Amendment to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act pushes the case of heritage conservation with vigour

Heritage conservation and development haven't exactly been on good terms with each other, especially in the context of city life. Growing demand of the urban population for a comfortable life, coupled with the apathy and nonchalance of the city-dwellers, have often come into conflict with this sphere of our cultural heritage.

But Jawahar Sircar, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, is hopeful of changing the troubled equation with the “momentous” Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act (AMASR) 2010.

According to Sircar, the new amendment tilts the balance in favour of heritage and urban planning. “I call the new Act momentous because it is very serious about the implementation part: through enhanced punishment for violators (up to two years' imprisonment); punishment for Government officials who connive (up to three years' imprisonment); setting up of National Monuments Authority; setting up of local level Competent Authorities; framing monument-specific Heritage bye laws, and so on. The incessant urban encroachments upon the heritage spaces of the nation have to stop, somewhere,” declares Sircar.

Analytical debates on its working and content can happen later but at least the effort of bringing in such revolutionary changes after a gap of 52 years needs to be applauded. The original AMASR Act was passed in 1958 and has been amended after five decades. “The first Monument Act was introduced in 1904 and, therefore, we are basically going in for a major ramp-up and tightening of our laws for the protection of heritage monuments, after 105 years of experience. This could be possible because of positive guidance from our highest authorities and the Moily Committee that helped us in framing the new amendments.”

Providing for a National Monuments Authority (NMA), which will have a full-time chairperson, five full-time and five part-time members, having experience in the fields of archaeology, town and country planning, architecture, heritage and conservation, is one of the highlights of the amended Act. A set of competent authorities by the Central Government for each protected monument and prohibited area will also be formed which shall prepare heritage bye-laws on the basis of detailed site plans prepared by ASI.

“Grading and classifying of monuments would follow thereafter, when the National Monuments Authority decides to take up this issue,” informs Sircar.

Unauthorised structures

Besides the stress on ‘regulated area' and ‘prohibited area' defined clearly in the Act, AMASR 2010 also boasts of a way by which all the unauthorised structures — that have come up in the prohibited and regulated areas since June 1992 — will be identified. “This (illegal structures) was a major problem and this continues to be a major problem. Now, the new law gives strength to the ASI, to act decisively against unauthorised structures,” says Sircar.

The new Act also turns out to be more stringent. Not only the quantum of punishment to the violators has been increased but it has also brought in public servants under its purview.

It states, “If any officer of the Central Government enters into or acquiesces in any agreement to do so, abstain from doing, permits, conceals or connives at any act or thing whereby any construction or reconstruction takes place in a prohibited or a regulated area, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both (Section 30C