Where is the ‘living’ of the living World Heritage Site ?

Perhaps what is often forgotten in the 236 sq kms of the World Heritage Site (WHS) encompassing several monuments and a sprawling natural heritage are the 28 villages and one urban settlement (Kamalapura) supporting a total of 59,941 inhabitants (Census 2001). The presence of these human settlements makes Hampi a living heritage site.

It implies that people living in these settlements are an essential part of the site and therefore anything and everything rooted by local communities add to the cultural significance of the place. In other words, apart the tangible heritage, the oral traditions and expressions including language, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events as well as knowledge and traditional practices together form an inalienable part of the heritage that needs to be, to begin with recognised and then conserved. Needless to say, beyond what may be ascribed as intangible heritage, people living in these settlements also have their day to day needs and imperatives in terms of basic infrastructure, services, health, education and other social menities. It is the presence of this local population that adds life to the otherwise silent monuments. Hampi’s sacred landscape is embedded within its living culture encompassing living temples associated with bazaar and settlements which behave in a manner similar to during the Vijayanagara Period. Local communities are therefore a means to maintain the ‘soul’ of the area by revealing the intrinsic values of a living heritage place.

What merits mention at this point is that of the entire WHS (which has been demarcated as core, periphery and buffer zones), the core zone which is about 17% of the total area supports approximately 40% of the population. This 17%, recognised as the main heritage node, is also the spatial canvas that attracts the maximum number of tourists and pilgrims. Given the increase of tourism flow over the last few years, the Hampi WHS and particularly the core zone have started to evolve from a traditional rural economy to a market driven economy based on tourism services and activities.

Tourism has the potential to become a resource for local development by improving living standards and rising the level of infrastructure and services, yet it can also have an exclusionary impact, detrimental to any area and the society it supports. The concentration of population and tourism activities within the most sensitive area has, in the recent past, resulted in several conflicts of varying degree and nature. Unregulated development, uncontrolled expansion of tourism activities, rural-urban migration, shifting of livelihood, changes in lifestyles, fragmentation of the social structure specially at the household level, etc. are all easily discernible to even a casual visitor.

The recent eviction at the Hampi Bazaar while reflecting the prevailing tensions of a living heritage site, is an urgent call to address – both at the policy and praxis – the conflicts between heritage preservation and tourism on one hand and development needs on the other.

Motivations, legal process and timelines under which the evictions have happened are yet to be comprehended by local communities. Encroachments, unregulated tourism expansion, threats on mantapas structures, etc. are some of the issues pointed out. But either in the name of development or heritage preservation, eviction if at all needs to be resorted to, should only result from an extended and negotiated process that aims to maintain inhabitants’ dignity by providing them adequate solutions before demolishing their dwellings.

Two months after the demolition, seeming apathy of government, lack of appropriate rehabilitation and resettlement strategy have lead to local, national and international controversies, legal battles and recourses that endlessly delay common agreements on adequate financial and physical compensation.

Neither the development needs nor the preservation imperatives have yet been addressed leaving people on the streets with no other alternative other than to occupy the structures in their broken form; in an attempt at reclaiming a semblance of the livelihood options that tourist flow offers.

As a fallout communities have become even more vulnerable and doubtful on governments’ ability to answer their needs; and the cultural heritage even more endangered given the inappropriate solutions and infrastructure.

All of these further magnify the gaps between heritage and development. Local communities continue to be under-represented due to constant lack of participation and inclusion in the planning and management of the area, ultimately leading to fragmented development goals and processes having little or no positive impact at the ground level.

