For 174 heritage monuments in capital, only 125 attendants

Delhi's 174 heritage monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have only 125 attendants to look after them. That comes to less than one attendant per monument — an appalling statistic for a city which sells itself as a heritage and cultural attraction to tourists from India and abroad and is also vying for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Out of the 125 caretakers, a significant number will retire in the coming days. In September alone, five attendants retired.

In August, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, in its annual report to Parliament, gave a negative appraisal of the country's topmost heritage conservation agency. In the 500-plus page report, among other remarks that reflected poorly on the ASI, the CAG said 92 ASI-protected monuments had gone missing, inspection notes of all ASI-protected monuments were not made available for its perusal and that there were discrepancies in the expenditure logs.

Of the 92 missing monuments, 15 are reported to be in the ASI's Delhi Circle, headquartered at Safdarjung's Tomb. One reason that can be attributed to the miserable condition of Delhi's heritage monuments under the ASI is the extreme shortage of attendants. In its response to the CAG report, the ASI also highlighted the shortage of attendants.

The work required from attendants makes for a long list: ticket sales; operating the cloak rooms; toilets and water supply; frisking, cleaning and maintenance; weeding out unwanted vegetation inside the monument; manning the publication cell and tourist control. The monuments must be inspected daily by the attendants and reports sent to the higher authorities.

A senior official in ASI's Delhi Circle told Newsline that the Red Fort alone needs at least 50 attendants, considering its expanse and visitor footfall.

An employee in ASI's Delhi Circle said, "Recruitment is the subject matter of the head office. Whenever we send a requisition for attendants, they bluntly ask us to outsource the services required of them. So, recruitment has been put off for a long time."

Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, the chief of ASI's Delhi Circle, shared some data on attendants. "The last recruitment the Delhi Circle did was way back in 1994 when 46 attendants were appointed. Between then and now, no direct recruitment has been done for the Delhi Circle. Some attendants have been given the job on compensatory grounds in the event of the death of their parent who served as an attendant and the job status of a few has been upgraded from temporary to confirmed," Swarnkar said. "We will be able to maintain Delhi's monuments better if I have more attendants to deploy there."

There are 232 posts sanctioned for attendants of which 125 are currently filled and 107 are vacant. The latter number will increase as caretakers retire in the coming months.

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