Govt's approach on Hampi flawed: Expert

HUBLI, JUNE 15. The development of Hampi, has been among issues which have been much talked about by successive State governments but about which precious little has been done.

The development of Hampi, the seat of the Vijayanagar kings has been engaging the attention of the State Government and been under discussion even before it was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It continues to provide grist for discussion, even after UNESCO included it among the endangered sites and threatened to take it out of the list.

The State Government apparently does not have a clear idea how to develop Hampi. As Dr. S.Settar, former Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, and noted art historian put it: "It is not lack of resources, but lack of perception and vision, which has been the reason for the dithering on the part of the Government."

Under the circumstances, the Minister for Tourism, Mr. R.Roshan Baig's desire to form a Hampi Development Authority has not evoked an enthusiastic response in the region. Many regard it as another expression of the "pious intentions" of the Government.

The idea of preserving the Heritage Site arose in the 1980s when the Congress government under the chief ministership of the late Gundu Rao, decided to constitute a committee to study the issue, thanks to the initiative taken by Mr. Veerappa Moily, then a minister. But, no headway was made. Interest was revived when Mr. Ramakrishna Hegde became the Chief Minister.

The Hegde government constituted a high power committee to "resurrect Hampi" under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister, with Mr. M.P.Prakash, a minister from Bellary District being incharge of it. Among its members were the late Shivaram Karanth, Ms. Kapila Vatsayan, Mr. M.V.Kamath, Dr. Settar, then historian in the Karnataka University, and official nominees such as the Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Director of Archaeology and Museums, Karnataka, the Director of Kannada and Culture, the Director of Tourism and so on.

The committee, however, hardly met three or four times. As time passed, it began to lose its serious approach, and emerged as a "friendly forum for exchange of pleasantries among the cultural elite." Some members such as Dr. Settar and Karanth openly expressed annoyance over the lack of seriousness and purpose. Their outburst resulted in a core committee which also hardly met.

According to Dr. Settar the entire exercise was wasteful and its approach impractical. The only people who evinced serious interest were members of the team from INTACH, who used to come prepared with maps and drawings about the changes to be made at the historical site. The team felt frustrated over the lack of interest on part of the Government and its minions, and later withdrew in disgust.

Even subsequently, when the spotlight was turned on Hampi after it became a World Heritage Site, there was no appreciable change in the Government's attitude towards its development.

As the State Government dithered, encroachment increased.

However, talk of clearing this encroachment evoked a hostile reaction, which assumed political overtones. The local people felt that the State Government was infringing on the rights of the people, and started agitating. Strangely, a similar local reaction has greeted the announcement made by Mr. Roshan Baig on establishing the Hampi Development Authority, with an agitation currently on opposing the move on the ground that it will adversely affect the rights of the local people.

Dr. Settar feels that the approach of the Government to the

development of Hampi is flawed. What the Government should do is to set up a Hampi Heritage Development Authority (HDA) rather than a Hampi Development Authority. The HDA should have a State wide focus not only on temples but also on other buildings of importance, which deserve to be preserved, and the development of Hampi should be taken up as a pilot project.

While a team of officials can be entrusted with the execution of schemes, the authority itself should be headed by an expert, and there should be a core group to help conceptualise and formulate plans. It is imperative that INTACH is associated with any such effort.

Dr. Settar says: It is essential that local people are made partners rather than antagonists for the development of Hampi.