Mumbai: In a landmark initiative to prevent further encroachment and rampant development around historic monuments and protected archaeological sites, the state government is launching a drone survey to prepare digital maps of these areas.
This exercise will result in the demarcation of a site-specific ‘controlled zone’, where new constructions will be regulated to preserve their heritage values.
The state has issued tenders for the appointment of investigative agencies for the project, the cost of which is estimated ₹13 crore. It should start in a month and end in the next financial year.
This will involve drone surveys and, if necessary, total station mapping, to assess the existing built-up area around the monuments, and its composition such as heritage and modern structures. Later, maps will be drawn up after a physical survey of each site to verify these data in the field.
Maharashtra has a total of 375 state-protected monuments. Of these, 10 sites, namely Gateway of India, August Kranti Maidan, Banganga, Dean’s Bungalow at JJ School of Art and the forts of Worli, Shivdi, Bandra, Saint George (behind CSMT station), Dharavi and Mahim , are in Bombay.
This conforms to the standards of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Under the heritage regulations under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010 which covers centrally protected sites, a zone of 100 meters in all directions around a protected monument is classified as “prohibited object”. region.’ Another 200 meter zone around the monuments is a “restricted area”.
Similarly, the Directorate of Museums and Archeology provides for a controlled area to be notified as needed around monuments protected by the State. But this area was notified at 25 meters for a single site, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Wada in Pune a decade ago. This delay in notifying a controlled area has led to encroachments and construction alongside historic sites, officials admit.
“The survey will cover all monuments protected by the state…we will use satellite imagery and drone maps and, if necessary, even total station mapping will be deployed, to define restricted areas. It will be supplemented through field surveys. However, instead of imposing a blanket restriction, we will take practical calls at each site based on the local situation and built conditions (while developing the controlled area standards),” Tejas said. Garge, Director, Museums and Archaeology, Maharashtra.
Once the controlled area is in place, the Department’s No Objection Certificate (NOC) will need to be requested for any new construction in that area. Garge added that these maps and data will also be released into the public domain.
Vasant Shinde, adviser to the National Maritime Heritage Complex and former vice-chancellor of the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute in Pune, welcomed the move. “Instead of a general rule, it is necessary to develop a site-specific approach for each monument,” he noted, adding that construction activities affect the structural stability of these monuments.
Maya Patil (Shahapurkar), Head of Department of Archeology at Ahilyabai Holkar University, Solapur, stressed the need to preserve prehistoric sites from the depredations of developers and bounty hunters. She pointed out how the 2,000-year-old Satavahana-era site of Ter in Osmanabad district had seen 10 of the original mounds reduced to seven, which were also eroded, the soil (which contained antiquities) being mined and sold. “Material remains like stone tools and even caves, mounds and rock shelters that give insight into prehistory should be preserved,” she explained.
Officials said the mapping and physical survey will also help the department understand whether ancient sites have been destroyed, encroached on or built on. Officials admit that while the number of protected sites in Maharashtra is 375 on paper, some of them may be lost, especially in Marathwada, which once fell under the dominions of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
There, Nizam state officials had simply notified the sites as protected without physical surveys. The lack of adequate field staff for the department also prevented the creation of a system for their protection and verification. One such destroyed site is a Mesolithic era site at Shendra near Aurangabad.
The Maharashtra Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1960 authorizes the state government to preserve ancient and historical monuments, records, sites and archaeological remains.
Maharashtra has 375 state-protected monuments including forts (59), temples (147), caves (18) and Stone Age sites and other archaeological features.
Some state protected sites are Rajgad, Sinhagad and Torna forts in Pune district, Khandeshwari caves and Ghodbunder temple in Thane, Ghatotkach caves in Aurangabad, Stone Age petroglyphs in the Konkan and the birthplace of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Ratnagiri.
The department will be able to regulate new constructions in the delimited controlled zone.