Mrunal Manmay Dash

A recent RTI report has unearthed suspected ticketing irregularities at Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected monuments like Sun Temple in Konark and Khandagiri, Udaygiri caves in Bhubaneswar.

As per reports, local ASI officials, entrusted with collecting tickets from visitors were allegedly involved in ticket recycling affecting up to Rs 50 lakh loss to the ASI coffers every month.

The issue came to fore after the ASI made surprise inspection of the monuments and its ticketing activities in July this year. Sources said, after finding a very low footfall at Konark and Khandagiri, Udaygiri in the tourist month of January, the ASI decided to review the same in July.

The RTI report revealed, the Sun Temple at Konark registered 41,000 tourist footfalls in January, 2022. However, after the inspection by the State officials of ASI, the tourist footfall suddenly rose four times, to 1.79 lakh in September, 2022. The money collection from tickets also increased manifold; from Rs 16.71 lakh in January to Rs 72.27 lakh in September.

Demanding probe, Bhagirathi Swain, a member of the local outfit, Konark Suraksha Samiti said, "Contrasting trends in tourist arrival at the Sun Temple calls for a thorough probe. I am sure, many skeletons will stumble from the closet if an impartial investigation is done."

Similar kind of ticketing trends were registered at Khandagiri, Udaygiri caves in Bhubaneswar as well. As per RTI report, the ASI protected monuments in Bhubaneswar witnessed over three-times more footfall in September than in January. While the caves recorded a mere 8000 tourists in January the number rose sharply to more than 25,000 in September after the inspection by the top ASI officials.

Speaking about the irregularity, Babuli Behera, a local shop keeper at Khandagiri caves said, "I have seen the security guards selling one ticket multiple times without scanning them at the gate. They also let visitors go without tickets.

"The recent inspection by the authorities have forced the security guards and local officials to mend their ways. Otherwise corruption was rampant until now," Babuli alleged.

It has been alleged that the sub-circle officials of the ASI at Konark and Khandagiri have been involved in ticket recycling, where they do not tear the ticket while collecting from the tourists and use the ticket multiple times by selling those to several tourists again and again. The technique drastically decreases the number of registered tourists, at the same time warming the pockets of unscrupulous local officials.

As per Historian Anil Dhir, the roots of this scam are deep. "If you look at the collection figures of Konark Temple, it will be made clear that there has been a massive irregularity in the ticketing system."

"Everybody is involved in the scam. Only the ticket checker can't do a scam at this scale. The local ASI officials are also involved in this," Dhir alleged.

However, the ASI refuted the allegations. Replying to OTV's queries, ASI Superintendent, Arun Mallick said, "There are no such irregularities in ticket collection. There are other variables in the theory and the data has been misrepresented."