ASI’s repair works hang in limbo amid expenditure cap

5 months ago 21
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AGRA: Several conservation and restoration projects at centrally protected sites and monuments, including mud therapy to remove stains on

Taj Mahal

’s main dome, renovation at 17th Century Sheesh Mahal in Delhi and facelift of Mughal paintings at Fatehpur Sikri, are stuck amid an expenditure cap since Covid-19 outbreak.
Senior officials from the Archaeological Survey of India (

ASI

) confirmed to TOI that preservation work has come to a standstill since April as no money has been released by the government for ongoing restoration projects.
A circular issued by the

Centre

in April capped spending for most ministries, including culture ministry which allocates funds to ASI. The circular stated that in view of the Covid-19 outbreak and the resulting lockdown, the cash position of the government is expected to be “stressed” in 2020-2021 and hence regulating expenditure would be necessary.
For the culture ministry, the cap was 15% for three months, meaning it could spend 5% per month of the allocated budget of Rs 787 crore for the first quarter (March to June.) On June 23, a fresh circular extended the cap on spending in the second quarter ending September.
While no cuts can be made for overheads such as salaries, pension and regular maintenance, it’s restoration projects that have had to bear the brunt of the expenditure cap, an ASI official said.
But Union minister for culture and tourism, Prahlad Patel, told TOI on Friday that conservation and preservation work on monuments and heritage sites was on. “No funds have been stopped for any of the works.”
ASI officials in at least three states confirmed to TOI on condition of anonymity that barring regular maintenance — cleaning and gardening — no restoration work was going on in monuments of national importance. A senior ASI official said, “Nearly Rs 400 crore are spent annually on conservation, preservation and annual maintenance of 3,691 centrally protected monuments. But apart from regular maintenance, no money has been spent on restoration projects this fiscal year.” In 2019-20, Rs 435 crore were allocated for conservation projects, the amount stood at Rs 406 crore in 2018-19 and 410 crore in 2017-18.
The projects that have been stalled include a mud therapy for Taj’s main dome for which scaffoldings were put up in March, restoration of a wall at Bathinda Fort in Punjab and conservation work at Khirki Masjid in Delhi. Sheesh Mahal in Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh where the preliminary ceremony of Aurangzeb’s coronation took place was also set to get an ambitious facelift worth Rs 2 to Rs 4 crore. By February, the first installment of Rs 70 lakh was released to spruce up the building. But work has halted since lockdown.

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