Experts are unanimous that unless conservation is liberalised, we have no future, and corporates and civil society need to be equal partners
Resistance from stakeholders to revamp the one-km stretch from Town Hall to the Golden Temple in Amritsar sometime in 2013 bears a marked resemblance with public opposition at Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi when a redevelopment plan was unveiled in August 2018.
This speaks of a prevailing temperamental aversion towards conservation of legacy. Local traders and shopkeepers resisted the Rs 1,000-crore Golden Temple heritage street project tooth and nail. A lack of public interest in conservation of India’s rich past delayed the proposal initiated to bring some order in Shahjahanabad, the historic imperial city established by fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Fifteen years after the project’s foundation was laid, the redevelopment — pedestrianisation of the Walled City’s main street Chandni Chowk — started on the ground in December 2018 only after court’s intervention.
The court order compelled multiple government agencies and other stakeholders, including traders and shopkeepers, to brainstorm together and finalise the blueprint of the project. The joint efforts bore fruits, propelling the project, which would be completed by March next year.
Similarly, the heritage street project was completed in a record time of three years in Amritsar only after active participation of local traders. The redevelopment of Golden Temple heritage street and Chandni Chowk are stellar cases of government-public coordination yielding rich dividends, when stakeholders start taking onus of our heritage and regard its preservation as their moral duty.
Here the role of public-private partnership (PPP) and corporates also comes into play because the government can’t be solely burdened with the responsibility of protecting heritage that ultimately boosts the tourism sector. Noted author and historian Swapna Liddle says,“Though these projects need refinement and not just footfalls, the communities must work in partnership with experts and private parties, where heritage can be a great engine for development. Until we, as stakeholders, take interest and responsibility, preservation is not possible.”
She advocates experimentation with different PPP models for achieving heritage conservation goals. “Like the Drishyakala art exhibition this year, put up in the colonial barrack No 4 (B4) at the Red Fort, Delhi, by the Delhi Art Gallery in association with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), was a PPP. It had depth of information, showcased 450 artworks and had even conducted outreach activities in this space to expand the possibilities of making art accessible to a larger audience. Since the ASI does not have the expert capability — engineers and architects — specialised in history, it’s important to engage with experts from private players.”
The ASI is the owner of most heritage sites in the country, including the significant ones, and is the prime agency responsible for the preservation and management of heritage. Several sites of historical importance are decaying due to negligence and lack of resources — funding being the foremost reason. Monument conservation and maintenance require continuous efforts and uninterrupted flow of funds. So, the government is looking at innovative models to leverage expertise and resources of the private sector.
The Partition Museum in Amritsar, set up in partnership with the Punjab government, is a prefect example to cite. The government has provided the building, while non-profit trust The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust (TAACHT) took care of the rest. TAACHT has gathered the collection, raised funds, curated galleries and now operates the museum.
Mallika Ahluwalia, CEO and curator of the museum, says, “Models like ours can prove to be successful examples of partnership. Many other models can be explored — and indeed different sites will require different models. For us, the maintenance is done with the help of donations from individuals and corporates, who believe in the importance of documenting this history.” She adds: “Private parties and the government need to work together to conserve heritage. And, definitely, communities and civil society can also play a role — especially in preserving our intangible heritage like crafts.”
‘Monument Mitra’ (Adopt a Heritage) is one initiative by the Union ministry of tourism and culture to encourage corporates to partner in heritage preservation in the country. It started with 93 ASI-ticketed monuments and would be expanded to other natural and cultural sites across India. Under the scheme, corporates maintain and develop public facilities for the comfort of visitors at major tourist attractions.
So far 11 MoUs have been signed, including the ones with Adventure Tour Operators of India (ATOAI) for the area surrounding Gangotri Temple and trail to Gaumukh in Uttarakhand, and with Dalmia Bharat for the Red Fort in Delhi and Gandikota Fort in Andhra Pradesh. The corporates will install benches and dustbins, advanced equipment for sound and light show, build visitor centres and will also be responsible for maintenance of toilets and water kiosks.
However, when the government’s decision about handing over the 17th century Mughal citadel to Dalmia Bharat Group in December last year was reported, it kicked up a controversy. Questions were raised on the expertise of the group in conservation and the rationale behind the handover of the country’s historic monument to a private party for protection. It was even dubbed a monumental blunder.
