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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: With the two-member inspection team of ASI having returned to New Delhi where they will submit the fact-finding report on violation of the AMASR Act, highly placed sources privy to the report have disclosed that the report contains some damning revelations.

“Prima facie the Ekamara Khestra Development Project implementing authorities have violated the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites Remains (AMASR) Act. The Suka- Sari temple is a protected site under the AMASR Act. The discovery of dismembered artefacts and strewn sculptures (see the images below) very close (within 100 mt) to the protected monument sans ASI permission points to a clear violation of the Act,” said a high ranking official in the Bhubaneswar ASI circle.

[caption id="attachment_515664" align="aligncenter" width="733"] Courtesy: INTACH Bhubaneswar[/caption]

SO WILL BDA FACE PENALTY?

The Act says any violation of the provision is liable for an individual or an organisation to pay a maximum penalty of Rs 1 lakh or face imprisonment up to 1-year. (See the image below)

However, BMC Commissioner Prem Chandra Chaudhary, who is also vice-chairman of BDA, said, “No violation has taken place. Only the land acquisition has been done. Any construction work is yet to commence. OBCC (Odisha Bridge Construction Company) has been asked to take permission from ASI when they commence construction work or development activities in the area.”

WHAT THE AMASR ACT SAYS?

As per the Act, not only construction of new buildings within the prohibited area is non-permissible but the 1958 Act also prohibits carrying on any mining, quarrying, excavating, blasting or any operation of a like nature in such area without permission of the NMA (National Monument Authority or ASI)

Though technically, OBCC hasn’t started any construction activity in the vicinity of the protected monument, the fact is the Act has clearly prohibited any activity of excavation, quarrying or any such operation.

But in the Ekamara Development Region, the operation of OBCC is it has bulldozed an authorised structure in close proximity to the protected monument – Suka-Sari temple.

As per heritage expert Anil Dhir, "This bulldozing operation falls under the ambit of the Act, therefore, the BDA has violated the AMASR Act quite unambiguously."

Meanwhile, a team of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) that visited the site for an on-the-spot verification had even questioned the role of ASI.

“We presume that ASI has given permission to Odisha government’s Ekamra Khestra Development Plan. It’s very surprising that while giving permission did ASI scrutinise the said project under the AMASR Act,” questioned Anil Dhir, member of the INTACH team and a historian of repute.

THE ASI VERSION

“The allegation is not based on facts. Till date, the State government has not sought any permission from the ASI for its development plan. Over a dozen letters have been sent to higher authorities in the State. The issue has been brought to the notice at the level of highest decision-making authorities in nearly half-a-dozen meetings. We haven’t received any communication from the State government so far,” explained Arun Malik, Superintendent, ASI Bhubaneswar.

Post the factual examination, the moot point then crops up again is:

Will the BDA be taken to task for its heritage illiteracy?

While ASI authorities remain tight-lipped about the course of action, highly placed sources have revealed that the fact-finding report will be submitted to the ASI DG and the Central government.

In the meantime, damage control exercise has been launched by the State government. A top official in the Housing and Urban Development department revealed that they were taking up this sensitive issue at the government to government level and the issue will be amicably sorted out very soon.

HERITAGE ILLITERACY IS NO BLISS

The reported heritage illiteracy shown by the implementing authorities may prove dearly to the State. Razing down structures of heritage importance may rob the claim of heritage city status to Bhubaneswar, when it has to compete with heavyweight contenders like the national capital Delhi, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

“In order to get the heritage status tag for the Temple Town, the State government has to conserve the heritage Mutts that are slated for demolition now. Also, razing down and levelling of landscape in close proximity to a protected site will weaken State’s heritage claim,” lamented Anil Dhir.

TEMPLE TOWN HERITAGE CLAIM

As per UNESCO’s tentative list of nominations, Bhubaneswar has been nominated for the coveted status on the following grounds:

  • Criteria (i): The presence of such a large number of temples at one location with the culminating architectural marvel of Lingaraj Temple is a sheer case of human creative genius.
  • Criteria (ii): Ekamra Kshetra exhibits an important interchange of human values throughout ancient and medieval periods at Bhubaneswar that is manifest in the development of Kalinga architecture so much so that the entire range of this style is evident within Ekamra Kshetra.
  • Criteria (iii): Ekamra Kshetra bears exceptional testimony to the multi-religious, multi-sectoral holy city and associated traditions that are still living. The design and development of Ekamra Kshetra as a Hindu sacred city based upon the principles of Mandala are still evident.

UNESCO while submitting the list in 2014 has stated that since the monuments, including Mutts, are well protected, therefore, there is a good claim of authenticity and integrity in the claim,

The Bottom Line: The above criteria show the City’s heritage status depends on temples and mutts. But the Ekamra Khestra Development Plan is hurting where it hurts the claim of heritage city status to the City of Temples.

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