As requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 27th session in 2003, a management document was submitted to the Secretariat on 2 February 2004. As well as covering the local stakeholders’ dialogues and co-operation, it raises issues concerning the protection of the significant sacred values of this property, and addresses development pressures within and surrounding the property due to tourism and pilgrimage-related activities, including vandalism and theft.
ICCROM and ICOMOS have submitted a joint report, which commends the State Party for the useful information gathered together in the preparation of the report and for the innovative approach embodied in efforts to balance development and conservation. It draws attention, however, to a number of points which must be addressed to ensure complete, long term protection of the World Heritage values of the property. Some of the key technical, conceptual and managerial issues are highlighted below:
(a) Technical issues:
(i) The inscribed World Heritage property is the Mahabodhi Temple complex. Whilst the attention to Bodhgaya, given its critical role in providing the setting for Mahabodhi, is important, the management document must address head-on the problems of looking after Mahabodhi and treat Bodhgaya in that context.
(ii) The management document is not significance driven. The statement of significance, is actually a descriptive summary of the inscription criteria recognised by the Committee and consequently an understanding of significance is not used to root or ground decisions concerning the property.
(iii) The management document does not build on the nomination dossier submitted by the State Party. The core area and buffer zone defined for the Bodhgaya territory differ substantially from the zones originally defined in the nomination dossier submitted by the State Party for inscription of the property on the World Heritage List. Expansion of the core zone and the changes proposed to strengthen the buffer zone must be clearly indicated and brought to the attention of the Committee for approval.
(b) Conceptual issues:
Bodhgaya as a centre of pilgrimage: The vision statement emphasises the need to make Bodhgaya a city preaching the doctrine of Buddhism, but the deeply rooted significance of the property as a place of pilgrimage has been overlooked. The nomination dossier, where this particular value should have been recognised only refers to tangible remains. Pilgrimage removes many barriers and reflects harmony among different religious groups and the fact that Buddha himself advocated pilgrimages to the Bodhgaya has been influential in the survival of the property to the present day. Paradoxically, in the body of the report, pilgrims are considered as important stakeholders with acknowledged needs.
(c) Managerial issues:
(i) Focus on Mahabodhi: The report reads as if it were a planning document prepared primarily for the long-term treatment and development of Bodhgaya as a centre for Buddhist worship, paying occasional attention to Mahabodhi as a side issue within a larger project. It is the Mahabodhi Temple Complex itself, and not Bodhgaya, which should have a primary place in the management plan.
(ii) Treatment of Bodhgaya: If the State Party wishes to extend the Mahabodhi property to include Bodhgaya, then this management document should propose a strategy to protect the specific heritage values of Bodhgaya to bring to the attention of the Committee.
(iii) Going beyond intentions: The report is essentially a statement of good intentions. If these are not grounded in a permanent legal framework and supported by a related management structure identifying the necessary resources for sustainable management, an adequate commitment to the protection of the property cannot be ensured.
(iv) Role of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI): Currently the ASI does not have any legal control over decisions affecting the World Heritage property so it would be useful to establish legislation to designate the Mahabodhi Temple Complex a protected monument. The ASI should also provide the national outlook for the overall conservation programme working as shared partners in conservation with the other institutions concerned and the civil society.
(v) Treatment of the buffer zone: There are some contradictions evident in the management documen, which need to be resolved. For example, the document prohibits insensitive development, whilst accepting the recent introduction of many structures.
(vi) Emphasis on process: The management plan should clarify the long-term process to be used when making decisions about the property thus ensuring the survival of the recognised heritage values.
(vii) Research Strategy: Although there is a reference to excavation and conservation, no attempt has been made to develop an overall research strategy. This is a property in which an important event took place in the 6th century BC and evolved over 2500 years. There is a need to expand knowledge of this property. Furthermore, a comprehensive research strategy should be included as an essential part of the management.
(viii) Management Structure: Empowering and restructuring individual institutions is a positive approach but it is essential for an organisation with a powerful leadership to be created, in order to co-ordinate line agencies and capture the aspirations of civil society for the site management.
(ix) Monitoring: Although there are some aspects of monitoring mentioned under maintenance, it is important to develop a chapter on monitoring. This will help for reporting purposes as required by the World Heritage Committee’s Periodic Reporting process.
In conclusion, ICOMOS and ICCROM strongly recommend that the plan be subject to peer review by Indian conservation professionals and to the comments made above in this report and revised accordingly before final adoption for implementation. We would also draw the attention of the State Party to the need to demonstrate that a realistic and practical implementation strategy will actually be implemented with appropriate legal, financial and institutional support and within a management framework adequate to protect the heritage values of the property.
The Secretariat hasbeen informed of several court cases reflecting some conflicting relationships between religious groups and local communities. In order to limit the impact of intense tourism and pilgrimage-related activities, regular monitoring and adequate conservation mechanisms need to be put in place. All such measures should be worked out with the Mahabodhi Temple Trust, in close co-operation with the State Government of Bihar, who deal with tourism and infrastructure, and with the wider involvement of the Central Government (Archaeological Survey of India) with its national outlook and technical expertise in heritage conservation.
At the Dedication Ceremony (dedicating the Mahabodhi Temple to all the Buddhists in the world) on 19 February 2004, the Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Government of India pledged Central Government support for infrastructure improvements in and around Bodhgaya (i.e. opening the airport to international flights) and for the creation of a meditation park for pilgrims to meditate in a calm environment.