ASI, Bihar govt row over removal of encroachments around Nalanda Mahavihara


Patna: The Patna circle of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and Bihar government continued to be at loggerheads over removal of encroachments around Nalanda Mahavihara, a world heritage site, in the state’s Nalanda district.

While Goutami Bhattacharya, superintending archaeologist (ASI, Patna circle) alleged ‘indifference’ of the local administration in removing encroachments around Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda district magistrate Shashank Shubhankar said non-utilisation of areas around UNESCO world heritage site by the former for a long period invite hawkers to reoccupy the vacant space.

“In a letter to Bhattacharya on December 23, 2022, the district administration, after removing all unauthorised shops on both sides of the entrance of Nalanda Mahavihara, requested the former to immediately start ASI’s facelift work related to the world heritage site. The letter stated that vacant land (encroachment free) may again start getting encroached if it is not utilised for long,” Shubhankar told PTI.

“The district administration has been maintaining a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards encroachments. We regularly conduct encroachment removal drives in the district city and also in the vicinity of Nalanda Mahavihara and take action against encroachers. But the ASI should also play a proactive role and start its facelift work around the world heritage site. Currently, encroachments are being removed around Nalanda Mahavihara. I hope that the ASI will now utilise the vacant land,” said the DM, mentioning that he recently received a letter from Deepak Anand, additional secretary-cum-director (archaeology), art, culture and youth department of Bihar government regarding immediate removal of encroachments around the heritage site.

In a letter dated July 21, 2023, addressed to Harjot Kaur Bamhrah, additional chief secretary (ACS) art, culture and youth department of Bihar government, Bhattacharya had sought the former’s intervention in clearing encroachment around Nalanda Mahavihara.

The superintending archaeologist had expressed her annoyance over continued encroachment around Nalanda Mahavihara and alleged ‘indifference’ of the local administration towards the same.

“The recurring encroachment around Nalanda Mahavira and archeological museum in Nalanda does not bode well for maintaining the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage site as well as its authenticity and integrity. The issue needs to be resolved at the earliest to the satisfaction of all stakeholders so that the sanctity of the site is not compromised”, Bhattacharya had written to the ACS, which was also marked to the DM (Nalanda).

Reacting to the Nalanda DM’s comment, Bhattacharya told PTI on Thursday, “ASI’s functional and territorial jurisdiction does not allow for expenditure beyond the boundary wall of Nalanda Mahavihara. The ASI can’t do anything on land which is not under its territorial jurisdiction. The district administration has to do its job. If they (district administration) cannot do anything, they can hand over the land to us, and then only ASI can do something.” The Agra Development Authority (ADA) has declared the area around Taj Mahal as no vending and no vehicle zone, she said, adding the ADA maintains the area beyond the monument.

“The DM (Nalanda) by this statement wants to shrug off from his responsibility. One thing I must say is that Nalanda Mahavihara’s world heritage status is not only ASI’s responsibility. The local administration should rise to the responsibility and so far they have failed, be it in Nalanda or Rajgir,” said Bhattacharya.

Nalanda Mahavihara, located about 95 km south-east of Patna, is regarded as one of the greatest universities of the ancient world and was founded by Kumaragupta I (413-455 AD) of the great Gupta dynasty.

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