New Delhi, Aug. 24: Shoddy proposals by consultants have been held responsible for the failure of Majuli island and other heritage sites to get the coveted Unesco World Heritage Site tag, according to the latest comptroller and auditor-general (CAG) report.
The report has lashed out at Archaeological Survey of India for hiring consultants at an exorbitant rate to help obtain the World Heritage tag for Indian monuments.
The list of sites, which lost out in the race despite having private consultants to work on their nomination dossier, includes Majuli in Assam and Santiniketan in West Bengal. Of these, 19 monuments are under ASI protection. Majuli has been vying for the World Heritage tag since 2004.
India has only 30 sites in the World Heritage List. Of the 30 inscribed sites, 24 are cultural monuments and six are natural sites.
Unesco had begun the practice of labelling monuments as World Heritage sites since 1972 to ensure better monitoring.
India has submitted 53 proposals to Unesco from 1972 till last year. Till 1993, the ASI has obtained 16 inscriptions. It had prepared all the 16 dossiers for these monuments.
The CAG report notes that once ASI started hiring independent consultants to do the job, fewer sites got the coveted status.
“With an increased use of consultants, we also noticed a steady decline in acceptance of proposals. We observed that during the last five years from 2007-12, the ASI had submitted only three proposals, none of which were accepted. Of these, two were outsourced to consultants at a cost of Rs 79.8 lakh,” the report said.
The report also noted a lack of transparency in selection of consultants.
“Our scrutiny revealed lack of transparency, tendering irregularities and undue favours to consultants,” the report states.
According to the CAG report in 2004, two consultants were assigned the work. In 2008 the work was given to Poonam Thakur and Rohit Jigyasu at a cost of Rs 16.84 lakh.
In 2012, Suryanarayan Murthy was assigned the work for Rs 28 lakh.
“The three proposals were respectively referred for additional information and were found technically incomplete by the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which evaluates the nominated sites,” the report says.
The site has not been inscribed till now.
“In all the three cases, the consultants who had prepared the dossier were not held responsible for the rejection,” the CAG report says.
S.I. Hussain, the Upper Assam commissioner based in Jorhat who is also the chief executive officer of the Majuli Cultural Landscape Management Authority, has blamed the ASI for not taking the Assam government into confidence while outsourcing the preparation of dossiers on Majuli to consultants from outside the state.
“Even Murthy’s dossier was accepted without the ASI pointing out the defects in January 2012. However, ICOMOS has not totally rejected the dossier but has made four observations, which need to be rectified. Two are clerical omissions, which are not that important, but the other two pertain to technicalities and need to be worked on. Though the state has written to the ASI about the revision of the dossier, there has not been any response from their end,” he said.
Similarly, in May 2009, historian Abha Narain Lambah and architect Manish Chakravorty were asked to prepare the nomination dossier for Santiniketan.
The CAG report notes that for hiring the consultants instead of open tendering, limited quotes were called from eight consultants.
The nomination was submitted in January 2010 to Unesco but the council pointed out various loopholes in the proposal.
Another site which is yet to be inscribed, is Harappa, on which the government has spent Rs 65 lakh. But it had not made it to the World Heritage List.
From 2008, onwards Unesco made it compulsory that all existing World Heritage Sites should have a site management plan, a document that gives a holistic perspective on conservation and management of the site.
“We found that the site management plans were poorly prepared and could not be implemented,” the CAG report states.