Archaeologist K K Muhammed, who claims to have first witnessed the remains of a Ram temple under the Babri masjid in Ayodhya, has alleged in a book that the ASI became “a wholly-paralysed body” after 2014, a charge strongly rebutted by former Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma.
Mr Sharma has also warned of “necessary action” against the archaeologist, who was part of the first excavation team led by Professor B B Lal at Ayodhya in 1976-77.
K K Muhammed had for the first time acknowledged in 1990 through a newspaper article that he had witnessed the remains of a Ram temple under the mosque.
He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2019 after the BJP returned to power at the Centre for a second consecutive term.
In his recently-released autobiography titled “An Indian I Am”, he has written that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been reduced to a “paralysed body” during the first seven years of the BJP rule.
Asked about the allegation, Mr Sharma, who was the Union culture minister from November 9, 2014 to 30 May, 2019, told PTI: “I have gone through the book. I am reviewing it. I will take necessary action.”
The archaeologist has also alleged that when the BJP came to power in 2014, it reduced the financial powers of the superintending archaeologists from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 3 lakh, due to which they could not carry out any conservation work of monuments and temples and looked at the head office in Delhi for every little thing.
An email sent by PTI on the issue to V Vidyavathi, Director General, ASI, is yet to be responded. When contacted, Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, Public Relations Officer (PRO), ASI, refused to comment on the matter.
Government experts, who were part of the decision to reduce the financial powers of the superintending archaeologists, said it was done with a good intent to bring accountability among the engineers and archaeologists and later on, when it was realised that it did not work out, the decision was reversed.
Rakesh Tiwari, who served as the ASI’s DG from 2014 to 2017 during which the decision was taken, said, “I agree that due to the reduction of (financial) power, there was a delay in the approval process of conservation and restoration of projects. However, it is incorrect to say that no conservation work happened at all.”
A section of senior archaeologists has also alleged an autocratic and over-centralised administrative setup in the ASI.
Former ASI director for monuments and world heritage N Taher said, “After working for more than three decades in the department from the late 1980s to pre-2020, we have seen the transition or transformation in the status of the ASI in the people’s perception from a premier institution to a secondary or subsidiary institution.”
He said this, in his opinion, could be “ascribed to the mismanagement of the ASI’s manpower and resources due to its autocratic and over-centralised administrative setup, and not working on a project mode within the country as opposed to the successful implementation of projects abroad”.
In his book, K K Muhammed has suggested various ways to make the ASI a profitable body and compared the tenure of various culture ministers, starting from the period when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister.
He has described Jagmohan’s tenure as the culture minister as the “golden period” of the ASI due to the “all-round development” it ensured.
“When Narendra Modi came to power, riding on the wave of popular sentiments, what the general public expected was a repeat of what they had seen during the period of Jagmohan,” he said.
“Culture lovers all over the country were hoping to see a sea of change in the field of culture but it proved to be a magnificent illusion because the financial power of the superintending archaeologist was reduced from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 3 lakh and the rest of the power was concentrated in the central office in Delhi,” he said.
The archaeologist said he himself reconstructed 80 temples at Bateshwar in the hostile terrain of the Chambal region in Madhya Pradesh during the Congress’s government at the Centre, using his financial power of Rs 25 lakh.
“It is painfully noted that during the last seven years of the BJP rule, not a single temple has been reconstructed at Bateshwar,” he wrote.
“It is a strange irony of fate that the ASI was suddenly pushed into this state of paralysing paranoia during the period of the BJP, which used to boast of the glorious civilisation of the country,” the archaeologist wrote and went on to describe this period as a “dark age” for the ASI.
In August 2020, the Centre restored the financial power of the superintending archaeologists.
K K Muhammed has also alleged that the ASI outsourced non-conservational work such as the construction of boundary walls, pathways, toilets etc. to public construction companies that charged higher prices, whereas the ASI used to do it on a shoestring budget.
“While structural conservation and temple reconstructions were reduced to a minimum, toilet complexes consisting of a ticket counter, a cafeteria and souvenir shops at exorbitant costs were constructed at many monuments where such amenities are not required at all,” he has written.
He said the current DG has realised the problem and started taking an initiative not to allow these organisations to further exploit the ASI.
Summing up the seven years of the BJP rule, he wrote: “This period would go down in the history of the ASI as the most unfortunate period during which all those who imposed these toilet complexes knew the cost of toilets and cafeterias but not the value of temples and monuments.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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