India is culturally very rich and diverse and has a long history. This richness and history is visible in historical architectures and monuments. India has a vast number of heritage sites that showcase India’s history and culture and thus are of great national importance. Also, many of these heritage sites get huge national as well as global attention and generate tourism opportunities. Unprecedented urbanisation, severe weathering of the monuments, encroachment around the monuments, smuggling of antiques, etc threaten these heritage sites with loss and degradation. Conservation of these sites is crucial for India’s culture and history and to help in the economic growth of India through tourism. Thus, monitoring of illegal construction around these sites needs to be done regularly to conserve them.
Above Monitoring from space
There are thousands of heritage sites in India and regular monitoring of these sites is a tedious task as it involves regular field visits and large travel budgets. To lessen these efforts, time and cost, Ministry of Culture and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have collaborated to make the inventory of archaeological sites of the country to regularly monitor them. Initially, an inventory of more than 3000 heritage sites had been prepared. The project will cover about 1,50,000 heritage sites in later stages (Bandhopadhyay, 2015). A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) has been developed for Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that uses high-resolution satellite data as primary data, Geospatial technology and open source tools. Under the project, an inventory of world heritage sites and nationally important monuments in the country and associated geospatial database using high-resolution satellite data has been generated. High-resolution satellite data of Cartosat-1, Cartosat-2 and Resourcesat LISS IV has been utilised for this. Using these satellites’ data, all heritage sites along with the land use features around them have been precisely mapped and three management zones namely Protected, Prohibited and Regulated have been delineated around the heritage sites.
Other collateral data like total station survey data, revenue village cadastral maps and other maps/attributes related to the inventory, plans etc are geo-referenced and integrated with the satellite data, are also the part of the inventory database. Other data like ground photographs, different views of the monuments, type of buildings and their heights, the street view of the buildings and lanes, open spaces are also part of the database. The authenticity and validation of the location of heritage sites is in progress (ISRO, 2017). This inventory of heritage sites has been put by ASI on ISRO’s BHUVAN Portal (link to the portal: http://bhuvan.nrsc.gov.in/governance/culture_monuments ).
The project is already in advanced stage of completion in the state of Karnataka and four case studies of Tipu palace, Srirangapatna, Devanhalli and Gol Gumbaz has been done which is providing all the required information and photographs about the historic places. This will be replicated to other parts of the country.
Helping Conserve India’s Heritage
The project is helping conserve and manage thousands of heritage sites and monuments of national importance spread across the country. A systematic inventory of heritage sites using geospatial technology is going to help ASI to take appropriate measures in conserving, preserving and monitoring activities of each heritage site with least effort, time and cost implications. High-resolution satellite images of heritage sites and its peripheral areas are being used to identify illegal structures that have been constructed in the neighbourhood of these protected sites in the last 50 years. It will also help ASI to identify the affected areas and take necessary corrective actions (Bandhopadhyay, 2015). ISRO is also going to create 3D digital model of each heritage site which will be overlaid over the satellite data. This will enable a virtual walk-through and visualisation of each and every national heritage site. These efforts will definitely help in generating the interest about India’s heritage among the digital generation and thus will help in conservation of heritage sites and tourism.
The “Smarac Citizen App” for National Monuments Authority (NMA), created by ISRO, contains the maps of 3,686 centrally protected monuments across the country. The App has eased the process of obtaining construction permits that is restricted to 300 metres beyond the boundary of heritage sites. Earlier, field surveys were required to give the permits for construction. The App helps the NMA to curb encroachments around heritage sites – it shows how far the new construction is from the heritage site. Apart from this, the App also shows the elevation of construction sites – this helps to take approval from Airport Authority of India (Jeelani, 2016).