Following the request of the 28th session of the Committee (Suzhou, 2004), a joint mission was undertaken by ICOMOS and WHC from 21 to 27 April 2005 in order to assess the steps taken by the State Party to protect the World Heritage values of the property.
The joint ICOMOS/WHC mission examined a number of approaches for the management of this property. These included the approach developed by HUDCO (Housing and Urban Development Authority) in consultation with the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) over the last 18 months and reflected in the documents made available to the mission, “Mahabodhi Temple Complex World Heritage Property: Site Management Plan” (both the document itself and a hard copy of the accompanying power point presentation), “Heritage Led Perspective Development Plan for Bodhgaya, Vision 2001-2031: The Plan ”, and “Heritage Led Perspective Development Plan for Bodhgaya, Vision 2001-2031: The Work Studies”. An alternative approach based on the protection of the World Heritage values of the property was also presented by a heritage conservation expert. Following discussions in Delhi and Bodhgaya as well as an on-site visit to the property and its surroundings, the mission made the following observations:
a) Progress made in refining the Site Management Plan prepared by HUDCO:
The HUDCO Site Management plan (April 2005) constitutes an admirable attempt to synthesize analysis around key development and conservation issues and to present recommendations for planning action to strengthen care of the property and adjoining buffer zones. However, as noted by the authors of the report, at this stage the Site Management Plan remains an advisory document containing only guideline suggestions for improvement. The mission also noted substantial weaknesses in the document particularly in the definition and elaboration of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, and that while there are many useful recommendations for enhanced control in the buffer zone of the Mahabodhi Temple Complex, until these are adopted and incorporated in the Development Plan proposed for Bodhgaya, these recommendations are not yet in force.
ICOMOS recommends that work on the Site Management Plan be suspended until such time as all necessary conditions for implementation of the plan are in place.
b) Need to establish an appropriate management mechanism:
The final part of the Site Management Plan document focuses on the “institutional mechanism for plan implementation”. Recognizing that the authority of the BTMC (Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee), while established statutorily in 1949, is limited to the Mahabodhi Temple Complex area, and that control of the proposed buffer zone can only be achieved with commitment of adjacent landowners, the report explores various integrated management mechanisms, from strengthening of the BTMC to creation of a new World Heritage management authority.
c) Need for an appropriate legal protection framework at both national and state levels to support the Site Management Plan:
While management of a World Heritage property normally calls for the highest possible protection at national level, in the present case the ASI feels strongly that national designation involving “monument protection” would be counterproductive, given the importance of the property as living religious heritage. Equally, the State Government of Bihar believes that with the BTMC playing a statutory role, there is no need for State level notification. The State Government is however prepared to extend its development control authority over the buffer zone through measures proposed in the Bodhgaya Development Plan.
d) Controls to be in place within the buffer zones proposed by the State Party at the time of inscription:
The HUDCO Site Management Plan document elaborates controls to be placed on development within the buffer zones identified at the time of inscription. The one km. radius buffer zone is broken into two “special areas”, one permitting no development within approximately 0.5 km from the Temple Complex, and the second limiting development to one storey between 0.5 km and one km away from the temple. The boundaries of the two inner buffer zones have been adjusted to suit ground conditions, and proposed control provisions within clarified and strengthened. A “further periphery” zone extending beyond the one km buffer zone to two km on the Temple side of the river is also identified. These provisions, as they involve a change to the buffer zone definition and protective regime proposed at the time of inscription should be reported to the World Heritage Committee, once adopted within the Development Plan for Bodhgaya.
e) Feasibility of the extension of the inscribed property to include the surrounding cultural landscape associated with the presence and enlightenment of the Lord Buddha in the region:
The mission observed importance of giving consideration of the possible long-term extension of this property beyond the Mahabodhi Temple Complex, to include the surrounding cultural landscape directly associated with the enlightenment of the Lord Buddha. The strengthening of the buffer zone boundary definitions and control provisions within the Development Plan for Bodhgaya provides a welcome measure of control over a large area outside the inscribed Mahabodhi Temple Complex. If adopted, these controls will ensure strong protection of the Outstanding Universal Value recognized by inscription, and will also ensure maintaining the character of the immediately adjacent cultural landscape. It would be useful, in considering the consequences of a possible future extension, to assess the extent of the landscape beyond the buffer zone and periphery zones described above, to identify those segments of the vernacular landscape associated with all facets of the Lord Buddha’s search for, and attainment of enlightenment, including the Pragbodhi Hill, adjacent river banks etc.
f) The mission also noted the importance of the peer review process identified by the Committee at its 28th session (Suzhou, 2004) and requested of the State Party. The peer review was carried out by two Indian professionals in March 2005. Their report was provided by the ASI to the UNESCO mission on 27 April 2005.
The State Party was also invited by the Committee at its 28th session (Suzhou, 2004) to organise a series of stakeholder interventions in the process of improving and finalising the Management Plan. The authors of the Site Management Plan have described strong efforts on their part to include stakeholders at all levels within Bodhgaya in their consultation process.
The mission was made aware of a certain number of illegal encroachments taking place in the immediate vicinity of the inscribed property. While State and local authorities are taking measures to deal with these encroachments, it would be useful to accurately document existing conditions throughout the inscribed property, buffer zones and periphery zones, to provide a benchmark for future monitoring and reference.