Changes in ASI Act opposed

Historians have vociferously opposed changes to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, which proposes to allow the construction of Centre-approved public infrastructure within a 100-meter radius of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)-protected monuments at a Parliamentary panel’s meeting held on Monday.

The Act proposes to allow the construction of Centre-approved public infrastructure within a 100-meter radius of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)-protected monuments. This is worrying because this could open the way for the denigration of ancient monuments in the name of development.

A 2013 report by CAG said that about 1/3rd of the National Monuments of the country have been encroached upon and a majority of them were poorly guarded due to the lack of manpower.

The monuments which are already deteriorating due to pollution, human interference and development activities around are further put under direct threat with the proposed changes.

Public works by central government are executed more often than other small infrastructure projects which may even cause disturbance to tourism. The construction methods and tools may cause great loss to some architecturally and structurally weak monuments, viz. vibrations, particulate pollutants. It will give people the wrong message of govt. giving priority to development over the environment, deterring the public from being conscious of the environment.

The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment) Bill, 2017:

The Act defines a ‘prohibited area’ as an area of 100 meters around a protected monument or area.  The central government can extend the prohibited area beyond 100 meters.  The Act does not permit construction in such prohibited areas, except under certain conditions.  The Act also prohibits construction in ‘prohibited areas’ even if it is for public purposes. The Bill amends this provision to permit construction of public works in ‘prohibited areas’ for public purposes.

The Bill introduces a definition of ‘public works’, which includes the construction of any infrastructure that is financed and carried out by the central government for public purposes.  This infrastructure must be necessary for public safety and security and must be based on a specific instance of danger to public safety.  Also, there should be no reasonable alternative to carrying out construction in the prohibited area.

Procedure for seeking permission for public works: As per the Bill, the relevant central government department, that seeks to carry out construction for public purposes in a prohibited area, should make an application to the competent authority. If there is any question related to whether a construction project qualifies as ‘public works’, it will be referred to the National Monuments Authority.  This Authority will make its recommendations, with written reasons, to the central government.  The decision of the central government will be final.

The Bill empowers the National Monuments Authority to consider an impact assessment of the proposed public works in a prohibited area, including its (i) archaeological impact; (ii) visual impact; and (iii) heritage impact. The Authority will make a recommendation, for construction of public works to the central government, only if it is satisfied that there is no reasonable possibility of moving the construction outside the prohibited area.

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