Archaeological Survey of India May Be Reluctant To Give Information under RTI, but Hey the CAG Has Just Exposed Its Misdeeds!
Last week, the office of the comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG) tabled in Parliament, the audit report on the preservation and conservation of monuments, which exposes the archaeological survey of India (ASI), known to deny information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and rebuked by information commissioners.
 
Former central information commissioner (CIC) Prof Shridhar Acharyulu, in one of his orders, had stated that the ASI should voluntarily notify all information as per Section 4 of the RTI Act.
 
CAG, which conducted a performance audit of preservations and conservation of monuments and antiquities between November 2020 and March 2021, studied the action that has been taken on 25 recommendations made by the public accounts committee (PAC) way back in 2013. No prizes for guessing that ASI, which comes under the ministry of culture, has hardly implemented these recommendations, which include documentation of heritage structures and antiquities, public amenities at famous sites and corpus where corporates and public sector units (PSUs) have contributed, amongst others.
 
Some important observations by CAG include the following:
 
Out of 400,000 plus heritage structures and 5.8mn (million) plus antiquities, only 184,000 monuments and 1.68mn antiquities have been documented so far. For this, national mission on monuments and antiquities was launched by the government (in 2007) to prepare a national database of all monuments and antiquities in the country in five years. Its period was extended for another five years (2012-17) and later merged with ASI. 
 
Joint physical inspection of selected monuments, viz., world heritage sites, Adarsh and ticketed monuments, living monuments, baolis, and kos-minar revealed (i) absence of public amenities, viz., public toilet, drinking water, space for vehicle parking, ramp, guide, and security; and (ii) shortcomings in conservation works at monuments and management of heritage gardens.
 
The national culture fund (NCF), which was set up to involve corporates and PSUs to preserve heritage, helped raise the primary corpus of Rs19.50 crore to Rs76 crore by March 2021. However, the utilisation towards the objectives of NCF was less than 14% (Rs10.25 crore), which indicates absence of NCF’s coordination with ASI.
 
The instruction by PAC, to the ministry of culture and ASI, to fill up vacancies has not been done and employee strength continues to remain at a dismal 29%. The CAG report observes: “At management levels and in important conservation branches of ASI, the position had further deteriorated.”
 
Despite the ministry of culture intimating the PAC, of having increased the budget to 5% of its total budget for ASI’s expenditure on exploration and excavation activities, the budget has increased only by 1%.
 
As recommended by the PAC, ASI had revised its ticket and other charges for monuments and had included more monuments under the ticketed category. However, there were shortcomings in reconciliation and financial control mechanism. 
 
ASI was required to chalk out a long-term and medium-term strategy or road map for conservation activities so they are being undertaken on ad-hoc or annual basis.
 
The advisory board on archaeology, which is the apex body for ASI on matters relating to archaeology, is inactive since March 2018.
 
Discrepancies in the list of Centrally protected monuments and issues related with de-notification of missing monuments (as reported earlier) still exist, despite assurance that efforts would be made for their rectification.
 
At selected national level museums and site museums under ASI, concerns related to antiquity management, viz., non-formation of art purchase committees, shortcomings in acquisition, accession, verification, display and rotation of artefacts, their storage, preservation and security were noticed.
 
PAC (Report No.39 of 2016) had asked the ministry/ASI to draw an action plan under the excavation policy and ensure adequate allocation and effective utilisation of funds for these activities. It was noted that ASI had no action plan based on its exploration and excavation policy. ASI did not have a centralised information/monitoring system for displaying excavation proposals and their status. Writing of excavation reports was pending for more than 60 years. The expenditure on the exploration activities was less than 1%.
 
The jarring observations in the CAG report only go to prove that the present government, which waxes eloquent on India’s past glory at the drop of a hat, cares two hoots for the mute testimonies of that era. Pathetic!
 
To add further, in addition to ASI, national culture fund (NCF) and national monument authority (NMA) have also been established by the government to support the process of conservation and protection of monuments.
 
CAG audited the ministry of culture, ASI, NMA, NCF, national mission on monuments and antiquities and six national-level museums. Also, monuments, sites and offices of ASI of Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal were examined.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
 
Comments
r_ashok41
3 months ago
If one audits any govt dept in any state one fill find similar details with lot of manipulations for selfish benefits and PMLA .As mentioned by Kamal garg hardly any site is maintained .God only knows where all the money fot its upkeep goes .
Kamal Garg
3 months ago
No wonder most of our antiquities and other cultural, religious and heritage pieces/articles are often removed and found in foreign countries' markets, especially, when there is no data base of all the pieces/articles. Further, most of the ASI and cultural heritage structures remain in pitiable condition with complete disregard for public facilities/conveniences. On the other hand, look at the foreign heritage structures - they are so impeccably maintained/preserved and the country becomes proud of such heritage and cultural structures and we feel ashamed of. How many Indians visit such heritage sites - pathetically low - only because the upkeep/maintainance/public conveniences are so poor and sometimes even horrible.
deepak.narain
3 months ago
Govt need to consider the reasons for such dismal performance and take strict remedial measures.
saharaaj
3 months ago
when Govt cherry picks lzy dolts this outcome . wonder if conducted audit to see if Roster staff is present
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