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Organisational and Institutional Imperatives

In 1986, Hampi was nominated as a World Heritage Site (WHS). Spanning an area of 236 km2, the site covers apart from ancient monuments, hillocks and the river Tungabadra and a number of human settlements. In the year 1999[1], in accordance with the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention and its Operational Guidelines[2], the constitution of a Heritage Management body as well as the elaboration of an Integrated Management Plan (IMP) were initiated; the  prescribed basis of the nomination, conservation and management of any World Heritage Site. These changes have had a far reaching long term impact on the WHS, more often contrary to what was expected. While it was decided that the heritage management set-up would be realised through the establishment of the Hampi World Heritage Area Management Authority (referred to as the Hampi Authority here forth) to be created under the HWHAMA Act, 2002, work on the IMP was initiated around the same time. The latter includes in its mandate the safeguarding of the “Outstanding Universal Value” (OUV) of the Site, its authenticity and integrity. The UNESCO, therefore, necessarily mandates the adoption of the IMP as the international reference for protection, conservation and management. What perhaps merits attention at this point in time is that Hampi is a living heritage site thereby implying that while the preservation of the OUV, heritage conservation and tourism aspects guide the management of the site, the development needs of the local population also assume equal importance, if not more

The authority came into force in 2005 under the HWHAMA Act. Under this act an area of 236 sq km was declared as the local planning area (LPA) to be administered through the Hampi Authority. It is important to note that the local planning area designated as the Hampi World Heritage Area comprises of 28 villages and one urban area, which straddle the districts of Bellary and Koppal. One of the first tasks of the authority after the declaration of the LPA was the preparation of the Master Plan for the planning area. The master plan was approved in 2007 and prepared for the horizon year 2021. In parallel the preparation process of the IMP initiated in 2002 was (is) ongoing[3]. Thus the WHS had two planning tools; the Draft Integrated Management Plan prepared by the Archaeological Survey of India, as mandated by the UNESCO WHS charter and the Master Plan 2021 as prepared by Hampi authority under the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act 1967. While the former is focusing on how to manage the Site with a special focus on safeguarding the OUV, the regulations of the growth and development of the LPA are being determined through the Master Plan 2021, notified by the GoK in 2008. Ironically, both these planning tools at this point are ineffective and non implementable. The Master Plan needs revision, being an incomplete tool from various perspectives and while there have been discussions along these lines, so far there has not been any concrete action in this direction. The IMP on the other hand is “still in the making”. Further, it is not recognised as a statutory tool within the state regulatory framework.

Both the setting up of the HWHAMA and the rolling out of the IMP and the Master Plan 2021, howsoever dissatisfactory and incomplete the two processes have been throw up a series of issues, notable amongst these are:

First, the setting up of HWHAMA as the Local Planning Authority while representing a valid attempt to address the needs for the Hampi Master Plan to be heritage sensitive through the valid adoption and integration of the IMP, posits a set of issues in context of the decentralisation agenda (articulated through the 73rd and the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) of 1992). As per this agenda local governments like the Panchayats and the Municipalities are mandated as institutions of self-government, with powers and responsibilities that cover planning for economic and social development of the specific geography. Further the agenda mandates the setting up of the District Planning Committees (DPCs) under Article 243ZD of the constitution. The DPC’s are responsible for consolidating local plans prepared by Panchayats and Municipalities into the developmental plan for the district as a whole. In accordance with this provision, DPCs have been constituted in all districts including Koppal and Bellary District. While these DPC’s may not be functioning in their true spirit yet, organisationally and institutionally these have been established with a specific mandate. The setting up of the HWHAMA has given rise to a conflict between the roles and responsibilities of the HWHAMA on the one hand and the local and district level planning bodies as per the decentralisation agenda. It has resulted in gaps and overlaps in terms of roles and responsibilities which in turn has resulted in problems of accountability and transparency and ownership. These overlaps and gaps have already begun to threaten the site and its OUV and the recent evictions at the Hampi Bazaar are symptomatic of this. It would be prudent to say that it is just the tip of the iceberg.

Two, with both the IMP and the Master Plan 2021 positioned as legitimate planning tools, in effect, it has resulted in multiple policy frameworks, which once again allow for ambiguity and lack of accountability. What needs mention at this point is that the IMP though not a statutory document as recognised by the Government of Karnataka, yet is mandatory tool requested by the World Heritage Convetions Operational Guidelines for the better management of all World Heritage Sites. The legal recognition of the IMP, therefore is a must within the state regulatory framework and there are ways and means of achieving this.

