Friday, June 22, 2007

US heritage body wants Ram Sethu preserved

World Monuments Fund, an international preservation organisation that brings out World Monuments Watch List of endangered sites, has said that the Government of India should be made to realise that it’s more valuable to preserve Ram Sethu than demolishing it.

Marilyn Perry, chairman of the Fund, said in an interview on the sidelines of the function to release the list of endangered sites of the world in its New York Madison Avenue office that the Federal Government could consider sending scuba divers underwater to collect sand deposits and analyse them in the laboratory. “The government could leave the disputed area untouched and make it as a tourist attraction by sending tourists in glass bottom boats to see what’s inside the sea.

That could compensate for whatever is the revenue loss of diversion. They could also invite international team of scuba divers to come and take underwater photography and tests to find out whether the rock formations still exit. It’s easy to demolish but hard to construct anything again,” she said.

Agreeing that the Fund is not a world policeman and its requests may fall on deaf ears, she said an alternative vision of the value which government officials may not see should be created. “They often only see the water and the revenue and not the archaeological importance beneath the sea. The organisers of the movement could use mass media such as television and also make a film and show to the people to create awareness. We have to create enough documentation that the bridge was ancient and that it’s sacred to both India and Sri Lanka as it demonstrates historic connections. Instead of being frightened of the national government, the organisers should mobilise local people to support the movement. You always need local support and can’t do anything without them.”

On listing Ram Sethu as an endangered historical monument, she said unfortunately the nomination for this year was already over. “The question is how to find a mechanism in this case to publicise it extensively to gather public opinion. We need to know how the Sri Lankan government and people feel about the demolition. There is no question of wrong and the right in any issue and the answer is finding consensus. How much can we save or are there any alternatives to the project without destruction? The government could be made to realise that it’s more valuable to preserve the site. Often, the Fund may not be able to convince the governments as we do not don policemen’s role. We could not stop the construction of a dam in Turkey as the government would not listen to us. The dam would flood some of the great archaeological sites yet the government was adamant,” she said.

Bonnie Burnham, president of the Fund, said the movement against the project should be tenacious in getting the public voice heard. “If we could convince the Federal Government on Taj Mahal, which would have been affected by developments, I am sure we can find a way out for this issue too. Fortunately, lot of heritage bodies in India came together and provided their support to stop an action that would have had an adverse impact on the world monument. Joint voices really do make a difference. The organisers should rope in bodies like INTACH,” she added.

“In India, I hope there will be a much greater development of NGOs at local level. There is no more awareness now and private sector can really play a role. Heritage of India is too rich for the government to take care of by itself. Voice of the private sector will have a clout on such matters. In India as of now, it’s really not easy for foreign NGOs to get established due to extremely laborious legal process. There are not strong incentives for philanthropy. Changing laws related to both the issues would have a huge impact and there is very strong interest among foreign NGOs to get involved with India’s heritage. There is no infrastructure that supports the government efforts. No community exists that does not have something important to say on Indian heritage,” she added.
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