The Hindustan Times editorial ‘Allowing constructions around protected monuments could wreak havoc on historical sites’, published on January 8, 2018, is a critical but vaguely written piece on the amendment to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, or AMSAR Act, which was passed by the Lok Sabha last week. The editorial goes on to say that construction around historical monuments will affect them and that the need of the hour is to ensure that development projects, modern infrastructure and the interests of builders are not allowed to play havoc with buildings of historical importance.
The editorial, however, does not elaborate as to how the present amendment changes that or how it appears to benefit builders. It seems hardwired to protect the amendment to the act in 2010, which prohibited any construction around 100 metres of a historical building or place.
Why the Amendment?
The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites Remains Act, 1958, amended in 2010, prohibits the grant of permission for new construction within the prohibited area of a Centrally protected monument. But it was seen that this prohibition on new construction within the prohibited area was adversely impacting various public works and development projects.
The problem is more acute in cities like Delhi, which boasts historical monuments across its expanse. Therefore, a need for such an amendment was felt to pave the way for certain constructions but limited strictly to public works and projects essential to the public.
Understanding the Amendment
To understand what changes were brought in, we need to look at the following amendments that were approved by the Union Cabinet (images are excerpts from the amendment):
- Insertion of a new definition of “public works” in Section 2 of the AMSAR Act:
- Amendment to Section 20A of the AMSAR Act, so as to allow any Department or Office of the Central Government to carry out public works in the prohibited area after obtaining permission from the Central Government.
- Insertion of a new clause (ea) to section 20-I of the principal Act:
If we carefully read the amendments made, it becomes clear that the intention behind the same is not to allow private construction of any sort around the building. It is strictly limited to public works which are considered absolutely essential.
The amendment to Section 20-I (the second image above) clearly states that if any public facility built in the prohibited area infringes with the monument, no recommendation can be made for it unless the concerned authority is convinced that there is no possibility or viable alternative beyond the limits of the prohibited area.
Hence, it appears that there is little room for arguing that the amendment will damage the monuments in any manner. Also, if such a possibility arises, there are provisions in place to check and/ or prohibit the same.
Perhaps Hindustan Times should recall how previous governments used to get away with allowing the construction of hotels and restaurants in the very vicinity of an archaeological site (Hauz Khas Village in Delhi for example, which has been under the High Court’s lens). The amendment here seems to do a sustainable job at protecting monuments and, at the same time, in making sure that laws protecting them do not unnecessarily hinder the addressing of human needs.
Preserving and Protecting Monuments