The latest Union Budget includes a provision for Rs. 200 crore to be spent on a statue for a great leader of the past. We do not have anything to say on that beyond wondering whether the Iron Man of India would have wanted such amounts to be spent on his deification. The same budget also has provision for Rs 200 crore to be spent under the rather oddly named National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana, which is abbreviated for some reason to HRIDAY. This is praiseworthy. But the amount is to be shared by six cities – Mathura, Gaya, Amritsar, Ajmer, Velankanni and Kanchipuram – that comes to Rs 33 Crores per city. In other words – Rs. 200 crore for one statue, Rs. 33 crore for each of the historic cities that need support! That essentially sums up the importance given to heritage in our country.
There are plenty of other examples within the country and closer home as well. The newspapers carried a story recently about the historic Town Hall in Shimla, which is to be restored at a cost of Rs. 8 crore, out of which Rs. 6 crore was to come from the Asian Development Bank. In Chennai, the VP Hall restoration project, which is dragging on interminably has a budget of Rs. 3 crore. Ripon Building, another structure that is undergoing restoration, has a budget of Rs. 7.7 crore. Here again, the bulk of the funds has come from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The National Art Gallery in the Museum complex has had Rs. 11 crore allocated for its restoration, though work on it has not yet begun. Given that the latest budget has established Rs. 100 crore as the lowest denomination for projects, most of our heritage requirements appear to be measly. And given that the amounts needed for restoration are so small, why make such a song and dance stage show about their allocation when they can be handed out across the table? After all, the disbursal of such small amounts probably falls within the purview of lower level bureaucrats.
Now that we have established that what is required for heritage restoration is infinitesimally small compared to what is needed for new grandiose new developments, can we hope for faster allocation of funds? And if at all money is still a constraint, why can’t the Government rope in private sector participation or public subscription for heritage restoration? Our city has already established such a trend with the Senate House project that took place in 2006/2007. Old students, corporate bodies and foundations donated to the cause and the work was undertaken quickly. That despite its satisfactory renovation, the building was not put to the use that was promised was due to petty university politics is another matter altogether.
Perhaps it is time for the Government to throw open conservation of heritage buildings in its control to private participation. This is the practice all over the world. With Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) norms becoming more generous, companies will be more than willing to contribute for such projects. And the figures that we are talking about are not much. Such an exercise will not only speed up restoration, it will also make corporate houses or other institutions think twice before demolishing heritage properties that they themselves own.