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Delhi puts temple before Sanchi stupas

Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh), Feb. 25: After the Bhojshala monument, the Sanchi stupas from the 3rd century BC are in the middle of a controversy in Madhya Pradesh.

The Archaeological Survey of India had directed the Digvijay Singh government to pull down a Jain temple that had come up close to the stupas, which have been designated World Heritage monument.

Union minister of state for culture Bhavnabehn Chikhalia, however, cancelled the order today with an advisory to ASI director-general Kasturi Gupta Menon.

Chikhalia asked Menon to take her ministry into confidence before acting on such “sensitive issues”.

With Jain votes certain to play a decisive role in the poll-bound state, the government was in no mood to oblige the ASI even if it meant snatching the Unesco-accorded World Heritage status from the stupas.

According to Unesco and ASI rules, no structure should come up within 100 metres of the protected monument’s boundary. The Jain temple, completed in 1994, is barely 30 metres from the stupas’ outer walls.

The state BJP said Chikhalia acted swiftly to prevent the Digvijay regime from gaining the upper hand in the controversy. She acted on the complaint of Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the local BJP MP.

Earlier, the Jain community here had challenged the ASI order, claiming it received permission to build the temple in 1989. The ASI rule debarring constructions 100 metres from a protected monument, it said, was formulated in 1992.

A temple trustee, J.D. Jain, played the “minority card” and claimed the Jain temple was being targeted at the expense of a Durga temple barely three metres from the stupas’ boundary.

According to Jain, another Buddhist temple, Chethiyagiri Vihara, run by the Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka, is situated next to stupas 1, 2 and 3. “It is clearly a case of discrimination,” he added.

The ASI officials in Bhopal contested the charges and claimed the Jain temple came up in 1996, four years after the building restrictions were framed.

The officials said they knew nothing about the Durga temple and claimed the Chethiyagiri Vihara was given special permission in 1968.

The ASI officials also accused the district administration of poor regard for heritage norms.

“Perhaps they do not realise that if the Sanchi monument is denotified, it would mean loss of tourism to the state,” said a senior ASI official, who refused to be named.

The local administration appeared to be in no hurry to follow the ASI diktat. District collector Raisen Arun Pandey said: “Yes, it is true we have received an order from Kasturi Gupta Menon, director-general ASI, New Delhi. But we have not applied our minds as we have to take factors such as law and order into account.”

The ASI order had specified a 15-day deadline from February 3. Pandey said the government could not act on the basis of an ASI circular alone.

“After all, people’s faith is involved. It is a sensitive matter. We have to be cautious,” he said.

Pandey’s comment was followed within hours by the Central order cancelling the ASI diktat.

When news of the central order became public late tonight, ASI officials declined comment. “Please spare us. Do not get us into more problems,” an official said.

The nearly 90-metre-high stupas, situated atop the hills of Sanchi, offer an insight into Buddhist art and literature from the 3rd century BC to the 12th century AD.

Emperor Ashoka is said to have built one of the stupas that houses parts of the Buddha’s remains.

The quiet and secluded Sanchi was also a place for Buddhist meditation and monastic life.

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