The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ayodhya dig set for Wednesday kick-off

Ayodhya, March 10: The Archaeological Survey of India will start excavation at the disputed Ayodhya site on March 12 to find out if there is any evidence of the existence of a temple at the spot where the Babri Masjid stood.

The leader of the ASI team, B.R. Mani, communicated this to the Uttar Pradesh government and Allahabad High Court’s officer on special duty, Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid, today after a four-hour inspection of the site.

Pressed for time by the decision of the special bench of Allahabad High Court to complete the work in a month, the ASI team will follow a rigorous work schedule. Each day the work will start at 8 am and continue uninterrupted till 5 pm.

Fourteen members of the team reached Ayodhya last night. Two representatives of the Canadian company, Tojo-Vikas International, which conducted the ground penetration survey in January on the court’s orders as a prelude to digging, are expected to join the team by March 12.

The administration has issued photo-identity cards to all the 14 excavators and 52 labourers who will be involved in the excavation work in the initial stage.

“We may requisition more labourers later as the need arises,” Mani, the ASI’s superintending archaeologist, said after a meeting with the Faizabad commissioner and other officials.

Mani hinted that Tojo-Vikas’ survey would provide the basis for the excavation which is to start from the south of the Ram chabutra, an erected platform opposite the sanctum sanctorum of the makeshift structure where the idol of Ram Lalla is installed.

The excavation will be carried out under specially erected tents on the disputed premises and there are indications that the team would work on a 4x4 square metre piece of land at any one time.

A coordination committee has been formed by the local administration with the ASI members to ensure that the excavating team gets what it requires to do the job. “The committee will meet tomorrow to give final shape to the excavation work plan. There could also be some mid-course corrections in the plan finalised by us and we will have to keep that change of schedule in mind,” Faizabad commissioner R.M. Shrivastsva said.

As directed by the high court, all the 14 parties involved in the Ayodhya suits are being informed of the plan of work. The court has allowed one representative of each party to be present during the excavation.

“While ensuring uninterrupted darshan of Ram Lalla, as directed by the court, we will not allow entry of any unauthorised person in the excavation area,” inspector-general of police (Faizabad zone) A.K. Jain said.

The temple remained open for puja and darshan today and a large number of devotees visited it, some prompted by curiosity about the excavation.

Special lighting arrangements have been made at the site and security personnel guarding the area have been provided with night-vision lenses.

“Though there is no threat to the ASI team, as a precautionary measure, we have provided them adequate security,” Jain said.

The entire excavation work will be videographed. On ASI’s request, the state government has prepared a list of 80 labourers whose antecedents have been checked by police. The labourers were kept waiting through the day today outside the labyrinthine aisle, covered with iron bars, which leads to the makeshift temple.

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