The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Leash on heritage landsharks
- New law turns civic bodies into preservers of historic sites

Concerned over promoters grabbing heritage sites, especially in the city proper, the government has framed a new set of rules.

The West Bengal Municipal Corporation Rules, 2003, passed in the budget session, draws all municipalities and civic bodies into a heritage preservation committee. The eight-member committee will be headed by the chairman of the municipality concerned. The other members include a nominee of the district magistrate, an official from the department of archaeology, one eminent architect, an artist of repute, an environmentalist, a historian and an engineer from any development authority.

The committee will work under supervision of the state heritage commission. It will submit reports on a regular basis to the commission on the status of heritage properties in the area.

“The committee will locate heritage sites in its area, on the basis of local and historical evidence. The other functions include maintenance of the site, drawing up development plans to turn it into a tourist spot and making efforts to recover properties that have already been transferred or sold illegally,’’ officials said.

The committees have been set up after rampant allegations about promoters grabbing heritage spots. Officials claim more than 50 heritage sites have either been taken over by promoters or turned into housing estates in areas like Cossipore, Baranagar, Panihati, Barrackpore, Sovabazar, Howrah, Serampore and Chandernagore.

“The Heritage Preservation Act prevents any construction demolishing the existing structure. That apart, no heritage site can be sold nor used otherwise without prior permission of the government. We have framed the new rules to maintain a strict vigil on heritage properties,’’ said urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya. He said heritage sites could be turned into tourist draws. “We welcome business houses or individuals coming forward for heritage preservation. We shall provide all assistance,’’ he added.

Appreciating the move, heritage commission chairman Pratap Chandra Chunder said the government would have to take more effective steps to maintain historic properties. “Formation of committees is not a solution. All agencies, including the civic bodies, will have to make serious efforts to prevent heritage properties from being sold,’’ Chunder said.

“Our state is full of historic sites. We have lost some of them to landsharks.The heritage commission is making all efforts to prevent transfer of heritage properties,’’ said commission secretary Nisith Som.

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