News Brief

'Rationalise The Number Of Monuments Of National Importance', Says Economic Advisory Council Led By Sanjeev Sanyal

Swarajya Staff

Jan 27, 2023, 02:49 PM | Updated 02:49 PM IST

Agrasen ki Baoli, a Monument of National Importance, in Delhi.
(Representative image).
Agrasen ki Baoli, a Monument of National Importance, in Delhi. (Representative image).
  • The report argues for ASI to have substantive criteria and detailed procedures for declaring 'Monuments of National Importance', pointing out several flaws with the AMASR Act of 1958, which governs MNIs.
  • The Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) in a recent report, has suggested that the number of 'Monuments of National Importance' (MNIs) be rationalised, and their criteria for selection be revamped.

    In a report titled ‘Monuments of National Importance — Urgent Need for rationalisation’ authored by Sanjeev Sanyal, the EAC-PM has pointed out that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI),’s list of MNIs has risen to an ‘unwieldy’ 3,695.

    The report then goes on to point out several flaws with the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act of 1958 which governs MNIs, and the current list of monuments and argues for their rationalisation.

    First off, once a monument comes under the MNI list, a 100-meter radius of the monument is then considered a ‘prohibited area’ — where there is a ban on construction activities. This severely hampers economic activity in historical cities like Delhi with 173 MNIs.

    The definition of the term ‘national importance’ has itself been left open, with neither the AMASR Act nor the National Policy for Conservation (2014), defining it.

    Further, the Act does not define a substantive process or criteria for identifying a monument of national importance.

    Thus, when the Act was passed, it blindly added the already existing List under colonial rule, which contained 2,584 monuments, and the 736 monuments added in between 1947 and 1958.

    ASI continues to have no comprehensive database of all the 3,695 monuments, which would have information on their historical significance, geographical description, cultural, and archaeological significance.

    National Monuments Authority, set up after the 2010 amendment to AMASR Act, was supposed to frame by-laws for each MNI, but has done so for only 126.

    Moreover, the list itself contains many MNIs with no national, historical, or cultural significance.

    For instance, it includes 75 graves/cemeteries of British officers and soldiers! Neither are the graves of any architectural significance, nor were these persons of any historical significance, for their graves to be preserved by an independent, sovereign nation.

    Similarly, protecting 109 Mughal era ‘Kos Minars’ — brick or mortar columns marking milestones on Mughal highways — need not be treated as ‘national monuments’, albeit in need of protection, nonetheless.

    The list also contains several movable antiquities such as sculptures, statues, cannons, etc. which are being treated as monuments.

    The report argues that antiquities should be removed from the list immediately, since it is not only difficult to provide protection but also because the ‘prohibited’ area restrictions around them inhibits developmental activities.

    Even strange, is the finding that several of these monuments were untraceable. The report quotes a previous finding by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that 92 of the monuments could not be found, after a physical verification of 1,655 out of the 3,695 monuments. The actual numbers therefore, could be even higher.

    The report says that the geographical distribution of MNIs is highly skewed, with only five states accounting for 60 per cent of listings, and historically important states like Bihar and Kerala, having lower than a fair share.

    The report also points out the woefully small expenditure on MNIs, with the 2019-20 budgetary allocation being a paltry ₹428 crore, or ₹11 lakh per monument.

    The report argues for ASI to have substantive criteria and detailed procedures for declaring MNIs, a measure requiring only an executive order.

    It also asks for monuments with local importance to be handed over to states, and standalone antiquities and untraceable monuments to be taken off the list.

    It also suggests increasing budgetary allocations and realising alternate revenue streams to be leveraged and the proceeds to be handed over directly to the ASI.

    While the rationalisation of the list would increase allocations to each monument, increasing revenue from ticketing, filmmaking, etc. would improve caretaking for lesser-known, but historically significant, monuments.

    Several places such as Jogeshwari caves in Mumbai and memorial place of Raja Raja Chola at Udayalur, lie in ruins.

    The report also argues for setting up ‘Cultural Boards” at every MNI to educate the public about the historical and cultural significance of these monuments, a basic facility lacking at many MNIs today.

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