The involvement of private parties for maintenance and conservation of heritage sites first came under public scrutiny in 2016 when the ASI received complaints about the ‘quality’ of restoration at the Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. It constituted a committee for a probe. The work was going on under the aegis of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). But the fact remains that since 2007, the Trust has been successfully preserving about 60 monuments and structures on the Mughal tomb campus, which were crumbling before its arrival on the scene. However, the ASI didn’t respond to mails and texts sent to seek its comment on the matter.
Jama Masjid in Delhi, built as the centrepiece of Shahjahanabad, suitably makes another case for non-government funding for preservation. The mosque is still not on the list of protected monuments. The Delhi Wakf Board (DWB) is the custodian of Shah Jahan’s dream project, but it’s day-to-day affairs are managed by Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari, a descendant of the first Imam of the mosque appointed by the Mughal king himself. On his request, preservation work has been undertaken by the ASI under special arrangement. The 361-year-old mosque is in need of a comprehensive conservation plan, which may be easily executed with non-government funding.
Some other examples of private players’ heritage conservation initiatives under CSR are — InterGlobe Foundation’s (on behalf of the InterGlobe group of companies) partnership with AKTC and ASI for renovation of the tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khanan in Delhi; conservation of a historical step well in Delwara in Rajasthan, in collaboration with Seva Mandir. Under Adopt a Heritage, Resbird Technologies (part of Bird Group) launched Audio Odigos — mobile audio guide app for travellers — at some monuments in Delhi. The group is likely to be involved in the upkeep of Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Gol Gumbad and Bara Lao Ka Gumbad in Delhi and the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh. Havells is working with AKTC on Interpretation Centre project at the Humayun’s Tomb in south Delhi and conservation of Sabz Burj in its vicinity.
Anil Rai Gupta, chairman and managing director, Havells, says, “It is important to realise the need to preserve our heritage so that we can pass it on to the future generations in the best possible condition. More corporates must collaborate to work towards development, maintenance and preservation of heritage. If the government lacks funds, it also lacks vision.”
Private partnership: A booster for growth
CSR projects have even served as major tools to generate employment. Named as the Humayun’s Tomb-Sunder Nursery-Nizamuddin Basti project in Delhi, the AKTC has worked towards adopting a craft-based approach in conservation, employing hundreds of craftsmen using traditional tools, materials and building techniques to revive the creation of the original builders. The conservation project has led to two million people visiting the Humayun’s tomb annually – up from 1,60,000 a decade ago — generating about Rs 12 crore from ticket sales. The project also benefited 20,000 people living in the vicinity of the tomb, and created 14 lakh man days of work for master craftsmen and 1,900 jobs for women in Nizamuddin Basti. The proposed Interpretation Centre will be the largest public cultural facility in Delhi since the building of the National Museum. Ratish Nanda, conservation architect and CEO of AKTC, maintains that “In India, we have not even scratched the surface yet. Our demonstration projects aim to establish conservation standards and improve the quality of life. Hence, conservation must have access to all the required human, archaeological and financial resources. It is a solution to understand the problems of India,” he says. The Trust is also carrying out conservation and landscape restoration at the Quli Qutb Shah Tomb complex in Hyderabad.
Challenges other than funding
Besides funding and expertise for regular upkeep of heritage properties, the authorities have been struggling to create awareness and a sense of belonging among citizens regarding architectural wealth.
Vandalism and defacement are two big challenges that neutralise most conservation efforts, though it has come down to some extent following the ‘Incredible India’ awareness campaign by the ministry of tourism, involving Bollywood actor Aamir Khan against defacement of valued historical buildings.
According to Priyanka Singh, head, InterGlobe Foundation, citizens also have a huge role to play in protecting what is there. “Awareness and education programmes need to be designed to make the public aware of their responsibility. Market and media have a big role to play in creating value chain and branding,” she says.
