Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Apr 27:
The Odisha High Court has issued notices to the Archaeological Survey of India,the state government and Bhubaneswar Development Authority (BDA) to explain what steps they have taken with regard to the conservation of the Sisupalgarh fort, an ancient site of great historical importance, on the outskirts of the capital city.
The notice was issued by a division bench comprising the Chief Justice A. K. Goel and Justice A.K.Rath in response to a PIL filed by rights activist and lawyer Prabir Kumar Das seeking the court’s intervention in ensuring the state and the Central governments take necessary steps to protect and preserve the Sisupalgarh fort and the fort settlement by acquiring the occupied land from private persons,demolishing illegal structures and constructions and by undertaking conservation and development works in order to save the monument of historical interest and national importance.
Arguing strongly in favour of effective and proactive measures for the conservation of the 2000-year ancient fort site, Das in his petition has raised concern over the fact that the ruins of Sisupalgarh on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, which was excavated way back in 1947 by eminent archaeologist BB Lal and is considered to be the first instance of a planned settlement after Mohenjodaro-Harappa, faces serious threat from illegal building activities.
Referring to Article 49 of the Constitution which mandates that it is the obligation of the State to protect every monument of historical interest and of national importance and Article 51A (f) which mentions that it shall be the duty of every citizen to value and preserve the rich heritage of “our composite culture”, petitioner Das has appealed to the High Court to intervene in the matter in view of the apparent failure of the State to discharge its obligations and duty ordained by the Constitution.
Stating that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had declared 562.68 acre area around the site as a monument of national importance, Das rued that only 0.77 acres of this land remain under the ASI’s control as of now and expressed fear that the the land which houses the monolithic pillars of Sisupalgarh which is allegedly owned by a private person may soon pass into the hands of real estate developers
“With more than 1,000 buildings inside the fort area violating the norms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (Amendment and Validation) Act,2010, there has been no action taken by the State Government and ASI to stop illegal activities in the past.” the petition said.
“It is a practice all over the country that the state governments acquire lands near the monuments of national importance and provide them to the ASI for conservation. But in Odisha it is not happening. Since 1990,on more than 25 occasions, the ASI officials have approached the State Government to provide land, so that conservation activities and development of a horticultural patch around the pillars can be undertaken. But no step has been taken to free the land from private occupation,” the petition further mentioned.
The state government issued a notification in 2000,saying no conversion from agricultural land to homestead will be allowed. Moreover, a notification was issued in 2006 to ban housing in the protected area. But again, no action was taken to demolish the illegal structures and enforce the ban, Das pointed out.
Das has prayed to the court that the Revenue and Culture departments of the state government and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) of the Union government may also be directed to take both preventive and remedial steps in this regard under its direct monitoring in view of the “colossal public interest that animates this matter and the huge nuisance making potential of the vested interests who are expected to make all out efforts to obstruct, destabilize and neutralize the actions of the state government and the ASI.
No conservation and development proposal can materialize unless the state government takes necessary steps to reclaim the lands and demolish the illegal structures dotting the Sisupalgarh fort settlement which stands out for its historical and archaeological importance, Das’ petition said.