatsoever.

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Although Rajiv Gandhi was our first chairman,this did not prevent us from going to court against the plans to rename Connaught Place as Rajiv Chowk. Similarly,although the Delhi chief minister has been one of our strongest and most loyal supporters,we went to court to stop the construction of the Commonwealth Games Village on the Yamuna riverbed. In neither case was there even the slightest attempt to influence us. And in spite of our frequent actions against government,it is a measure of the respect that we have earned that a number of state governments (under several different political parties) have entered into partnership agreements with us. We were also recently commended by the Parliamentary Committee on Transport and Culture,headed by a CPM leader Sitaram Yechury,and the Finance Commission,in its latest report,recommended that ASI partner with INTACH for the restoration of dilapidated court buildings.

As I write this,a message has just come advising me that the Jammu & Kashmir Legislature has approved landmark legislation for protection of tangible and intangible heritage,the first time in India that such a comprehensive law has been passed for an entire state. This has involved many months of work on our part,and meetings with both the chief minister and the governor. INTACH has always been a truly independent organisation,willing to fight government whenever necessary,but also mature enough to realise that cooperation can,in cases like this,be far more effective than confrontation.

Regarding funding,we would indeed be very happy if it were true that “hundreds of crores” were flowing through INTACH. In actuality,we have a very small operating budget. Funds for every single project are raised individually. We believe strongly in partnership,and piece together funding for each project from numerous agencies,both governmental and non-governmental,in India and abroad. Some major sources of funds,among others,have been the Helen Hamlyn Trust (GBP 400,000 for the Reis Magos Fort project in Goa),American Express (more than $1 million through the World Monuments Fund for Jaisalmer projects),WMF for projects in INTACH’s Delhi Chapter,the UK-based Jaisalmer in Jeopardy,Prince Charles’ Charities,the UK-INTACH Trust,and INTACH Chapters in the US,Belgium and the UK.

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Government funding to INTACH is purely project-based,in response to proposals submitted to us,in cases where it is felt we have the capability to execute them. We have in this manner taken on projects in Gwalior/Shivpuri/Chanderi,Raghurajpur Village in Orissa,Kapurthala,and Srinagar,among others. All of these projects have been successfully completed,to the satisfaction of all involved. What INTACH provides is responsible oversight,professional credibility,and strict financial accountability. There has not,ever,been a single allegation of misuse of even a rupee from funds that have been entrusted to us.

INTACH has undoubtedly become the leading heritage NGO in the country. As such,we have gained tremendous influence and respect both internationally and nationally. In 2007,we hosted the first ever meeting of worldwide heritage trusts,with participants from 55 countries. We received no support for this event from the Government of India,except for one dinner hosted by the ministry of culture. Rather,we raised funds for the conference and for the participation of delegates from developing countries primarily from outside sources,such as the Getty Foundation,Trust for Mutual Understanding,Ford Foundation,Asian Cultural Council,Soros Foundation,and Japan Foundation,as well as from corporate sources in India and the Delhi government.

As a result of this event,the International National Trusts Organisation was officially established,INTACH (along with the UK and US national trusts) became one of the three permanent members,and I was elected as vice-chairman. Our voice is now global,and we are routinely included in most international activities involving heritage issues,helping to formulate the very policies that will affect us.

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This in no way,however,means that we have become a “monopoly.” There are many independent conservation architects and other professionals in India,as well as other organisations and trusts,who often take on major heritage projects. The ASI,for instance,has entrusted major projects such as the Red Fort and Ajanta to non-INTACH professionals,and the Aga Khan Foundation is supporting an independent team in the massive Humayun’s Tomb projects. We are all very much aware of each other’s work,interact freely and frequently,and consider ourselves to be part of a large fraternity,with common concerns.

It is INTACH’s growing stature that has led state and national governments,as well as many funding organisations,to trust our competence. Far from being “broken,” we have indeed achieved a leadership role that links many people and organisations concerned with preserving and nurturing our irreplaceable heritage,and have thus achieved the respect and the influence to give voice to the heritage concerns of all Indians.

The writer is a founder-member of INTACH and its current chairman

First published on: 07-04-2010 at 10:51:46 pm
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