CHENNAI: The Madras High Court has suggested to the State government to create a trained conservation engineering panel to protect ancient temples and other heritage structures and monuments in the State.
The first bench of Chief Justice SK Kaul and Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana gave the suggestion during a suo-motu PIL proceedings initiated following media reports highlighting improper renovation works being undertaken in temples.
Though India is fortunate to have an ancient civilization and heritage, the country does not have a special legislation to protect its heritage structures even after 38 years of becoming a signatory to UNESCO’s world heritage convention, the bench bemoaned.
“A large number of monuments are stated to be unprotected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) or state governments, without a comprehensive list of their sites, despite the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention, having been ratified by India in 1977,” the bench noted.
Earlier, the court has constituted a committee, headed by senior advocate PS Raman, as the amicus curiae. The panel had already submitted two interim reports. Rangarajan Narasimhan of Trichy has also filed a separate PIL on this issue.
Though a National Commission for the Heritage Sites Bill was introduced in 2009, nothing has come of it, the bench rued. As regards the status of ancient temples in Tamil Nadu, as reported by the amicus curiae, the judges said that if repairs and renovation works are allowed to go on ignoring essentials, then there is every possibility of more destruction rather than repair and renovation.
In the light of the fact that the government and its departments lacked expertise to do works on ancient structures, the judges said that they must consider the suggestions made by historian R Nagaswamy, who had called for the settign up of a trained conservation engineering corps.
Indian Institute Technology-Madras (IIT-M) too could be involved, the court said and added that with the assistance of UNESCO international conservationists with relevant expertise and equipment, should also be roped in.
Till such a mechanism is evolved, only urgent repairs should be done on ancient temples, the bench said, adding: “Dr Nagaswamy’s report refers to the incalculable harm being done in the process of renovation of inscriptions on the walls and pillars of temples.”
Referring to the tendency to break mandapams and sculptures, the expert had said damage was being caused by sand and waterblasting, reflooring and replacing old woodwork by new woodwork and mural painting,” the judges further pointed out.
It would be interesting to note that the bench had already stayed largescale renovation and reconstruction works in ancient temples, after the fact that at least three heritage temples, including one more than 400 years old, were completely demolished by the authorities concerned on the ill-advice of HR&CE consultant-conservationist KT Narasimhan that they were not auspicious for the area where they were located. This order had already saved a 700-year-old Rasa Kovil at Vellode in Erode district, which had been earmarked for demolition by the HR&CE department.