The story so far: The central government is expected to reintroduce the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) (Amendment) Bill in Parliament during the second half of the Budget Session. Earlier in February 2023, Union Tourism and Culture Minister G. Kishan Reddy said that discussions on the draft AMASR (Amendment) Bill were in the final leg and the legislation will, in all probability, be tabled in March.
What is the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) (Amendment) Bill?
The AMASR Act was passed by the Parliament in 1958 for the purpose of protection and preservation of archaeological and historical monuments and sites. It also provides for the regulation of archaeological excavations and for protection of sculptures, carvings and other such objects.
The AMASR Amendment Bill was first introduced in Lok Sabha on July 18, 2017, by then Minister of Tourism and Culture, Dr. Mahesh Sharma. Amendments in the Bill include allowing the construction of public works in “prohibited areas”, and the approval and impact assessment of such public works.
The original Act prohibits construction in an area of 100 metres around protected monuments, and the central government can extend this area beyond 100 metres. With the Amendment, the government will be allowed to take up infrastructure projects for public works in this prohibited area.
For the construction (or reconstruction, repair, or renovation), the relevant central government department will be required to submit an application to the competent authority. The central government will determine whether the construction works in question qualify as public works, and the authority will then convey the decision of the central government to the applicant within ten days of the receipt of the decision.
The Amendment Bill introduces a definition of public works, which is “construction works related to infrastructure financed and carried out by any department or offices of the central government for public purposes which is necessary for the safety or security of the public at large and emergent necessity is based on specific instance of danger to the safety or security of the public at large and there is no reasonable possibility of any other viable alternative to such construction beyond the limits of the prohibited area”.
The Amendment Bill also seeks to add the consideration of archaeological impact, visual impact and heritage impact assessment of the proposed public works in the prohibited area to the functions and powers of the authority.
What qualifies as an “ancient monument” and “archaeological sites and remains”?
In the original Act of 1958, “ancient monument” is defined as “any structure, erection, or monument, or any tumulus or place of interment, or any cave, rock-sculpture, inscription, or monolith which is of historical, archaeological, or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than 100 years”.
“Archaeological sites and remains” mean “any area which contains or is reasonably believed to contain ruins or relics of historical or archaeological importance which have been in existence for not less than 100 years”.
Why does the government want to amend the AMASR Act?
According to the central government, the “prohibition of new construction within prohibited areas of a protected area or protected monument is adversely affecting the various public works and developmental projects of the central government”.
Current status of the Amendment Bill
The Amendment Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha in July 2017. It was passed in the Lower House in January 2018 and was then referred to a Select Committee in July 2018, headed by former Rajya Sabha member Vinay P. Sahasrabuddhe. In its report, the Select Committee recommended deciding the area limit for prohibiting construction on a case-by-case basis rather than drawing a blanket limit of 100 metres.
The committee also questioned the definition of public works specified in the Amendment, and noted that it does not cover public utility projects (like Metro construction) that do not specifically fall under “safety and security”.
The committee submitted its report in February 2019, and recommended the passage of the Act after consultation with central and State governments and various relevant departments, while also listing observations and recommendations to be considered while framing notifications and rules related to the Bill.