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NEW DELHI: India has expanded the ambit of its development partnership cooperation to include restoration of historical sites and efforts to preserve monuments in countries.

To deliver on projects undertaken in a timely and focussed fashion, the Indian foreign ministry has created a special division which will focus on forging such partnerships.

The year-old division has been allocated a budget of Rs10 crore for FY 2021-22. One of the projects undertaken this year is the fifth phase of restoration work at the My Son group of Temples in Vietnam. Archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of India will travel to Laos soon to help restore the Vat Phou Temple after completing two phases of conservation work. Another team is also readying for leave for Cambodia to start the third phase of work at the Ta Prohm Temple. All three are members of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN with Cambodia and Laos having close contemporary links with China.

Work overseen by the new division includes collaboration with international and national institutions for the preservation of religious sites including temples and manuscript preservation.

India undertaking such conservation efforts is not new. Till date, India has completed more than 50 projects in 25 countries at a cost of almost $50 million. Prior to the creation of the new department, such projects were looked after by desks dealing with particular countries. The new desk is however a single reference point for all such work, aiming to project India’s soft power with a sharper focus abroad.

“This is because as an ancient civilisational state, India’s culture and civilisation has impacted other cultures and civilisations in other geographies like East Asia and also Africa," said a person familiar with the development. “India’s technical expertise in excavation, conservation and cultural management is seen in a positive light and welcomed. It is an important part of our development cooperation."

Under development cooperation, India extends lines of credit, grants-in-aid, capacity building and technical assistance. “Depending on the priorities of partner countries, India’s development cooperation ranges from commerce to culture, energy to engineering, health to housing, IT to infrastructure, sports to science, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance to restoration and preservation of cultural and heritage assets," says a note on the Indian foreign ministry’s website.

“At present we have 49 projects that are either ongoing or planned in 12 countries and these are worth about 1,000 crore," a second person aware of the matter said. Some of the ongoing restoration work is being undertaken at World Heritage sites, the second person cited above said.

According to Harsh V Pant, a professor of international relations at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank, India is investing in the linkages of the past “to leverage them to forge contemporary relations." Some of these were lost linkages and New Delhi is reviving them as India looks to forge new ties for the future, he said.

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