Nature is the most beautiful gift that humans have received. It is the only thing that human beings have in common, therefore, it is our duty to cherish and nurture it. Natural Heritage refers to the characteristics of nature that demarcate nature and have been carved out of nature’s beauty. It provides a natural habitat for endangered species around the world. But in today’s developing and changing world, these sites are becoming victims of the constant urge for economic growth.
Heritage sites serve as historical markers. They serve as reminders of the past, and on occasion, it might be difficult to grasp why it is necessary to invest time, effort, and money in maintaining heritage sites. In the world we currently live in, are they truly important? They certainly seem to be. To comprehend local laws and social institutions, history acts as a laboratory and the past as a line of demarcation. This knowledge advances our efforts to create the perfect society. However, understanding different cultures makes us better global citizens and strengthens our critical and analytical thinking.
India has a long history that includes amazing monuments and a treasure trove of archaeological discoveries. The unforgettable past of ancient civilizations is where this cultural history that is represented by heritage monuments starts. Some of the sites designated as World Heritage Sites are the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and Fatehpur Sikri in Agra, the Konark Sun Temple, Khajuraho Temples, Mahabalipuram Monuments, Thanjavur, and Hampi Monuments, as well as the Ajanta, Ellora, and Elephanta Caves.
Preservation of cultural heritage deals with measures or processes aimed at preserving the elements that form the characteristics of a cultural resource to maintain the value of the cultural resource and extend its physical lifespan. Heritage Conservation does not mean freezing a building in time or creating a museum or tying the hands of property owners so that they cannot do anything with their properties. Instead, it seeks to maintain and therefore, increase the value of buildings by keeping their original form and architectural elements.
NATIONAL HERITAGE IN INDIA
Some of the most captivating natural wonders are a part of India’s rich heritage. India is home to an abundance of natural heritage monuments, from the Himalayas in the north to the Western Ghats in the south.
LEGAL FRAMEWORK TO PROTECT THE HERITAGE
The Indian Constitution safeguards the country’s extensive cultural legacy. According to Article 49 of the Constitution, every monument, location, or thing that has historical significance must be protected by the States from being destroyed, spoliated, removed, etc. Additionally, Article 51A mandates that every Indian citizen must have a scientific mindset and spirit of inquiry. The natural heritage sites in India are not specifically protected by law. When India ratified the World Historical Convention to safeguard both national and international heritage monuments, its dedication to preserving historic places grew even stronger. Seven of the 252 natural sites included on the world’s list of UNESCO’s world heritage sites are in India.
The state has a responsibility to preserve the past. When the state is unable to protect the heritage, judicial action is essential. Public Interest Litigation is the most crucial instrument in this regard (PIL). One may submit a writ petition under Articles 32 and 226 to the Supreme Court of India and the High Court, respectively. In the Taj Mahal Trapezium Case, M C Mehta filed PIL in the Supreme Court to protect the Taj Mahal from the surrounding industries. In a different instance, M.C. Mehta filed a PIL to challenge the Uttar Pradesh government’s approval of the Taj Heritage Corridor Project. This PIL led to the suspension of the Project. In the case of Subhas Datta v/s. Union of India & Ors., the petitioner filed a PIL in the Supreme Court on the subject of safeguarding historical artefacts kept in various locations across the nation, particularly in various museums. He begged the Supreme Court for guidance on setting up suitable security measures and conducting thorough investigations into incidences of theft and damage to many historical artefacts. Additionally, he asked the court to compile a list of all the items it could use in the future. To prevent over-excavation in some areas and to allow for the preservation, conservation, and acquisition of ancient monuments and artefacts of archaeological, historical, or artistic interest, the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, of 1904 was passed in British India under Lord Curzon.