Three, apart from the local government units and the Hampi Authority, there are a host of state and central level agencies looking after different development, tourism and heritage and conservation needs in the region. To quote an example, the ASI and the Department of Archaeology and Museum-GoK have the mandate to protect and restore monuments in the area. The Department of Tourism – GoK has the mandate to formulate the tourism policy at the State Level and stimulate tourism investment. The Department of Town Planning has the provision to regulate urban development, while the local governments shall define local plans and implement projects on the ground. The District Planning Committee shall coordinate the local plans and avoid conflicts and overlapping at the regional level. Not to mention the entire district machineries of Koppal and Bellary which too play a role in a variety of ways.

Four, while historically several state level stakeholders are looking after the myriad needs of the site, what is missing is a coordinating and regulating mechanism within these agencies and their functions to ensure a comprehensive response to the challenges faced by the site. Needless to say, agency autonomy in terms of both processes and structures and ability to function as “stovepipes”, characteristic of the Indian bureaucracy, with Hampi being no exception mandates little or no coordination between multiple agencies operating in the same geography. The need of the hour is coordination between these agency processes and actions with a simultaneous rationalisation on the need for so many agencies. An institutional structure that is inclusive and respects the legitimacy and constitutional status of the local bodies is a must. Any other mechanism, which aims to control from outside or excludes the local bodies from decision making in local planning and implementation would be inherently unsustainable as is already evident.

Five, implementing the two planning tools strategically and in their entirety will require institutional and organisational capacity building and restructuring. This needs to be facilitated. The current HWHAMA as an organisational and institutional form leaves much to be desired having little or no capacities. While several sectoral studies and sub-plans as recommended by the IMP and required for the Master Plan have been undertaken either in-house or through outsourcing (Heritage & Conservation, Sustainable Tourism Strategy, Housing, Waste Management, etc, socio-economic survey, landscape and environmental plan to name a few), most continue to exist as independent studies – without being considered as “sectoral inputs” into the planning tools, hence lack a statutory backing.

The role of HWHAMA as a coordinating and regulatory body assumes added importance, given the fact that the site straddles two districts, covered by two DPC’s and a plethora of other service and development agencies.  The author of this blog in her recent work on the organisational and institutional arrangements for the management of the site as part of the tourism strategy to be prepared for the Department of Tourism, GoK has made arguments to that effect. An appropriate positioning of this body, responding to the needs of the WHS will go a long way in not just preserving the OUV of the site but also promoting development in the area.

In conclusion, revisiting the existing approach to planning and management of the Site, and finding innovative solutions to integrating heritage conservation, developmental needs and tourism pressures emerges as an imperative, through a right order or organisational structuring and public policy. Though this may appear to be a daunting challenge, it is not an impossible one, given time, resources and above all a political and bureaucratic will.

[1] Declared as an endangered site due to instances of violation of nomination conditions, for instance the construction of a modern motorable bridge across the river, as quoted by the UNESCO.

[2] Last revised version of 2008

[3] The IMP is yet to be seen in its final format. 7 volumes of the IMP have been handed over to the ASI, while the 8th and final volume, the implementable volume is yet to be finalized.

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Blurred definition

While Hampi is better known as capital of the Vijayanagara Empire which ruled India during 14th to 16th centuries AD, the site has a history long associated with the Hindu mythological landscapes of Pampakshetra and Kishkinda (Territory of Vali, Sugreeva and Hanuman in the Ramayana). Besides historical and mythological significance, the environment at Hampi is a complex tapestry of natural, cultural and social components. The sacred relation of the site itself embodies an interface between natural environment (the river and the hills that bear symbolic reference) and man-made vocabulary (both tangible and intangible) which are expressed in both religious structures & practices as well as in the historical settlement development.

Though the stated purpose is to clear encroachments and illegal structures, the recent eviction of Hampi Bazaar brings forth the inadequate or ‘incomplete’ definition of heritage; mostly perceived as a constraint to be dealt with in isolation from the larger development process. Typically, Indian conservation practices – rooted in a highly limited architectural paradigm born of an essentially modernist/Eurocentric definition – has recognized architectural heritage to the exclusion of all other constituents;- be they natural, socio-cultural or in any other intangible form.

