Iqbal Ahmad

Constituting ‘Heritage Authority’

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It is tragic that several heritage buildings serve as the office complexes for different departments

Finally the state government seems to have woken up to the heritage preservation concerns and has constituted the ‘Jammu & Kashmir Heritage Conservation and Preservation Authority’. Although government had earlier passed the heritage bill and setting up of a heritage authority was the need of the day, it was only a matter of time as to when and how the bill would be taken ahead and framing of the committee is genuinely the first step in this direction.

It would be really great, if we are able to preserve our heritage; the conservation of heritage buildings and other rich constructions is a much needed step and must be started on war footings. In the process of maintenance of our monuments and heritage buildings, after its identification and classification, conservation is the most important factor and before exploiting these sites for our growing tourist industry we need to ensure their safety first.

In most of the states of South Asia, heritage tourism has been flourishing rapidly. The governments concerned have successfully explored their varied cultural properties to boost up their respective tourist industries. Nepal is one such state where cultural tourism is very popular. The state has preserved very rich cultural material. Rajasthan, which has slightly less to offer to the visitors in matters of pristine locations or hill stations etc has brought to the fore the rich archaeological and architectural monuments for boosting its tourism sector. The state has developed adequate infrastructure to facilitate tourism that focuses on the historical monuments. The facilities offered to tourists at these sites include availability of Hotels and Restaurants, cafeterias, parking lots and small emporium of traditional handicrafts besides archaeological guidebooks and other relevant literatures are also made available to the visitors.

The West Bengal government, very earlier on, had setup heritage commission to explore more heritage sites and monuments and to bring them in purview of heritage tourism. This has been functioning very well. In other states of India the cultural wealth stands well demonstrated and it has been contributing a big share in promoting their respective tourist industries.

Kashmir is perhaps the only unfortunate state where, despite rich cultural heritage, not a single cultural site was opened for the people. The land of different cultures, a variety of monuments, pyramid roofed shrines, forts, palaces , temples, historical museums, archaeological sites, festivals, rich cosine and magnificent handicrafts has undoubtedly tremendously rich potential for boosting the states tourist industry.

There are several such states of India which have setup Apex heritage preservation authorities. The  state government of West Bengal is one such state which  has set up a state heritage commission for maintenance of all historical buildings, monuments, and sites of the state that come within the purview of  their  respective preservation of heritage act. The commission was recommended by an expert committee that was earlier set up for identification of heritage sites. It was provided quasi-judicial powers through an Act of the state legislative assembly of West Bengal. The commission also prepared development control regulations for heritage conservation.

Other states have followed this model and have been successful not only in preservation of the heritage but have also explored it for their boosting tourist industries.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has got a repository of such heritage buildings in shape of archaeological monuments, historical shrines, Palaces and forts in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh respectively, has also got tremendous heritage significance. Besides there is a number of Buddhists, Hindu and Muslim shrines carrying varied architectural features and designs located at a number of places in the state.

Historical buildings can be seen at several cities and towns of the state, especially at Mubark Mandi Jammu, Old-Secretariat, Srinagar, Bilawar, Akhnoor,Poonch and Leh towns. The well-ornamented palaces and buildings of the Dogra period symbolize the Anglo-Indian architecture. The Mughal and local feature are also present in these glorious edifices.

It is tragic that several heritage buildings serve as the office complexes for different departments. Lack of proper maintenance and conservation has made these buildings dilapidated. Several of these were destroyed, and in their place new complexes were erected. These jewels of our architectural heritage need proper repairing and maintenance and we can also develop heritage tourism and thus raise funds for their proper conservation and protection.

Another tragedy is that the heritage in Kashmir is not preserved on modern scientific lines. It is being looked after traditionally by few government organizations and by local agencies and committees. They renovate it as and when required and in the process of repairing and renovation, most of these agencies hardly take care of its previous architectural design and technique.

In most of the Muslim shrines wooden panels formed of lattice work and pillars are replaced by glass sheets and concrete structures. Similarly, the monasteries of Ladakh built of mud are being renovated with concrete. If this practice is not discouraged well in time we would lose several classical architectural monuments of the state.

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