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Who’s Scared of a Heritage Act?

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We the Government 

By HUGH AND COLLEEN GANTZER

We address this to our politicians and our senior administrators in the Government of Uttarakhand. Our reference, in particular, is to the decision given by the High Court of Uttarakhand at Nainital on Writ Petition (PIL) no.80 of 2014: Anil Kumar Maheshwari vs Union of India and Others dated September 5, 2018. We rely on a copy sent by one of the authorities mentioned in the decision. Paragraph 24 B of this document says, among other things: The Competent Authority under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 (as amended), through the Director General, Archaeological Survey of India is directed to frame Heritage Bye-laws in consultation with the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage for each protected monument and protected area as per the parameters specified in the Second Schedule in the State of Uttarakhand within six months from today. ……. The competent authority while preparing the heritage bye-laws shall place the same before the National Monuments Authority constituted under Section 20F of the Act of 1958. It has been a year since that decision was given by our High Court. Would our state government let us know what progress there has been in this matter? We had spoken, about the need to have a Heritage Act, to two of our governors. Both wanted such an Act passed. Both, later, informed us that our MLAs did not agree to pass such an Act. We do not know why they were reluctant to do so but the obvious reason is that the builders’ and so-called developers’ lobby would not like to have their hands tied by such restrictions. Let us take a hypothetical case. Let’s say that far back in Mussoorie’s history, when there were just sixteen houses in our hill-station, the citizens got together and said, “We’ve built our cottages in this beautiful place, we’ve taken care of our physical and spiritual needs, now we should take care of our cultural appetites.” They could have built a Gaming Club, like Crockford’s, London. They certainly had the money and the authority to indulge themselves if they wanted to. They decided, instead, to build a Library in an easily accessible public spot and to place it in trust, in perpetuity, in the hands of a committee of interested citizens. They were far-seeing, civic-minded, people so they approved a design for their Library as a state-of-the- art icon. The Industrial Revolution had introduced the Age of Iron and Steel. Queen Victoria’s Germanic consort, Prince Albert, was so enamoured with cast iron and glass that he built his great exposition centre out of these two materials and called it The Crystal Palace. Similarly, Mussoorie’s Library had to have cast-iron pillars and plenty of glazed areas. The pillars gave it grace and strength and the glass gave it light and beauty. It was also warm in winter and cool in summer, offering wide views of Dehradun, Mussoorie and the Himalayas. It probably set the trend for glazed verandas in our town. With great foresight, its creators also built in a concrete fire-escape decades before the concept of Fire Safety Audits occurred to our administrators. And finally, the founders of this great icon provided for its future survival by constructing a row of shops on the ground floor of the Library Building so that, even if tastes change and the membership falls, the Library will survive. This was a master- stroke but then our hypothetical Mussoorie Library had successful industrial pioneers as its founding fathers. The Mussoorie Library could also have set the trend for corrugated iron roofs. The last thatched cottage in Mussoorie survived into the late 40s and was owned by the Sullivan sisters, acquaintances of ours. Finally, the concept of the Mussoorie Library was so successful, that Mussoorie virtually grew around it and the whole area became the Library area! So, let’s dispel the smoke-and- mirrors and reveal that our fantasy is the reality of Mussoorie’s heritage. This is the ‘family history’ of our town: it has no price but it does have inestimable value. We, the Government, don’t want a “developer’s” crassness to destroy our priceless inheritance. The environment can change, and often does. History and Heritage do not.