India-China sea voyage in PMO panel's pitch for reforms in heritage management

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A cultural exchange on a sea voyage between India and China and turning archaeological sites such as Hampi into on-site museums are among a slew of reforms proposed to improve heritage management recommended by a working group under the chairmanship of NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant.

In its 255-page report, the group has flagged gaps such as lack of a national database and documentation of artefacts and heritage sites. Officials at the culture ministry said that the report is under consideration and appropriate action will be taken after it is assessed.

The working group was formed by the Prime Minister’s Office in June 2019 and included the secretary, ministry of culture, secretary, ministry of tourism, director general, ASI - member–convenor, member secretary, INTACH and the CEO, Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

It was tasked with recommending “institutional changes”, potential ways to involve the local communities and explore the possibility of enhancing tourism and employment through heritage management. According to its report, India has over 500,000 heritage sites and monuments and 3,691 monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

“(A) Cultural exchange on sea voyage proposed between India and China at Mahabalipuram to be initiated under Project Mausam,” states the report. Project Mausam was started by the Central government to better connect countries bordering the Indian Ocean.

The report has also highlighted the lack of a centralized database that is leading to artefacts being ignored.

“There is no centralised database of archival records, drawings and photo archives,” states the report. “There is no inventory which is maintained centrally, on an all India basis, in the ASI for recording all the artefacts, antiquities and sculptures found and collected during excavations, explorations or village to village survey. In many cases, the excavated antiquities are not even accessed and just stored in the ASI Circle offices, monuments and store rooms.”

The report recommends a “systematic photo documentation of all national monuments should be revived, and each monument (should be) documented on a periodic basis”.

It has also suggested that ASI should invest in advanced surveys, documentation and monitoring instruments and training sessions to be available on site with various circles.

According to Vasant Shinde, department of archaeology, Deccan College, the ASI has already undertaken such a project.

“Nearly 50 per cent of the country has been covered by the now,” said Shinde. “A central database like this will help avoid smuggling of artefacts.”

The report has also recommended collaborations with Foreign Universities for introduction of latest techniques in exploration and excavations. “ASI should collaborate with National and International organisations for training of staff in use of advanced documentation, survey and monitoring techniques to be used for monuments and archaeological sites.”

In the 2020-21 budget, the government has proposed five archaeological sites to be developed as iconic sites with on-site Museums. “These should be completed in next 3 years,” states the report. “The proposed museums are Rakhigarhi (HR), Hastinapur (UP) Shivsagar (Assam), Dholavira (GJ) and Adichanallur (TN). Clear Action Plan to be finalized for all. ASI should finalize world-class projects for 2 site museums Hampi and Sarnath within the next 3 months. A model site museum should also be set up at Ahichchhatra archaeological site in UP.”

Shinde said that the step will help boost both employment and tourism. “But we need to remember one thing,” said Shinde. “We are good at creating infrastructure, it is the maintenance of the monuments and new sites that we need to focus on more.”

The group has recommended setting up of an “Indian Institute of Culture (IIC)” under the ambit of the ministry of culture for “training and skilling manpower in Archaeology, Conservation, Museology, Archives and related fields to be located at the Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Institute of Archeology. The proposed Indian Institute of Culture should be a deemed university, wherein there should be a flexibility to hire experts from other countries.”

According to Shinde, this step will go a long way considering it will be a first of its kind institute. “It is required like the IITs. The avenues to study these subjects are limited, historians and archaeologists can be trained here. It is a demand that has been overdue, as India doesn’t have any such institute,” said Shinde.

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