The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMASR Act) was passed in 1958 to protect sculptures, carvings, and other such artefacts as well as ancient and historical monuments, important archaeological sites, and national significance. To prevent harm to these monuments and remains from vandalism, the Prevention of Damage of Public Property Act was passed in 1984. The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act was passed in 1972 to control export commerce in antiquities and art treasures and stop smuggling and illegal dealings in antiquities and ancient monuments.
Recent examples show that it is time to reconsider whether culture takes precedence over rights and reason. Because its components also tend to alter throughout time, culture is a dynamic idea. Although it is questionable whether all of these influences are appropriate for everyone’s lives, India is a global nation that incorporates inspiration from foreign cultures as well.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA (ASI)
The Archaeological Survey of India is an organisation of the Indian government that is a part of the Ministry of Culture and is in charge of conducting archaeological research as well as conserving and preserving the nation’s cultural monuments. The primary concern of the ASI is the preservation of historic monuments and archaeological sites and places of national significance. Additionally, it is responsible for regulating all archaeological activities nationwide in compliance with the 1958 Act on Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains.
The main functions of the Archaeological Survey of India are:
- To preserve, conserve and help in the environmental development of centrally protected monuments and sites, including World Heritage Monuments and antiquities.
- To maintain the gardens and develop new gardens surrounding the centrally protected monuments and sites.
WAYS TO PROTECT THE HERITAGE SITES
Heritage sites serve as national treasures. They promote tourism and give us access to extensive historical resources. Additionally, they support ongoing economic stability. These locations need to be protected and kept in good condition. The best management should be provided for them because they are the largest protected places on Earth. While international authorities and other groups are working to conserve these sites, we as people must also assist and contribute. It is essential to raise awareness of these locations. Share images and video links on social networking sites to let people know about these websites. Participate in site preservation by volunteering. Commoners can participate in UNESCO’s volunteer programmes and assist in the work that these organisations frequently carry out. There is no need for prior work experience for this. Visit these locations at least once in your lifetime to promote tourism. Additionally, this will support the local economy. One of the most important things that we as citizens can do to protect these sites is, not to damage them. Most of the time, people tend to litter around these places while sightseeing. Further, if there’s a sanctuary or a zoo, people sometimes tease the animals or scare them away. All this is not necessary. Donate to these organisations specifically so they don’t go unnoticed.
It’s crucial to protect the environment. It is our responsibility to preserve nature so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the scenic splendour it offers. Seeing nature producing such works of art without the slightest human intervention is already a dream. Heritage places need to be preserved in the modern world. They breathe new vitality into the past. If we do not protect the environment, nature may manifest its fury. The COVID-19 epidemic serves as a reminder of how unpredictable nature maybe when we as humans take it for granted. These areas maintain the ecosystem’s balance, and if that balance is upset, it will have negative effects on the land, the water, and the air. The need to protect Indian cultural heritage before it completely vanishes is urgent. A particular, all-encompassing law is required to address the various facets of India’s heritage. No conservation effort will be successful unless people appreciate the heritage’s worth and advantages. Finally, it is the responsibility of every Indian citizen to safeguard the legacy. Regulation and laws won’t be effective unless we work together to accomplish this task.
Author(s) Name: Arsheya Chaudhry (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi)
 Constitution of India 1950, art 49
 Constitution of India 1950, art 51A
 Precious Kamei, ‘7 natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India’ (Outlook India, 2019) <https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/see/story/68927/natural-unesco-world-heritage-sites-in-india> accessed 21 February 2023
 Constitution of India 1950, art 32
 Constitution of India 1950, art 226
 M. C. Mehta v Union of India (1987) AIR 1086
 Subhas Datta v Union of India & Ors (2004)Writ Petition (Civil) No. 252/2004
 Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904
 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMASR Act) 1958
 Prevention of Damage of Public Property Act 1984
 Antiquities and Art Treasures Act 1972
 Act on Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains 1958
 ‘Archaeological survey of India’ (GK Today, 13 August 2007) <https://www.gktoday.in/topic/archaeological-survey-of-india/>