State govt. did not seek the mandated permission from ASI prior to the demolition
A high-level team of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Thursday inspected the site around the 11th century Lingaraj Temple here, where ancient monuments were flattened during a demolition of structures as part of the government’s ambitious beautification drive.
Joint Director General (Archaeology) Sanjay Manjul and Joint Director General (Monument) T.J. Alone visited the spot and went around centuries-old the Suka Sari temple.
“Our Joint DGs have examined the area where demolition had taken place. They will submit their reports to Director General of ASI. Based on their reports, the next course of action would be taken,” said Arun Kumar Mallick, ASI Superintendent, Odisha Circle.
The Odisha government is executing its Ekamra Kshetra beautification project in which a space is being created in the area adjoining the Lingaraj Temple to accommodate up to 2 lakh devotees.
As heavy machinery and vehicles were deployed to clear the structures, some ancient monuments were damaged. This prompted Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan to request Union Culture and Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel to help salvage and preserve the ancient architecture.
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has also found that irreparable damage had been done to this and the heritage sites.
“The State government had not sought any permission from the ASI to execute a beautification project, which is mandatory under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMASR Act). Ironically, no person with archaeological knowledge was deputed to supervise the demolition of structures around the Lingaraj Temple,” said Mr. Mallick.
The ASI Superintendent said damage had surely been caused to the ancient structures. The inspection by two Joint DG rank officers was carried out to ascertain the extent of damage, he said.
“We find that no standard laid down guidelines have been followed by the project implementation authorities and excavating teams. Irreparable damage has been done to adjoining ancient shrines,” INTACH observed in its preliminary investigation.
Mr. Pradhan had urged Mr. Patel to send an expert ASI team to Bhubaneswar for carrying out a detailed study and expedite a thorough and scientific excavation of the Ekamra Kshetra area in Bhubaneswar for unearthing heritage structures that may lie buried under encroachments.