The article, Disappointing! No Odisha Site Among Centre’s List Of 17 Iconic Places, has raised a fully valid and important issue not only for the people of Odisha, but also for lovers of Odisha’s history, archaeology and architecture across India.
As usual, central government agencies such as the Ministry of Tourism seem to have done a poor job in identification of places for developing them as world-class tourist destinations. There appears to have been no transparency in the selection process and no public, industry or stakeholder consultations. The list seems to have been prepared by some junior staff in the Ministry of Tourism at the back of an envelope, with limited knowledge of the significance of the locations while being biased to certain states, probably on political considerations.
Indeed, there is absolutely no justification for omission of Konark in the list. This world heritage Sun temple is the crowning jewel in Odisha, well known for its grand and exquisite architecture. Indeed, there are many other jewels in Odisha, such as the exquisite temple towns of Puri and Bubaneswar but at the least Konark should figure in any list of top attractions by any measure.
It looks obvious that the selection of 17 sites was based on state-wise distribution rather than on any other worthy criteria. It is puzzling that Delhi has got three in the list while Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have got two each. While there is no dispute that all these are worthy sites, when the list is limited to 17, Konark should have been selected by dropping a site in any of the three multi-site states.
Like Odisha, some other states like Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana have also been ignored, apart from recently created states such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, most North Eastern states and the two island territories which are rich in natural beauty and wildlife parks.
Similarly, while Mahabalipuram finds a place in the list from Tamil Nadu, there are other equally worthy heritage sites in that state, such as Kanchipuram, Madurai, Thanjavur-Kumbakonam, Rameswaram, Kanyakumari, Tiruvannamalai, Chidambaram and Srirangam for development to world-class standards. The same is the case in Karnataka, with wonderful architectural beauties such as Belur-Halebeid, Sravanabelagola, Mysore-Srirangapatna-Somnathpura, Aihole-Badmi-Pattadakal, Bijapur etc.
Any way, the central agencies that were tasked with preparing the list seem to have done a sloppy, lop-sided and short-sighted job. At the least, the list should be increased to 25, with major and glaringly misses, such as Konark, being included immediately.
Further, the work should not stop with just the selection. It should be followed up by concrete action and proper allocation of funds, public and stakeholder consultation, and seeking expert help to preserve the sanctity, architectural value and pristine value of the sites chosen. Neither should it be a one-off exercise. After developing these sites to world standards, they should be constantly improved to maintain and raise the standard further. Finally, the list should not stop there. As said, there are several other sites and places across India that are as worthy, if not more, as the 17 in the list. They should also get due attention in the next stage. Importantly, the selection should be done professionally, with proper consultation of public and stakeholders and solely based on merit, not on any other considerations, political or otherwise.
Tiruchirapalli (Tamil Nadu)
This article is a response by a reader to the article carried in Odisha Bytes on June 7, 2019.