A new law that makes government officials responsible for protection of national monuments and gives Intach a key role, sets stage for preservation of heritage. Serish Nanisetti discovers more

On March 30, the President signed into Act a game-changing law to protect Indian heritage. A slew of sections have been added onto the 1958 Act to give teeth to officialdom and protect national heritage.

Hyderabad has two sites of national importance Charminar and Golconda. Will this law help protect at least these sites?

“Yes. This Act goes a long way in helping protect our heritage. Once the National Monuments Authority is created it will have an on-field staff that will make a difference. We are getting NRSA satellite imagery to mark out the contours, 1992 position and the mandated 100 metres of protected area and 200 metres of regulated area,” says T. Sreelakshmi of ASI with a caveat: “Unless the public is aware and alert and political leaders, those who pull strings from behind the screen, stop their stalling tactics, we will be helpless. But this law does remove a lot of loopholes,” says Sreelakshmi.

A drive around Charminar and Golconda show that it might be some time before the law has its desired effect. If the civic authorities have just stopped their digging for pipeline and cables around the monument, across the road, efforts are underway to create more space in the centuries old Jama Masjid.

And around Golconda, the series of lakes which formed protective structures for the fort are being filled up. Residential construction activity is going on apace. Outside Habshi Kaman, is the blue and white signboard that still says that punishment for disfiguring national heritage is a fine of Rs 5,000 and three months jail sentence, while the new Act has raised the fine to Rs. 1 lakh and the jail sentence to two years.

All these create a doubt about the efficacy of the Act. But hope springs eternal from the Act and the fact that even a permission to organise an event within a national monument has to come from the Director-General's office in Delhi. The power of the Act can gauged from the fact that the Chief Minister of Maharashtra had to call up the Prime Minister for seeking a permission for a celebratory event in the Raigad fort.

No more secret hanky-panky, any permission or refusal has to be posted on the website of ASI.

Besides creation of National Monuments Authority, the Act brings into its ambit Intach and its army of conservationists who have been tasked to frame heritage bye-laws for each national monument.

The insertion of Section 30C is what truly gives the Act its overarching power: “… any officer of Central Government enters into or acquiesces in any agreement to do, abstains from doing, permits, conceals or connives in any act or thing whereby any construction or reconstruction takes place in a prohibited area or regulated area, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”

Cutting out all excuses, the law covers the army of officials who work as foot soldiers for allowing heritage go to seed. “This is what is making officials think twice. And they cannot even say they were ignorant of the law,” says Sreelakshmi sounding optimistic about protection of heritage.