Right vision and approach
In addition to its ambitious ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme, the central government has introduced initiatives such as development of heritage circuits in nine states/UTs under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme, PRASAD scheme (Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive). Recently, Prahlad Singh Patel, minister of state (independent charge), ministry of tourism and culture, stressed on the participation of the private sector and government’s role as a catalyst. The government and policy makers are aware that tourism and culture can act as vehicles of employment generation, income growth, national integration and boosting international relations. A discussion on the issue was held in August this year, when the ministries of tourism and culture met at the 15th Finance Commission, headed by chairman NK Singh. The officials also discussed conservation policies, which need to promote local community’s stewardship toward the heritage as well as provide socio-economic benefits for local communities. Though the government’s efforts are in the right direction, comprehensive planning and policy-level interventions are required to encourage private participation. Nikhil Sahni, group president, strategic government advisory and government banking, Yes Bank, who has worked through nationwide cultural festivals, heritage walks and workshops, feels a repository of heritage tourism resources and projects needs to be created and supported by a dedicated ‘heritage fund’ for the upkeep of such resources.
“The state tourism policies should have a well-defined mechanism for private sector participation in heritage conservation. Players can join hands to create a pool of funds, which can support heritage development and conservation projects. The private sector can also be roped in for development of literature on monuments that are not well documented, sponsor skill-development training for local communities and training of guides in foreign languages. Other areas of intervention could be tourist amenities, information centres, signage, thematic development of vicinity, parking facilities, marketing support,” he says.
KK Muhammed, renowned Indian archaeologist and former regional director, north, ASI, says, “CSR funds must be channelised into developing meaningful tourist facilities at monuments.”
He stresses on the adaptive reuse of a monument — a process of retrofitting old buildings for new uses that allows structures to retain their historic integrity while meeting the needs of modern occupants — for organising heritage city shows, building lifestyle museums to showcase the communities of an era.
“This makes the monument very lively and a visitor can be transported to that era. We have heritage but not marketing skills,” says Muhammed, adding, “We must engage think tanks to build a larger domain of heritage wing for marketing. Also, there is a need to engage scholars and individuals willing to participate as tourist guides or get foreign visitors for excavation who are ready to stay in India for a month or so, charge a fee and bring them to Gaya or Nalanda to participate and gift them a certificate. This way we can accomplish the mission, get the money and do the marketing.”
Surabhi Gupta, director of Rasika Research & Design, associated with conservation projects in Delhi and Haryana, maintains that there is exciting scope to develop tourism around the centuries-old Harappan civilisation. “Right now, the authorities have only IAS officials and no field expert. It must be a combined effort of the bureaucrats, experts and public opinion. A large international centre with museum is part of the site in Rakhigarhi in Haryana . Why can’t a site like Rakhigarhi display artefacts to the world with joint initiatives of private players who can use their CSR funds,” she says. While the government is opening its doors to private players to help in heritage conservation, the agreements treat them more as contractors rather than partners. “This relationship needs to change so that better work can take place,” says Ahluwalia.
According to Singh, “Heritage preservation in India will lead to economic gains on multiple fronts — enhanced tourist footfall will directly contribute to the economy, the preservation process will create opportunities for the craftsmen to earn as well as use their traditional skills, which are often on the verge of dying. Heritage preservation is necessary for economic, aesthetic and social reasons.”
Heritage and tourism go hand-in-hand
United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) survey indicates that approximately 40% of international tourist in the world consist of cultural tourists.
Globally, historical cities are among the most-preferred tourist destinations. “India is blessed with a rich heritage dating back to the Indus Valley civilisation. We have 38 Unesco world heritage sites — sixth-highest globally — and countless other monuments, each with a fascinating story. These monuments and the vibrant culture are the face of Incredible India. It is imperative to preserve this heritage, not only for the associated economic value, but also to stay connected to our roots,” says Sahni.
Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khanan
However, heritage is not just about taking pride in developing city parks or inherent culture but is a simple way of life. “Heritage must become part of town planning process of every department (municipal bodies and urban development), and it must not concern only the tourism or culture authorities. Unfortunately, with the city’s fast developing pace, the old construction is losing its inherent charm and the havelis are being replaced by solid blocks of multi-storeyed commercial complexes. It is a net decrease in the quality of life due to degraded construction. A number of historic sites, where pieces of political, military, cultural or social history have been preserved, help in improving areas not only for tourists but also for better life of city people,” feels Liddle.
The message is clear. Since heritage conservation is done in adherence to the established Indian and international conservation principles, it provides a sense of identity to bring communities together through a shared understanding of history and culture.