On 5 February 2010 a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party. This report covered management and visitor related issues, conservation works carried out at the property, the state of progress on the implementation of the management plan, and a report on the health of the Bodhi Tree. The report also included a copy of the legal act protecting the property at the Bihar State level, and the minutes of the annual meetings of the Expert Advisory Committee on Mahabodhi Temple from 2005 to 2009.
a) Confirmation of the adoption of the Vision 2005-2031 Development Plan by the Gaya Region, integrating relevant provisions of the site management plan
The State Party report indicates that the site is being managed by the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC) under the Bodhgaya Temple Act of 1949. There is also an Expert Advisory Committee on Mahabodhi to give regular advice to the management committee on activities to be undertaken. In specific reference to the request by the World Heritage Committee in regard to ensuring that the management plan has been integrated into the larger 2005 – 2031 Development Plan, the State Party report states clearly that all development activities in Bodhgaya, including those related to tourism management, are now guided by the management plan. The report further states that the level of visitors remains on the increase. There are, however, no indications as to how this increased visitor flow is being dealt with, and the annexed minutes of the Expert Advisory Committee indicate that work has not yet been initiated for the improvement of signage and visitor information at the site.
The Advisory Bodies and the World Heritage Centre welcome this confirmation by the BTMC that the site management plan is now being used as a guideline for development at the Temple complex and in Bodhgaya. It is not always clear, however, how the decisions taken by the Expert Advisory Committee (as found in the minutes provided), conform to the management plan. Concerns also still remain in regard to the management of the increasing number of pilgrims and other visitors to the site.
b) Commitment of the authorities to continue to enforce the ban on construction at the property
The State Party report states clearly that all development activities in Bodhgaya are now guided by the management plan, which states along with the development plan that no new construction should take place within the World Heritage property, and that very limited development related to religious and related usage can be allowed in the buffer zone. However, no indications as to the commitment of the authorities to continue to enforce the ban on construction at the property was contained in the State Party report as requested by the Committee at its 31st session.
c) Conservation issues (including the state of the Bodhi Tree)
The State Party report provides a short update on completed and ongoing conservation and restoration of specific elements within the temple compound. There is mention within the Expert Advisory Committee minutes to proposals for new boundary railings and carved panels showing the life of the Buddha, for which advice from the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies would be sought. There is also extensive information on the health of the Bodhi tree, which has improved in the past three years with proper attention.
The Advisory Bodies and the World Heritage Centre welcome the ongoing conservation works that have been carried out at the property in cooperation with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The State Party reports, however, does not provide enough information on the conservation work carried out or on the proposed additional elements (railings and panels) referred to in the Expert Advisory Committee minutes. There also remains some concern about the use of appropriate materials for conservation and repair work.
d) Protection of the landscape surrounding the property including by the submission of a re-nomination for the inscription of an extended area as a cultural landscape
Due to the importance of the property within its larger cultural landscape associated with the life of Buddha, the World Heritage Committee at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007), strongly urged the State Party to submit a nomination for the property as a cultural landscape incorporating not only the temple complex but the surrounding landscape. There was no information in the state of conservation report submitted by the State Party on this issue.
As stated in previous reports, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the extension of this property to include its landscape is an important objective in order to capture additional aspects that would enhance the Outstanding Universal Value and to allow for the protection of this significant landscape. Recognising that it is the prerogative of the State Party to decide whether or not to re-nominate an extended property, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that it would be useful to further discuss this issue with the State Party in the context of any missions to the site and/or of the Periodic Reporting process,
e) Legal Status of the property
Although not contained in the body of the State of Conservation Report, the annexed minutes of the Expert Advisory Committee on Mahabodhi Temple, dated July 2009, mention that no progress has been made on the request by the World Heritage Committee to have the site protected at the national level in addition to the state protection.
Given its status as a World Heritage property, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies continue to consider that the declaration of the property as a national monument would give additional protection. It may be, however, that the State Party and the BTMC feel that the current legal protection under Bihar State law is sufficient with the ASI being called in for conservation works. This is an issue that should be further explored in consultation with the State Party, the BTMC, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies possibly in the context of a mission.
In conclusion, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies welcome progress made by the BTMC at the property. It should be emphasized, however, that as requested in the mission report from 2005, a retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value is needed to guide conservation and management decisions. Attention should also be called to the need to ensure that decision-making by both the BTMC and Expert Advisory Committee is in conformity with the management plan, and that proper advice is sought on conservation activities and any new proposals for the property. For this reason, a mission would be useful in 2011 with the aim of discussing with the State Party and BTMC the progress made on the site to date, and to clarify the feasibility of earlier recommendations of the World Heritage Committee for national legal protection and an extension to the property.