The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 is one of the landmark laws for the preservation of ancient and historical monuments. This episode brings its legislative journey and its impact in safeguarding the cultural heritage.
The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (or AMASR Act) is an act of parliament of the government of India that provides for the preservation of ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance, for the regulation of archaeological excavations and for the protection of sculptures, carvings and other like objects. It was passed in 1958. The Archaeological Survey of India functions under the provisions of this act.
Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains act 1958, was amended in 2010 to strengthen its penal provisions, to prevent Encroachments and illegal construction close to the monuments- which was happening on a large scale. As a result of the increased pressure of habitation, especially in urban areas, protected monuments and sites were getting hemmed in from all sides. This affected their safety, security and aesthetics.
The main features of the amendments were the creation of a “prohibited area” 100 meter around every national monument where no construction, public or private is permitted, “regulated area” 200 meter beyond the prohibited area, where any construction requires permission of a newly constituted National Monuments Authority. Given the unique nature of each monument, the Act also proposed heritage bye-laws for each monument to be prepared by an expert body.
The UPA government’s decision to designate a 100-metre prohibited perimeter around every monument was upheld by the Supreme Court of India.
- Construction in ‘prohibited areas’: The Act defines a ‘prohibited area’ as an area of 100 meters around a protected monument or area. The central government can extend the prohibited area beyond 100 meters. The Act does not permit construction in such prohibited areas, except under certain conditions. The Act also prohibits construction in ‘prohibited areas’ even if it is for public purposes.
- The Bill amends this provision to permit construction of public works in ‘prohibited areas’ for public purposes.
- Definition of ‘public works’: The Bill introduces a definition for ‘public works’, which includes the construction of any infrastructure that is financed and carried out by the central government for public purposes. This infrastructure must be necessary for public safety and security and must be based on a specific instance of danger to public safety. Also, there should be no reasonable alternative to carrying out construction in the prohibited area.
- Procedure for seeking permission for public works: As per the Bill, the relevant central government department, that seeks to carry out construction for public purposes in a prohibited area, should make an application to the competent authority.
- If there is any question related to whether a construction project qualifies as ‘public works’, it will be referred to the National Monuments Authority. This Authority, will make its recommendations, with written reasons, to the central government. The decision of the central government will be final.
- If the decision of the central government differs from that of the Authority, it should record its reasons in writing.
- This decision should be communicated by the competent authority, to the applicant, within 10 days of receiving it.
- Impact assessment of proposed public works: The Bill empowers the National Monuments Authority to consider an impact assessment of the proposed public works in a prohibited area, including its (i) archaeological impact; (ii) visual impact; and (iii) heritage impact.
- The Authority will make a recommendation, for construction of public works to the central government, only if it is satisfied that there is no reasonable possibility of moving the construction outside the prohibited area.
The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites Remains Act, 1958 (as amended in the year 2010) prohibits grant of any permission for new construction within the prohibited area of a centrally protected monument/ site.
- Prohibition of new construction within prohibited area is adversely impacting various public works and developmental projects of the Central Government.
- The amendment will pave way for certain constructions limited strictly to public works and projects essential to public within the prohibited area and benefit the public at large.
- This amendment would incentivize development activities making communication and transportation easier. Present prohibition has restricted such development activities amending which would facilitate constructions.
A 2013 report by CAG said that about 1/3rd of the National Monuments of the country have been encroached upon and a majority of them were poorly guarded due to the lack of manpower.
- The monuments which are already deteriorating due to pollution, human interference and development activities around are further put under direct threat with the proposed changes.
- Public works by central government are executed more often than other small infrastructure projects which may even cause disturbance to tourism.
- The construction methods and tools may cause great loss to some architecturally and structurally weak monuments, viz. vibrations, particulate pollutants.
- It will give people the wrong message of govt. giving priority to development over environment, deterring the public from being conscious about the environment.
In a developing country like India, transportation & communication facilities are essential for the development of the society as a whole. Development along with the lowest adverse impact on the cultural heritage and environment should be the aim of govt. As there is a large untapped potential of tourism in India, govt. should adopt balanced approach towards development and monument preservation. Development should not occur at the cost of our heritage- cultural or environmental.