50 ASI-protected monuments disappear: How did they go ‘missing’, what happens next

Source: The post is based on the article “50 ASI-protected monuments disappear: How did they go ‘missing’, what happens next” published in Indian Express on 4th January 2023

What is the News?

According to a submission made in Parliament by the Ministry of Culture, as many as 50 of India’s 3,693 centrally protected monuments are missing.

What are centrally protected monuments?

The centrally protected monuments are sites which have been declared so under the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (AMASR Act).

The AMASR Act regulates the preservation of monuments and archaeological sites of national and historical importance that are more than 100 years old.

Under the act, the conservation, preservation and environmental development of the protected monuments are undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India(ASI).

How can a monument go missing?

Archaeological Survey of India(ASI) was founded in 1861 by Alexander Cunningham when he realized the need for a permanent body to oversee archaeological excavations and conservation. But the body remained largely dysfunctional in the 19th century owing to the fund crunch.

Even after independence, the focus of successive governments was to uncover more monuments and sites instead of conservation. 

So in due course, many monuments and sites were lost to activities like urbanization, construction of dams and reservoirs, and even encroachment

For instance, as per the ASI submission in Parliament, 14 monuments have been lost to rapid urbanization, 12 are submerged by reservoirs/dams, and 24 are untraceable which brings the number of missing monuments to 50.

Is this the first time monuments have been reported missing?

As per ASI officials, a comprehensive physical survey of all monuments has never been conducted after Independence.

However, in 2013, a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report said that at least 92 centrally protected monuments across the country had gone missing. Out of these 92 monuments, 42 have been identified due to efforts made by the ASI.

The CAG report also said that the ASI did not have reliable information on the exact number of monuments under its protection. It recommended that periodic inspections of each protected monument be carried out by a suitably ranked officer.

What is the process of deleting the lost/untraceable monuments from the protected list?

The deletion requires denotification of the said monument under Section 35 of the AMASR Act, which happens to be a long-drawn process.

Hence, the Parliamentary Committee recommended that the untraceable monuments may not be removed from the list, because once that is done, there would be no imperative to find them.

Instead, the committee recommended that the list of Untraceable Monuments may be maintained as such and if necessary, the AMASR Act be amended to include this terminology.

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