Ayodhya, March 9: A team of archaeologists deputed to excavate the disputed Ayodhya site on the orders of Allahabad High Court arrived late tonight quietly, neither to screams of protest nor to cries of welcome.
“We have been instructed not to talk to the press,” said B.R. Mani, superintending archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and leader of the 16-member team, when asked about the mission.
Sources indicated that the excavators would inspect the site tomorrow, set up a camp office and prepare a work-plan by mapping the site before they start unearthing evidence whether there was a Hindu temple at the spot where Babri Masjid once stood.
“This may take a few days. The ASI team will have to inform the high court’s officer on special duty (Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid) before starting excavation so that contesting parties could be asked to be present at the excavation site,” a senior state official said.
While Mani went into a huddle with Faizabad commissioner R.M. Shrivastava — the court-appointed receiver of the disputed premises — immediately after reaching Ayodhya around 7 pm, the 15 team members reached Ayodhya late at night.
The squad travelled from New Delhi to Faizabad by car and brought all the equipment needed for the spadework.
Two members of Tojo-Vikas International, the Canadian company which conducted a ground penetration radar survey of the disputed site on the court’s orders in January, have come with the ASI team.
Shrivastava said the team will set up its camp office in Manas Bhavan, which houses most government offices dealing with the mandir-masjid tangle.
The administration has provided telephones and other necessities for the camp office, including a dark room for developing photographs of the artefacts found during digging. It has shortlisted a panel of more than 200 labourers after verifying their antecedents. The ASI had requested 80.
“For security reasons, everyone engaged in excavation would be provided with a special pass and entry of any unauthorised person to the area would be banned,” Shrivastava said.
Though the ASI team’s arrival generated little curiosity, the state government has made special security arrangements here till their work ends.
Faizabad zone’s inspector-general of police A.K. Jain, who is camping here, said five more companies of paramilitary forces have been sought from the Centre to augment security.
“A dozen companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary and 350 police jawans would be deployed to erect a human wall between the makeshift temple and the excavation site,” Jain said.
Barring muffled noises by the likes of Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas chief Ramachandradas Paramhans and Jatin Das, priest of the makeshift Ram Lalla temple, about the safety of the idol, most residents of Faizabad and Ayodhya appeared unconcerned.
“We would be happy if this helps in quick disposal of the dispute because we are fed up with the hype built by the rival parties over the issue,” said Ram Naresh, a vegetable vendor.
Mohammed Idris, a meat-shop owner in nearby Faizabad, shared his sentiments. “We want the dispute to be settled one way or the other so that normal life can resume,” he said.