And so, matters move ahead by way of heritage legislation. The State Government piloted last week in the legislative assembly the Tamil Nadu Heritage Commission Bill, 2012. The primary aim is to constitute a Heritage Commission in the State for protecting the “buildings or premises not covered under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 and the Tamil Nadu Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1966.” It is a positive development for all concerned with heritage and it is to be hoped that it will reach its logical conclusion of a Heritage Act that will protect a set of notified monuments across the State.
For those who have already begun celebrating, let us add by way of abundant caution that this is yet only a Bill and not an Act. It needs to be passed by the Assembly for it to enter the statute book. However, it cannot be faulted on intent. It aims to establish a Heritage Commission with a detailed mandate (refer box) which includes the creation of a list of heritage buildings across the State which will ultimately be protected by an Act. In other words, when this Commission fulfils its objectives, heritage activists will have a law on the basis of which any demolition can be challenged.
From a glimpse of the proposed Bill, it is clear that much will depend on the composition of the Commission. We have the recent example of the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) of the CMDA whose functioning was not in many ways up to the mark. Peopled as it largely was with Government representatives, it went about its task in a markedly bureaucratic fashion. The resultant slowness saw several of the mandates of the Committee not being fulfilled. Several of the listed buildings were demolished and yet no action could be or was taken. And in instances such as the fire at Chepauk Palace, the Committee’s silence was deafening, to say the least.
What is interesting to note is that the proposed Commission is to have a composition that is not in any way different from that of the earlier HCC. And on an aside, it is also not clear as to what the standing of the HCC will be once the Commission comes into the picture. But, to revert to the subject of its membership, the Commission is once again proposed to be largely peopled with Government appointees. And with that being so, will there be quick action?
The HCC had a relatively simpler task – of listing the heritage structures within Chennai and here too its task was made easier by the presence of the Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee list. Yet it could not make much progress. Can the new Commission be more successful with a more difficult agenda – listing and protecting buildings across the entire State? And let us face it, monuments in the mofussil are faced with greater and more immediate threats than those in the city where greater awareness and publicity ensure a modicum of protection.
What is, therefore, needed to make the proposed Commission more effective is to change its composition. It needs to get more independent heritage activists on board. A whole host of NGOs across the State are involved in heritage conservation. Some of them need to get representation. The Commission also needs to broaden its base by forming Heritage Sub-Committees in each of the Districts. These must be given the task of preparing lists and recommending structures worthy of protection. The ultimate decision on which of these will make it to the protected list will, of course, rest with the Commission in Chennai, which will also focus on matters of policy. Once the policy is laid down, the task of implementing it must also be passed on to the Sub-Committees. It is only under these circumstances that the formulation of the Heritage Act and its implementation will both be successful.
India has sufficient laws. It largely fails only in implementation. Can this Heritage Commission and its resultant Act be different from the start and aim for effective implementation?
The Heritage Commission’s mandate
The Commission will be responsible for:
a. Preparing a classification of buildings in certain grades, after due scrutiny of applications
b. Advising the Government on any alteration, modification or relaxation of any law for development, control and conservation of any heritage building
c. Deciding on whether heritage buildings can be used for commercial purposes
d. Framing special regulations for listed heritage buildings
e. Advising Government on guidelines for private parties sponsoring beautification schemes
f. Deciding on penal measures for defacing or destroying a building
g. Advising Government on provision for restoration of buildings and documentation of records concerning heritage buildings
h. Helping in gauging public opinion on efforts for creating awareness, preserving and maintaining heritage
i. Advising local authorities on the policy of granting development rights for any heritage building
j. Regulating the installation of advertising and displays near heritage buildings
k. Advising on the costs of repair and the modes of fund generation for the same
l. Finalising special designs and guidelines for heritage buildings
m. Deciding on incentives by way of rates, taxes and fees as well as water charges for heritage structures