New Delhi: Can a monument in the national capital not be adopted for upkeep by a politician? Can an MLA or MP area fund not be spent on restoring a city landmark? Can development not be brought by balancing heritage with economic growth?
These are some of the questions that custodians of Indian culture, experts and enthusiasts from the field are raising this Delhi elections, while asking parties to go beyond the "vote-catching" 'bijli-pani-sadak' poll plank and also talk about heritage and its preservation during the electioneering process.
"Heritage doesn't really even find a space in a political manifesto of any party for obvious reasons, it doesn't get them votes. And, politicians, anyway know that it is neither of any interest to the society, so why make it a poll issue," Convener, INTACH Delhi Chapter AGK Menon said.
A team of UNESCO last year visited Delhi to examine its claim of becoming a world heritage city. Under Menon's guidance the INTACH, on behalf of the Delhi government, had prepared a dossier that was sent to the UNESCO in pursuance of the coveted tag.
"It was difficult convincing the policy-makers to go for the tag, as there is a subliminal feeling that heritage is anti-development. Politician see new constructions as growth and presence of old structures as necessarily an impediment to that growth.
"And, hence heritage doesn't become a rallying point, like electricity, water and roads do, while wooing their voters," Menon told PTI.
ASI Delhi Circle's Superintending Archaeologist, Vasant Swarankar also rues the "traditional absence" of heritage- related action plans in party manifestos and poll processes, "elections after elections."
"All MLAs and MPs get area funds for development. While they do spend it, if they do, on basic development work in their constituencies, but one never hears them pledging fund for restoring an old library or a public hall or a colonial-era school or hospital in their region, do we" Swarankar asked.
"I think it should be made mandatory for all MLAs and MPs to spend at least 5 per cent of their area funds on heritage- related projects," he said.
Swarankar said, "They (MLA/MPs) could also adopt a
monument or two, especially the small and neglected ones, as per ASI's scheme, like they adopt a village in their constituencies".
Delhi has about 1,200 monuments including over 170 under the ASI, Delhi Circle. The Delhi State Archaeology also has some heritage sites under its purview. A large number of monuments in the capital are also unprotected.
As per Centre's Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY), each MP adopts a village to work towards making it a "model village" through bringing development there.
On the 'adopt-a-monument' scheme, sources at ASI said, "We get requests from many corporate houses, PSUs to avail such provisions. But, they only want to adopt famous monuments like Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Jantar Mantar, which already get enough attention. And, moreso, they do so mainly for tax exemptions and for self-advertisement only. This is where politicians could play an active role".
Most experts agreed that party manifestos essentially carry "banal promises" on heritage front with "no action plans", short-term or long-term.
While BJP has only released its "vision document" and not its manifesto so far, AAP in its 70-point action plan released a few days ago, does not mention anything about heritage.
As part of preserving heritage and culture, AAP speaks of enhancing the Delhi Public Library network and about creating a public library or community-reading space in every constituency of Delhi.
Congress in its manifesto too talks of civic issues, roads, bridges and hospitals only, except for establishing a museum at Dara Shikoh Library and a Delhi Museum at Kashmere Gate.
Menon said that the new AAP party could have "stolen a lead over its rivals, if they had talked of heritage issues of Delhi as vocally as they had talked about water and electricity. But, I think they squandered the opportunity."
Former ASI Delhi Circle chief KK Muhammed said, "With so much of concrete invasions into the city's fabric, how does one save the heritage. Only, policies can change the scenario, not poll-time promises we are hearing."
Kanika Singh, who conducts the popular Delhi Heritage Walk in the capital, says, "Heritage may not be on politician's agenda but memorials are".
"They may take absolutely no interest in revival of existing heritage but they will revive old memories and create demands for memorials, just to garner a particular community's votes.
"All the noise about Shivaji's statue in Arabian Sea or Sardar Vallabbhai Patel's in Gujarat, all the money gets wasted on such structures, while old heritage continues to suffer," Kanika said.
"Community is the best custodian of the heritage and our politicians should just empower them and work towards making environment conducive for their protection," she said.
Debashish Nayak, Director, Centre for Heritage Management, Ahmedabad University, who devoted his life saving the heritage 'pols' (haveli neighbourhood) in Ahhmedabad and engaged the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to open a heritage cell in it, says, "only educating people will lead to a solution".