The government is working to bring amendments to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act-1958, which stipulates area around the protected monuments to make it “more flexible and friendly”, Union Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy has said.
While speaking at a meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Archaeology (CABA) in Delhi recently, the minister remarked: “The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is working to make the AMASR Act-1958 more flexible and public friendly.” He added that “an amendment of the Act is under consideration”.
The AMASR Act, 1958, was amended in 2010, according to which 100-metre radius of an ASI-protected monument is “prohibited area”, and hence, no construction is allowed there, while the next 300-metre is “regulated area”, where permissions are required before executing any structural changes.
Sources said the ministry is looking to rationalise these prohibited and regulated zones following controversies over development projects pertaining to different monuments. “Whether it’s the world heritage monuments like the Taj Mahal and Red Fort, or a small graveyard in a remote corner of Delhi, once it becomes an ASI protected site, the same rules apply; this needs to change,” said a member of CABA, who didn’t want to be identified.
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The amendment will also give more teeth to the ASI to remove encroachments from regulated zones around the monuments and hold the local authorities liable. Recently, the plan to transform Jagannath Puri into a world-class heritage city had spiralled into a controversy when the government began an anti-encroachment drive to clear 75 metres from the Meghanada Pacheri and pulled down dilapidated mutts and other structures.
Meanwhile, at the meeting, MoS Culture Arjun Ram Meghwal said that “a standardisation should be made for the inclusion of site/monument in ASI list and if need arises, monuments can also be dropped from the list.” Sources said the plan is also to review the list of ASI-protected monuments and drop some from the ASI purview and pass on to the respective state archaeology departments for upkeep so that unnecessary burden can be shed off.
On the other hand, a review will also enable the ASI to take certain other monuments of ‘national importance’ under its wings. Last month, it was recommended to the ASI to declare the Anang Tal lake in South Delhi, believed to have been built a thousand years ago, as a national monument. Several other proposals are also under consideration, including declaring the memorial dedicated to Baba Banda Singh Bahadur at Mehrauli as an ASI-protected monument.
A recent Parliamentary Standing Committee report had also alluded to the fact that there was no specific reason behind these 100-metre and 300-metre limits. It said expert committees on monuments could decide the prohibited area around a particular monument.
Next year, as India hosts G20 countries, some of the meetings will be held at important ASI sites also. So, the plan is also to look at areas around some of those sites and add required infrastructure for those high-profile meetings.