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ASI nod to real estate at Churanga

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 20: The Archaeological Survey of India has kicked up a row by giving permission to an industrial house to use part of a protected historical site at Churanga Garh on the city outskirts for commercial purposes.

The industrialist, whose plant at Barang is lying defunct, proposes to build apartments at the historical site. The Churanga Garh is one among the five major forts of the Ganga dynasty dating back to the early 12th Century.

Conservationists alleged that the permission accorded by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was in violation of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act (AMASR), 2010, that clearly states that no construction should be allowed within 100 metres of a protected site.

Barang resident and activist Niranjan Sahoo, who is opposing the move, said that permission for construction had been granted in the prohibited zone on an area of 29.26 acres.

Sahoo wondered when similar permissions for construction had not been granted in the vicinity of historical sites in the Old Town area and Khandagiri, how could someone so high up in ASI’s hierarchy favour an industrial house in such a manner.

Historian Prafulla Tripathy said: “The historic Churanga Garh fort is one among the five major forts (pancha katakas) of the Ganga dynasty. Kataka in Odia refers to military cantonments. The other cantonments in Odisha were at Barabati, Bidanasi, Choudwar and Amaravati (near Chatia).”

According to Madalapanji (Odia almanac) Chodaganga Dev, the founder of the Ganga dynasty, had built the fort, which was later named after him.

The gigantic fort was in focus from the medieval times till the advent of the British in the region. Strategically situated, the fort was functioning as the second line of defence for the Ganga rulers.

Feroz Shah Tughlaq had invaded the fort during the reign of Bhanudev II in 1360 AD. It was also under the occupation of King Mukunda Dev, the last independent ruler of Odisha. In 1568, the fort came under the occupation of the Afghans and later the Moghuls.

The documents available with The Telegraph show that the ASI director-general has given permission to the industrial house under the sub-rule 10 of AMASR Act.

The DG while granting permission asked the industrial house to carry out a ground penetrating radar survey (GPRS) before taking up construction.

However, the letter is silent on whether the industrial house would stop work if the survey throws up artefacts of archaeological importance.

Sources said: “The National Monuments Authority had refused permission to the industrial house for any kind of commercial activity in the prohibited zone at the site.”

The ASI expert advisory committee had also twice rejected permission for construction at the site.

Speaking to The Telegraph, DG Pravin Srivasatava said: “The permission has been merely granted to the industrial house to demolish their own structure and build another one in its place. No fresh acquisition of land has been allowed. Though it falls inside the protected area, it already existed when the area was notified.”

He further added that within the protected area, which is spread over 1,000 acres, there is land owned by various government agencies including railways, an ESI hospital and national highway. There are at least half a dozen shops too.

Srivastava also countered the claim that the National Monument Authority (NMA) had refused permission to the company on two occasions.

“The permission by NMA was not refused on merit, but because it was beyond NMA’s jurisdiction. This factory is within protected area which is administered by the ASI and not the NMA,” he said. The jurisdiction of the NMA is for the prohibited area that lies beyond the protected structure and goes on for 300 metres.

A representative of the company K. Ojha said: “The ASI has given a conditional permission. For that GPRS study is a must, but some people are opposed to the development and have prevented the central team from doing their duty. Survey is the only option to know whether there are any archaeological vestiges underneath.”

“If there is any presence of any archaeological remains, then the ASI will definitely act according to its rules. But if nothing is found, the company can go ahead with its project,” Ojha said.

However, advisor, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Odisha chapter), S.K.B. Narayan Das said: “We have the sad experience of losing a major part of the 500 acres notified national monument at Sisupalgarh to encroachers. In this case, Odisha government should acquire the entire land and hand it over to the ASI for conservation.”

Former superintending archaeologist of State Archaeology B.K. Rath said: “The permission by the ASI to use the land near Churanga Garh for commercial purpose will ruin the historical site.”