It is no matter of surprise then that driven by the same limited understanding of ‘heritage’, a group of 56 ‘monuments’ in Hampi were inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1986; the remaining built monuments remain under the protection of the State Department of Archaeology and Museum, Government of Karnataka.  Hampi being a complex site covering a vast living territory with much more than just monuments, the fact that only a few built monuments in the area were designated as worthy of World Heritage or National Heritage status without including the natural and living setting has lead to the fragmentation of the site – both spatially and institutionally. Declaring a monument ‘protected’ automatically entails a no-intervention or buffer zone of between 100-300 metre around the monument. With growing urbanization, unplanned development and pressures from tourism, the likely fallout and impacts that had been predicted by a few serious observers some years ago is now becoming apparent in the serious issues facing the site’s integrity as well as development challenges before the community.

By confining heritage to individual built monuments surrounded by a sterile buffer zone, the conservation framework leaves gaping holes in both the spatial fabric as well as the planning process itself. This buffer zone which remains ‘unfit’ for development are neither managed by Archaeological Department – being only the buffer of the monument and not heritage itself – nor by the Development Agencies – being not suitable for development. Not surprising then that these ‘buffers’ become a no man’s land open for illegal and unregulated development and encroachment as the two processes of preservation and planning emerge as completely parallel and counter-intuitive.

An interesting debate that assumes significance in this context is the perception of culture/heritage and their formal/legal definitions recognized by planning/development agencies; their integration in both letter and spirit, spatially and functionally, with the development needs of a society in transition; anticipating and accommodating a necessarily dynamic process generated by the often conflicting and competing needs of development, environment and living heritage.

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Living or Heritage ?

There are certain events that are highly anticipated, knowing that it is bound to happen at some point, some day… but without being able to really figure out when and how.

The eviction of the Hampi Bazaar is one such event. Local communities, the different levels of government, various consultants involved in the site and even – to a certain extent, tourists visiting the site – every one was constantly  aware of the encroachment within the bazaar, specially within the historic mantapas and that actions and decisions would have to be taken. When the event actually came to pass, the scale and speed of destruction – intervention, if you must – was neither imaginable nor comprehensible. (See press reports in The Hinduhere and here.)

Hampi Bazaar - From Virupaksha Temple

While the events of the eviction along the Virupaksha Bazaar at Hampi are current and fresh in public memory, equally sensational was the construction and subsequent abandonment of the bridge over the Tungabhadra river at Anegundi. Several other events related to construction of tourism related amenities by both public and private players created smaller ripples of concern, debate and controversy  over the last decade or so. Seen together, these developments highlight the  constant conflicts between Heritage Conservation and Development projects – pitting them as mutually exclusive.

Hampi Bazaar - Towards Virupaksha Temple

While there is no doubt that the recent chain of events in Hampi has been dramatic, how could we bring a certain objectivity to such emotional events and traumas? The eviction of Hampi Bazaar is undoubtedly the result of multiple forces driven by multiple stakeholders involved at multiple levels through multiple strategies and tools. In this ‘multi-scale’ context, how can we put in perspective the different processes influencing the site, its development and preservation?

Working in different living heritage sites, especially in the Hampi World Heritage Site for many years, our understanding of heritage includes not only cultural aspects but also natural, spatial and social characteristics that form part of an integrated and interrelated system. Our experiences in the Hampi WHS have included different capacities such as site interpretation, governance, landscape and environment, socio-economy, all of them involved with different stakeholders.

Without expecting to be exhaustive and cover all the issues faced in such area, this blog intends to share our experience and understanding of the site and its forces, and most importantly hopes to serve the purpose to bring awareness, increase debates and maybe initiate some changes.

Because, finally as highlighted by Divya Gandhi in the Hindu, 12th of August 2011, “what’s heritage sans people?”

Hampi Bazaar - Towards Hemakuta Hill

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