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2000-yr-old fort at realtor mercy

Bhubaneswar, March 4: The ruins of Sisupalgarh, a 2,000-year-old fortified settlement on the city outskirts, are facing threat from illegal building activities.

Realtors have bought acres around the famous monolithic pillars made of laterite stone, also known as the Queen’s Chamber, in contravention of rules. They are building houses in the area even though such activities cannot take place near a historical site.

Following excavations by archaeologist B.B. Lal in 1947-48, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) declared the site with an area over 562.68 acres as a monument of national importance. Earlier, a moat surrounded the fort.

But now, only 0.77 acres of this entire land remain under the ASI’s control. The small area lies near the western gate of the fort, which was excavated in the past. “Some local people informed that the land, on which the iconic pillars stand, is owned by a person. And he was about to ink a pact with a real estate agent. If the deal is done, the site will be ruined,” said a senior ASI official.

With more than 1,000 buildings inside the fort area violating norms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010, the situation justifies that there has been no action taken by the state and ASI authorities to stop the illegal activities in the past.

“If the land changes hands, local people and history lovers will be at a huge loss, as Sisupalgarh is well known as a fort settlement, and with its design, it stands out among its contemporary forts across the globe. It is one of its kind in India,” said historian and writer Prafulla Tripathy.

Deputy superintending archaeologist of the ASI Jeevan Patnaik 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.”

Sources in the ASI said that 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 was taken to free the land from private occupation.

The state government issued a notification in 2000, so that no conversion will be allowed to make agriculture land to homestead land. But still, construction activities are on in full swing at Sisupalgarh. Moreover, a notification was issued in 2006 to ban housing plan in that protected area. But again, no action was taken to demolish the structures violating the act.

Culture secretary Arabinda Padhee said: “I have called a meeting of officials of our director and the ASI authorities. We are going to discuss the topic at length. When I was the revenue divisional commissioner, I had made it a norm that no land transaction would be allowed by any revenue official violating the act. If anything such is happening at Sisupalgarh, we will take the strongest action to save the monument.”

There was also a plan to develop a walking path connecting the pillars with the excavated western gate, but it could not see the light of day due to non-availability of land. A proposal for an archaeological park by a leading industrial house, too, could not progress due to the land hurdle.

Enforcement officer of the Bhubaneswar Development Authority Debaprasad Dash said: “We have already asked the grassroots-level land officials (amins) to detect violation of the Odisha Development Authority Act, 1982, in reference to the AMASR Act. We are going to take up demolition in and around Sisupalgarh after getting their reports.”