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Saturday , November 2 , 2013
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Tampering charge haunts gold hunt

- GSI chief speaks out day after retirement

New Delhi, Nov. 1: A scientific report from the Geological Survey of India cited by the government to justify a hunt for gold under an old fort in Uttar Pradesh had been tampered with, according to GSI sources who say their original report neither mentioned gold nor recommended an excavation.

The version of the GSI report that prompted the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) exercise at Daudiya Kheda near Unnao said that studies had indicated “possible gold, silver, and/or some alloys” at the site and suggested excavation.

But senior GSI officials told The Telegraph that the original report sent to the government had only described electrical conductivity patterns at the site.

“Our report only mentioned conductivity differences, nothing more than that,” said A. Sundaramoorthy, the then GSI director-general who retired yesterday. “We did not recommend excavations either.”

A senior GSI official said superintending geophysicist S.K. Mishra, who had led a team of 12 to investigate the site, had sent a written complaint to his seniors citing differences between the report his team had handed in and the one that ended up with the ASI.

The concluding page of the purported GSI report that the ASI, which undertook the excavation, had received. Point No. 3, printed in letters fainter than most of the rest of the note, says: “However, this prominent non-magnetic anomalous zone... indicative of possible gold, silver and/or some alloys, etc, may be tested by excavation for further interest at the specified site.”

The concluding line of the “final” GSI report, which the ASI has shown to the media, says the investigations are “indicative of possible gold, silver and/or some alloys, etc, (and) may be tested by excavation for further interest at the specified site”.

GSI sources say this line must have been inserted after the report left the GSI.

The ASI has claimed throughout that it has been digging for “antiquities” at the historical site and never officially admitted it was digging for gold — though old gold artefacts or coins would qualify as “antiquities”.

But the government ordered the GSI testing only after receiving letters about a seer having dreamt — or having had a “spiritual conversation” with a dead king — about the buried gold.

Several ministries got involved in the matter after Swami Shobhan Sarkar, a sadhu based near Kanpur, wrote in September to several government agencies claiming a huge cache of gold was buried under the fort of 19th-century king Raja Ram Bux Singh.

Sarkar’s message was relayed to Sundaramoorthy on September 29 by Vivek Kumar Dewangan, private secretary to the Union minister of state for agriculture, Charan Das Mahant.

A GSI team studied the site on October 4 and 5.

In keeping with protocol, the GSI sent its report to the Union mines ministry, its parent ministry. The report was forwarded over email to the ASI by Ravindra Singh, secretary to the Union culture ministry under which the ASI functions, ASI sources said. It was not clear at which stage the alleged alteration took place.

The ASI sources added that the excavation was ordered orally — they wouldn’t say by whom.

All excavation proposals are expected to be cleared by a Central Advisory Board of Archaeology (Caba), a expert panel led by the ASI director-general. Caba cleared more than 140 sites for excavation this year but Daudiya Kheda wasn’t one of them. But excavations can be undertaken without Caba clearance, too, in case the conditions or outcome of a search run the risk of being affected by any delay.

The deadline for submitting proposals to Caba was July 31 but the ASI received the oral directions to excavate under the fort only last month.

“Although the Daudiya Kheda proposal was not part of Caba, we decided to go ahead with it based on the GSI report, which clearly raises the possibility of gold — implying there were antiquities in the precious metal (buried there),” said Syed Jamal Hussain, director (excavations), ASI.

No one from the mines ministry was available for a reaction today. Mines secretary R.H. Khwaja is in China and joint secretary Durga Shanker Mishra too is abroad. Junior officials declined comment.

GSI officials say their limited studies were not intended to draw any specific conclusions about what lay buried.

A detailed assessment would have required the GSI to build a platform and drill, which scientists say would have taken four to five weeks rather than the two days over which the GSI carried out its study.

Scientists at the GSI’s Lucknow office, who investigated the site, say they are baffled by the “alterations” to the report.

“No geophysicist anywhere in the world can specify that there could be gold, silver or any alloy buried at a site. We only wrote that there is a pocket with a change in conductivity and these changes could even be due to saline water or clay,” a senior GSI official said.

This newspaper had on October 20 quoted independent geophysicists as saying a mixture of clay and brine could well have led to the unusual conductivity readings as mentioned by the GSI.

GSI officials say they have no idea who modified the report. “We’re perplexed; we don’t know who did this,” a senior GSI scientist said.

The new GSI director-general, S.C. Rath, said: “I have only taken over today. I am not aware about the report being tampered with.”

He said he had not read either the original or the “final” report.

Since beginning the excavation on October 18, the ASI has discovered no gold but found artefacts dating back to the 1st century BC. It plans to continue excavations at the site which, ASI officials say, has been known to have had ancient settlements.

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