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Vol. XXXII No. 18, January 1-15, 2023

Why TN continues to dither on its Heritage Act

-- by The Editor

The Hindu on December 27, 2022, carried an interesting article on how the Telengana State Government, while it has been doing its bit for heritage conservation in fits and starts, lacks a holistic vision and a plan for what it wants to do with its past. The article pointed out that despite five years having gone by since the Government there passed a Heritage Act, very little action had resulted. What are we to say then about the Tamil Nadu Government, which NINE years after passing its heritage act is yet to do anything about it?

Known as the Tamil Nadu Heritage Commission Act of 2012, it was Act 24 of that year and, having been passed by the Legislative Assembly, it received the Governor’s consent on May 31, 2012. Conceptually, it was a step in the right direction and on the lines of what conservationists had been asking for. It recognised the fact that there were several historic buildings in the State outside the purview of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Acts of the Centre (enacted in 1958) and the State (1966). It specifically aimed to establish a “Statutory Authority to advise in the matters relating to identification, restoration and preservation of heritage buildings and in the matters relating to the development and engineering operations which are likely to affect any heritage building.” It then aimed to create a Heritage Commission, which would fulfil these responsibilities. All very well on paper except that the Statutory Authority never was established. Neither did a Heritage Commission come into existence.

What is interesting is that since then, the Government’s track record as far as heritage is concerned, has certainly improved. Buildings have been receiving due attention and the old cliches of colonial legacy have not been trotted out as reasons as to why a structure need not be preserved. The last budget saw funds being allotted for the restoration of some important buildings across the State. But what is lacking is a cogent policy and a listing of heritage structures across the State, both of which would greatly help if heritage activists were to bring to the notice of the authorities instances of neglect. It would also deter owners of heritage properties from demolishing, defacing, or altering the edifices in their possession. Most importantly, there would be clear guidelines on what can be done by way of restoration or alteration. Eventually, there needs to be clear cut rewards or benefits accruing to those who preserve the heritage in their possession.

Throughout India, States are working towards getting heritage precincts in their possession listed under UNESCO’s roster of monuments. Maharashtra, and in particular capital city Mumbai has shown the way with VT (Chatrapati Sivaji Terminus) and the art deco districts being declared thus. Kolkata too has had its Durga Puja recognised with the UNESCO tag. Chennai has thus far none. It is surprising that Tamil Nadu, which was one of the earliest states of India to get several of its ancient monuments so recognised, has not been able to repeat that feat with even one of its medieval or colonial precincts and structures. Having a working Heritage Commission would have greatly helped in that direction.

As a State that claims to be in the forefront of modern thought, TN needs to understand that preserving heritage and taking it along on the journey of progress is one of the clear markers of the new age. Heritage preserved, no matter of what kind it is, is important if we are to remain rooted, even as we grow and evolve.

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