India's monumental problems

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 1995, 12:00am

THE Archeological Survey of India, responsible for preserving historical monuments, is fighting a losing battle against the Indian Government in an effort to conserve major Indian monuments.

Senior officials from the 134-year-old ASI hold the government responsible for 'relentlessly' promoting tourism by endangering wonders like the Taj Mahal and ancient Hindu temples, famed for their erotic sculptures, at Khajuraho some 700 kilometres west of New Delhi.

While the 9th century Khajuraho temples have, for over two decades, developed cracks due to the vibrations from overflying aircraft, ASI experts say plans to floodlight the Taj Mahal in Agra later this year will lead to the bio-deterioration of the awesome white marble monument.

Survey officials have, unsuccessfully, also opposed the introduction of a sound-and-light show inside Agra's Red Fort as it will entail ripping up large portions of 16th century flooring to instal cables.

'The Government has an attitude of philistinism towards monuments,' said an ASI official in New Delhi.

He said the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism working in tandem with travel operators were only interested in promoting tourism, paying scant attention to ecology or sensitivity to ancient monuments.

Art lovers and ASI officials say India's 'flagship' monuments, which the Government is promoting as its main tourist attractions, are the very ones which are being endangered by the tourism ministry.

Under pressure from concerned MPs, a committee of experts was instituted last June to study the intensity of the damage, and recommend remedial measures, but it is nowhere near submitting its findings.

Meanwhile, pilots flying regularly to Khajuraho say that though they have been asked not to fly directly over the temples, they cannot avoid doing so as the monuments are directly in line with the runway.

Some, however, claim they do try and lower the decibel levels from 120 to 90 by lowering the take-off point, but a lot depends on atmospheric conditions.

ASI officials say a similar problem of aircraft noise levels is being faced by the large group of 9th to 11th century temples in Bhubaneshwar, hundreds of miles to the east, built around the same times as those at Khajuraho.

Plans for a flood-lit Taj Mahal, meanwhile, though opposed by Survey experts, have been cleared by the Government. Experts maintain incessant light will be too intense for the structure's radiant white marble.

According to an art historian, the Taj has several 'moods' which correspond to the moon and to impose artificial lighting upon it would be sacrilegious. Artificiality would take away the Taj's imposing serenity.