As requested by the 27th session of the World Heritage Committee (UNESCO, 2003), a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring Mission was undertaken to Lumbini in May 2004 to assess the impact of the newly constructed Maya Devi Temple on the heritage value of the property as a whole. The main findings of the mission were that the newly constructed Maya Devi Temple has substantially affected the integrity and authenticity of the property, including by having a negative aesthetic impact on the archaeological remains that it aims to shelter. The mission, although recommending that the structure should ideally be removed, stressed at the same time the importance of respecting the religious sentiments of the Bhuddist community associated with the temple, and proposed certain measures to at least minimize the negative impact of the new structure, categorized into short, mid and long term recommendations, the latter concerning the conservation of the property in general. The short time recommendations, which directly concerned the structure of the Maya Devi Temple, were meant to guide the action of the responsible authorities until such time that all stakeholders could reach consensus on an appropriate alternative to the current structure. The mission, moreover, strongly emphasized the need for a site-Management Plan.
It should be recalled that the design of the current structure had been submitted by the State Party to the World Heritage Centre via the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu in March 2002, and further forwarded to the Advisory Bodies. However, before the Committee could consider the implications of the proposed development, at its 26th session in June 2002, the construction had already begun in Lumbini due to the significant pressure exerted by local religious groups.
On 13 January 2005, the World Heritage Centre received a report from the State Party. The State Party reiterated its view that the new Temple did not affect the authenticity and integrity of the property, considering that no foundations were dug to support the new building (existing trenches were used) and that the new structure, similar in shape to a previous one located on the same spot, is allegedly entirely reversible. However, it also felt that improvements could be made and expressed its full readiness to take into account the advice of UNESCO, and requested that the latter dispatch a further mission to the property to that end.
In general, the response by the State Party addresses, to various degrees, the many specific recommendations made by the joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission of 2004. It does not, however, reflect any progress towards a “revised comprehensive conservation and Management Plan”, as requested by the Committee in paragraph 2 of its decision of 2004. With respect to the short-term recommendations of the joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Mission of 2004, the State Party noted the following:
a) The new Temple, in the form of a box, is similar to a previous structure that existed at the property before the excavations were carried out. The new building has few openings for security reasons and to better control access to the property, taking also into account the intention of the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT, i.e. the management authority) to charge visitors an entry fee;
b) Concerning the need to improve the ventilation, new openings will be made below the gallery level so as to allow the generation of natural convective currents ;
c) The false ceiling under the skylight has not yet been removed, but should be taken off. The remaining false ceiling should remain in place ;
d) Staircases and ramps can be redesigned. Guidelines should be provided by UNESCO ;
e) Whitewash applied to the building, brick piers and the design of the railings on the roof reflect features of the above-mentioned previous structure. Whitewash could nevertheless be removed ;
f) Access of the public to the roof of the new Temple was allowed to charge entry fees and raise funds for the maintenance of the property. Free access to any area of the property for worshippers, including to the open garden surrounding the Temple, has traditionally been granted and has become customary ;
Concerning the mid-term recommendations, the State Party provided the following observations:
a) LDT will hire a designer to review the current landscape with a view to enhance its capacity to reflect the spiritual values of the property. The State Party would appreciate it if the services of such an expert could be made available by UNESCO ;
b) LDT acknowledges the need for a Management Plan for the property. A consultant will be hired to elaborate such a Plan, which will be implemented on an annual basis through the regular budget of LDT ;
c) Concerning the strengthening of the management mechanism at the property, LDT has long felt that this was important. LDT will commission a study to look into the problem and shall act upon the resulting recommendations ;
d) LDT shall develop an awareness-raising programme and implement it ;
e) Regulations to control developments and their potential impact on archaeological resources have existed for a long time, but they were not respected so far. LDT shall review the regulations and ensure their enforcement in the future.
On the long-term recommendations of the joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS Mission of 2004, such as a review of the 1978 Kenzo Tange Master Plan and exploring the possibility for an extension to the World Heritage property, the State Party acknowledges their pertinence, and considers that further substantial action will be required towards their implementation. Finally, the State Party provided information on some improvement works which have been carried out since 2004 within the complex (but outside the World Heritage property).
With respect to the different points raised in the State Party’s report, ICOMOS noted that the previous structure existing at the property was just a platform, not a building or a room, and therefore it could not be compared with the new Temple. Security concerns, moreover, could be more appropriately addressed by strengthening control at the property. The false ceiling should be removed as it is “distractive and … inappropriate for the structure, as it is made of plastic, which may also contribute towards the ventilation problems”. Concerning the redesign of the staircase, ramp, and railings on the roof, and the removal of the whitewash, ICOMOS reiterates that the implementation of these recommendations of the joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS mission of 2004 would mitigate the impact of the new building without compromising any of its functional capacities. ICOMOS further stressed the need for a comprehensive site Management Plan to integrate various aspects related to the conservation, development and presentation of the property.
The above issues were also discussed with representatives from the State Party and the management body during the joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS mission to the Kathmandu Valley in March 2005. On this occasion, the State Party recognized the challenges posed by the new structure of the Maya Devi Temple, and requested another mission to the property by UNESCO in order to agree on definite solutions. The possibility of organizing an architectural competition for the design of a new building (following the removal of the present one), was also envisaged, if funding and expertise were made available to the State Party.