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Devbrat Patnaik

Bhubaneswar: Is Odisha government getting too anxious to earn the Heritage City tag for Bhubaneswar? The demolition drive for the Ekamra Kshetra beautification project around the temple of Lord Lingaraj in the capital city is seen being executed at a faster pace, but allegedly without approval of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) even though the periphery comes under the purview of the central agency.

As per the Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act, 1958, area in the vicinity of a protected monument within 100 metres is a prohibited area, while the area within 200 meters of such monuments comes under the regulated category. Further, carrying out any repair or modifications up to 300 metres from the monuments requires prior permission.

However, it has been alleged that the government has violated these guidelines in the name of Ekamra Kshetra development.

“I personally believe the state government has destroyed structures at every stage of excavation. Whatever project is being initiated, they should submit the master plan to us so that we send it to the Centre for approval. Unfortunately, that has not happened," said Arun Malik, superintending archaeologist of ASI Bhubaneswar Circle.

Last week, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan sought urgent intervention of the Centre in carrying out a detailed scientific excavation of the heritage-rich Ekamra Kshetra for protection and preservation of invaluable heritage structures, the remnants of which are believed to have been built during the era of the Somavanshi kingdom between 10th and 11th centuries.

Amid allegations of destruction of ancient structures around the Suka-Sari temple complex, ASI Joint Director General (Archaeology) Sanjay Kumar Manjul Wednesday visited the site to check if any part of the heritage has been damaged during the recent excavation. The official made it clear that digging at the site was done without informing the Archaeological Survey of India.

Speaking to media persons, Manjul said, "Prima facie, just by one inspection, it is difficult to ascertain what monuments were demolished or what structures have been damaged. We will match the old photographs with the current site and remnants to find out all the problems and the amount of destruction the excavation has caused."

On the other hand, INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) has alleged that the government did not take any expert advice prior to the excavation, as such many invaluable archaeological structures were destroyed.

Anil Dhir, Life Member of INTACH said "The operational guidelines of the UNESCO state that ground-penetrating radar (GPR) analysis should be followed before executing any such work in the heritage sites. It works as an X-ray which gives an idea of what lies beneath the surface. GPR method was not followed by the government. They had no idea that the excavation would unearth structures of the 10th century or even beyond. Valuable archaeological structures have been destroyed. You cannot even imagine. The international market value of these structures would be a minimum of Rs 1 lakh."

"I don't think they (government) have taken the opinion of an expert before excavation, and if at all they have taken, they have ignored it. This is not beautification, this is destruction," Dhir added.

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