The monuments lost to unplanned urbanisation in the national capital are evidence of how callously India has treated the preservation of its heritage. Given there is both poor monitoring of the state of heritage buildings and rampant encroachment, India is left poorer for portions of history—and in time, for historical accuracy (hundreds of years after a building is gone, it could be that its very existence becomes disputed). But all that could be set to change with the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) joining hands to create a database of satellite-generated images of more than 3,000 protected monuments at the moment—eventually, around 1.5 lakh such buildings, from across the nation, are to be added to the repository.
The Isro-controlled ‘eyes in the skies’ will generate high-resolution images of a heritage building and its periphery to spot damage, illegal construction and encroachment while ASI will match these with its records to determine the extent of damage and encroachment. This is a sea-change in the attitude towards preservation of heritage buildings from the one that resulted in, as noted by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2013, 92 protected national monuments going “missing”. But would that be enough? Given monuments are threatened more by growing homelessness in the country than, say, fundamentalists wishing to tear down one, any strategy to preserve them will need an urbanisation vision that pre-empts such problems and plans accordingly.