[Answered] Is the ASI equipped to protect national monuments, or does it hinder the process? Provide reasons for your arguments.

Introduction: Contextual introduction.

Body: Explain significance of ASI. Also write some issues with its functioning.

Conclusion: Write a way forward.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), under the Ministry of Culture, is the premier organization for the archaeological researches and protection of the cultural heritage of the nation.

ASI is the successor of The Asiatic Society of India. It was founded in its current form in 1861 by Sir Alexander Cunningham with the help of the then Viceroy Canning.

Significance of ASI:

  • It regulates all the archaeological activities in the country as per the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (AMASR Act).
  • The iconic monuments in India, Taj Mahal, Ajanta Caves, The Great Stupa at Sanchi and the Sun Temple of Konark, among others are designated as “ancient monuments of national importance” and protected under the AMASR Act.
  • It also regulates Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972. For the maintenance of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance the entire country is divided into 24 circles.

Issues:

  • CAG in its 2013 Report on ‘Performance Audit of Preservation and Conservation of Monuments and Antiquities’, had reported that 92 monuments are missing.
  • The ASI lacks in enforcement powerssuch as in the Forest Act which could empower it to act against those encroaching at protested sites.
  • Encroachments and illegal constructionclose to the monuments were happening on a large-scale and ASI has to depend on law enforcement authorities to remove encroachments.
  • Not clear distinction between the prohibited and regulated areas. There are many public works and development projects which are stopped due to the AMASR Act’s blanket ban on constructions.
  • The ASI budget for exploration and excavations is less than 1 percent of the total budget.
  • ASI, in many cases, has been working in violation of the provisions of the Monuments (AMASR) Act. At Humayun’s tomb, a CAG inspection revealed commercial construction being undertaken in the prohibited area.
  • The poor state of conservation at ASI-protected sites and the lack of follow-up.

ASI has to adopt more innovative investigative, interrogative and conservation methods. It has to decentralise its activities and work with local bodies – academic, governmental, etc. – to protect monuments better and, equally importantly, increase awareness at the grassroots.

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