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Heritage purse stuffed with apathy

Ranchi, Feb. 5: Many Jharkhand’s historical sites have withstood the sands of time, but may prove unequal to the twin onslaughts of an inept state government and an indifferent conservation custodian Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach).

Under the 13th Finance Commission, the Centre released Rs 100 crore four years ago to conserve 26 heritage sites of historic importance in Jharkhand. So far, less than 6 per cent of it is accounted for, while the state is in danger of losing what it can’t utilise before April 1, 2015, when the tenure of the 14th Finance Commission starts.

Of the 26 projects (see box), only two are in some shape, but with riders. The Rs 5-crore conservation work on Audrey House, Ranchi, is ongoing, but it was a 12th Finance Commission project that was squeezed into the 13th one. For the other one, Pithoria Mosque, on the capital outskirts, paperwork has been cleared but tenders for actual work have not been floated.

Delhi-headquartered Intach, established in 1984, has built a towering reputation as a conservator of heritage sites in India.

But in Jharkhand, its CV looks botched up, because after being appointed by the state art and culture department four years ago, the agency allegedly bungled the basic job of drafting proper DPRs.

But art and culture and building construction departments — responsible for administrative and technical sanctions, respectively — were not in a hurry to mend matters either.

According to procedure, Intach is supposed to prepare a detailed project report (DPR) for each project, table them before building construction department for a technical sanction, after which it would get an administrative sanction from the art and culture department. Then, the latter will float a tender for the actual work, which Intach experts will supervise.

DPRs for seven sites were placed but state building construction department, authorised to provide technical sanctions, rubbished them citing many flaws. The “amateur DPRs” included those of important sites such as Raj Mahal, Telaigarhi Fort and Mundro Hills in Sahebganj, ASI sites of Barhet in Santhal Pargana and Palamau Fort.

On why the DPRs were not approved, an official who did not want to come on quote said the technical cell of building construction department didn’t approve them as they “were vague”.

Many reports didn’t have proper drawings or detailed budget estimates with proper reasons behind the funds demanded, he said.

However, Divay Gupta, Intach principal director, architectural heritage division, posted in New Delhi, had a different take on the DPR rejections. “According to my understanding, people in the building construction department or PWD aren’t used to evaluating our kind of plans. They are more into civil works and construction of modern buildings, bridges, among others,” he said.

Asked why Intach, doing well in conservation activities across India, put up a poor show in Jharkhand, a state art and culture department bureaucrat said this was because the agency did not have an office in Ranchi to facilitate on-the-spot trouble-shooting.

State departments seem equally laid-back. A month and a half ago, the DPR for Pithoria Mosque got technical sanction, which means state art and culture department can now accept it and invite tenders or authorise the building construction department to do so.

Cash modalities have been finalised — of the Rs 66-lakh budget, conservation will cost Rs 60 lakh, while Rs 6 lakh will go towards Intach’s consultation fee. But when the work will begin is anybody’s guess, as no tender has been floated.

Art and culture secretary Vandana Dadel couldn’t be contacted despite repeated attempts. No one wants to openly admit that Intach is giving Jharkhand step-motherly treatment, probably because the agency has garnered kudos everywhere.

Realising that only 14 months are left to utilise over Rs 94 crore on conservation, the state is in damage control mode. Deputy director of art and culture department (archaeology) Amitabh Kumar said they were trying to get DPRs prepared by Intach as soon as possible.

“We will come up with a special committee with experts to oversee Intach’s work so that before it goes for technical sanction to building construction, it gets passed by art and culture department,” said an official, refusing to be named.

Those in the know don’t seem convinced. “It will be distressing if we lose out on so much money due to our inability to use them for conservation. But conservation isn’t the state’s top priority. Bihar demanded Rs 400 crore for art and culture conservation from the 14th Finance Commission but Jharkhand hasn’t asked for a penny,” S.D. Singh, a heritage conservationist, said.