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‘Slip’ between monumental cup and CAG’s lip

New Delhi, Sept. 6: The Archaeological Survey of India has come under glare after a CAG report revealed in late August that 92 protected monuments in its care cannot be traced, including seven in the Calcutta circle.

The ASI has, however, termed the report erroneous and attributed the “wrong” figures to “miscommunication” and a “lack of co-ordination” between the CAG’s performance audit team and its own field officers who may not have been updated about the existence of the monuments.

It said a quick survey done since the August 23 tabling of the report had shown that 38 of the purportedly missing monuments existed physically and that only 22 were untraceable on the ground. At least 12 monuments were under water, including four of the seven in the Calcutta circle, it said.

In a news conference today, culture minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch said: “After the CAG report, we worked overtime to find out the real situation on ground. The CAG is certainly wrong as we have found that 38 monuments physically existů. There was a lack of co-ordination between our field officers and the (CAG) audit team.”

Neither the culture ministry nor the ASI would explain how a ground survey of the purportedly missing monuments could be completed so fast. They maintained that “some miscommunication” had led to a faulty missing list.

An ASI source said many of its field officers were often unaware of the whereabouts of monuments as they rarely visited sites. “It is possible that the officials whom the performance audit team met were new to the post or may not have seen the concerned monument during their tenure,” ASI DG Pravin Srivastava said.

The ASI has about 3,678 protected monuments in its charge but only about 2,179 attendants to oversee them. Many monuments were left unguarded, sources said. The finance ministry has recently approved the revival of 1,877 posts. The country is divided into 24 circles, headed by a superintending archaeologist each.

According to the culture ministry, it was already known that four of the seven monuments listed as missing in the Calcutta circle had been submerged in the waters of the Kangsabati dam in Bengal’s West Midnapore, although their exact sites were not known.

“Only one monument, the ruins of Fort Nadia, is untraceable. Two monuments have been traced. The rest has for long been submerged because of the Kangsabati dam,” said Ashok Patel, the superintending archaeologist of the Calcutta circle.

The CAG report has only vaguely listed the six monuments, apart from Fort Nadia. “A mound and a statue of Surya, a mound with a Jain statue, image of Durga slaying Mahishasur under a tree, a mound with an image of Nandi on it, a mound with statues of Ganesh and Nandi on it, and a temple site now represented only by a mound,” the report said.

Of these, the two that have been traced are the image of Durga slaying Mahishasur, which is in a Bishnupur museum, and the Jain statue which has been traced to a hill near the Kangsabati dam, the ASI said.

“It is just a matter of due diligence. In many cases, the monuments should have been removed from the protected list, especially those that have been submerged. Since the ASI has a lack of personnel, it is not able to monitor many of the monuments regularly,” an official said.

The ASI’s Agra, Aurangabad and Chennai circles have reported that none of the monuments listed by the CAG report is missing. Seven monuments of the Agra circle, including the tomb of Lt Col John Guthrie, five of Aurangabad and three of Chennai had been listed as missing.

Fifteen monuments were listed as missing in the Delhi circle. The ASI said one of these, the Sat Narain Bhavan, had long been denotified. “The owners of Sat Narain Bhavan had objected to ASI protection so it was denotified. The structure is still standing strong. ASI forgot to remove it from its list,” an official said.