November 08, 2011

Heritage panel gets no members

Heritage panel gets no members
- Posts vacant after over a year

New Delhi, Nov. 8: The government has not yet found suitable candidates for the National Monument Authority, the lone central watchdog for over 3,600 structures, even a year-and-a-half after an amended law made clearance from the body compulsory for constructions near protected sites.

With none still appointed as members of the authority, nearly 1,500 applications for projects, some of them government schemes, are pending, officials said.

Parliament had passed the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010, in March last year. In October 2010, the culture ministry put out an advertisement for applications from prospective candidates for the authority, which will have five permanent and five part-time members. The ministry is also looking for an “eminent” cultural personality to head the body.

The ad also mentioned that anyone who has held any post in the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) or the culture ministry in either the Union government or a state wouldn’t be able to apply, though it wasn’t clear why.

Nor would anyone who had an interest in monuments or had a relative who was interested in the subject. The advertisement specified that sibling’s spouse would come under the definition of “relative”.

It wasn’t clear, too, whether other government officials, serving or retired, were also barred from applying.

The ministry, however, offered attractive emoluments for the posts and, by January this year, it had received 163 applications. But there has been no progress, though 10 months have passed since.

In August, culture minister Kumari Selja told Parliament during the monsoon session that the authority would be notified as soon as the first whole-time or part-time member was appointed from among professionals shortlisted. “This is a time-consuming process in view of several sequential steps that need to be taken,” she said in a written reply.

The ministry claims it is in an advanced stage of deciding on the candidates. “We had shortlisted the candidates and the list is currently with the appointments committee of the cabinet. Once we get the green signal, we can do the rest,” said the authority’s member secretary P.K. Srivastava.

The official said three names had been sent to the appointments committee — one for a permanent member and two for part-time members.

The authority will be the only central watchdog for 3,675 ASI-protected monuments. It will also be responsible for framing site-specific bylaws to check unregulated constructions near these structures.

The 2010 amendment says “no permission, including carrying out of any public work, shall be granted in any prohibited area on or after the date on which the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2010, receives the assent of the President”.

As the act has come into force, any construction close to the protected monuments has to be cleared by the authority. But as no one has been appointed as members yet, nearly 1,500 applications are pending. A senior official, however, said that most of the applications seeking clearance were for private constructions. “Not many government projects are pending,” the official added.

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