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How To Restore Heritage, Culture and Tourism in India

Programme Associate, Partners for Law in Development
Mar 23, 2018 1:10 PM 4 min read
Editorial

Travel and Tourism in India accounts for 9.6% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is the third largest foreign exchange earner for the country. Furthermore, the tourism industry has witnessed a growth of 56.6% in 2016-17 and along with hospitality is amongst the top 10 sectors to attract the highest FDI in India.

How To Restore Heritage, Culture and Tourism in India

But here’s the catch. India hardly features in “Bucket-Lists” or any roster of “Must-visit tourist attractions”; in fact, India ranks 40th as per World Economic Forum’s travel and tourism competitiveness index, way below Japan, Australia, Turkey, Malaysia and other countries with a far less number of UNESCO world heritage sites.  As a country with a significant quantum of heritage, cultural diversity and varied natural attractions, what prevents us from being a “must-visit”?

 

“As I was driving up to the Taj Mahal…I thought that this would be holy ground, super protected, very very clean… Mud in the middle of the street, houses were not finished but there were people living in them. Cows in the street, stray dogs and then, boom, Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World… It’s just an eye-opener,” said Kevin Durant, a famous basketball player.

 

Although, there have been multiple initiatives which acknowledge the need for a policy overhaul, they have been limited to being band-aid solutions. India had last formulated a tourism policy back in the year 2002. It has since remained confined to 'incredible' advertisements and the monotonous depiction of “love” enshrined in the Taj Mahal.


How To Restore Heritage, Culture and Tourism in India

Heritage sites are seriously threatened by environmental factors which cause discolouration, abrasion, cracks, stains and fungal growth. Further, encroachment by traders and marketeers is a cause for havoc, perhaps the biggest hindrance to the maintenance and development of places of tourist attraction in India.

 

Despite housing over 25 historic and cultural sites in India, a majority of the local monuments and heritage sites are neglected by state and district administrations. Extremist factions also threat to obliterate heritage buildings now and then. A ruling party MLA in Uttar Pradesh opined demolishing Taj Mahal in a public statement, while the state government in UP omitted Taj Mahal from its official tourism booklet. Lack of proper planning and beautification process, have dilapidated many local structures.

 

Heritage sites attract a mass number of tourists, both Indian and International. However, it is not uncommon to find marks and scribblings on walls of popular tourist attractions in India tarnishing the original splendour of the structure. Security of both, the national monument and tourists, is another major concern, even more so now, when many international tourists, especially women, have faced harassment.  

How To Restore Heritage, Culture and Tourism in India 

It is evident that our heritage sites need maintenance, development and security in order to promote a tourist-friendly culture. And it is a no-brainer that money sure plays a big role in doing that!

 

With the presence of varied architectural design in the country, it has become a staggering task to classify heritage buildings, and eventually preserve, conserve and maintain them. It is impossible for the state to take all the monuments under its control for obvious reasons of lack of financial and manpower resources. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), as an attached office under the Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is responsible along with its counterparts in various States for the archaeological researches and protection of the cultural heritage of the country. Moreover, there are various other agencies involved in the upkeep of the monument and its adjoining area. For example in Delhi, agencies concerned with preservation and maintenance of heritage sites in the city are Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) under Ministry of Urban Development, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), State Archaeological Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi, Delhi Development Authority (DDA), MCD (EDMC, SDMC, NDMC), Cantonment Board, Delhi and the Aga Khan Trust.

 

However, there are never enough funds for the subsistence of these sites. The cycle of approving funds through the Ministry is apathetic, with files and proposals desk-hopping for months, seeking approval for the disbursement of funds.


How To Restore Heritage, Culture and Tourism in India

One could argue for raising ticket prices at these sites, but that would hardly increase the footfall to these monuments. A monument in itself cannot be enough for an all-inclusive experience for any tourist. The surroundings and the facilities such as restaurants/ cafes, culture showcase, shopping, hassle-free transportation, tout-less tours, sanitised toilets, parking and facilities for disabled and elderly, will rank a monument higher in any tourist's itinerary.

 

The concerned agencies should then focus on enhancing the over all experience of the tourist. There can be site museums, bookstores, cafés, cultural exhibitions or performances at these tourist destinations. More facilities and entertainment areas will only attract more tourists. The emphasis should be on increasing direct earnings at sites in order for the monument to become self-sustaining along with employment creation, indirect revenues to hotels, transporters and restaurants, to fully tap into the potential of the nation's heritage. 

 

There are 4 world heritage sites in Malaysia. India has 36 of them. It is necessary that we harness the economic potential of UNESCO heritage sites such as the Taj Mahal, Qutub Minar, Agra Fort, Humayun's Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort, Sun Temple, Khajuraho, Hampi and Mahabalipuram, to attract not only travellers from worldwide but also to give a rich boost our GDP and economy as well.