‘Hand over Bheemili sites to ASI for upkeep’

Times of India
TNN | Aug 26, 2014, 02.45AM IST

VISAKHAPATNAM: The ancient Buddhist heritage sites of Thotlakonda and Bavikonda should be handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for conservation as they are not properly maintained by the state-run archaeology department and archaeological norms are being violated in and around the sites. This was the observation made by a heritage conservation expert when asked by the Intach (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) headquarters at Delhi to visit the sites and submit an assessment report.

BK Rath, heritage conservation and culture consultant with Intach, and former superintendent of Odisha State Archaeology and State Archives, toured the two Buddhist sites of Thotlakonda and Bavikonda near Bheemilipatnam on Monday. He was accompanied by senior Intach Vizag members Rani Sarma and Mayank Kumari Deo. The sites have 2,000-year-old stupas and chaityas and is said to belong to the non-iconic Therawada Buddhism sect.

“These are very important and ancient archaeological sites, which can definitely be better managed by ASI where even the Union tourism ministry can’t interfere. From my work experience, I have found that the state archaeology departments suffer from various limitations, including shortage of technically skilled manpower, expertise and funds, besides various types of political pressure in fund utilisation. The work done in the sites some two to three decades ago now needs retouching by skilled hands, but the tourism department usually engages consultants who are modern architects and not archaeologists,” averred Rath.

The expert also pointed out to the various incongruous interventions carried out at these sites by the AP Tourism Development Corporation such as construction of cement sculpture gardens, pathways, hut-type shelters within 100 metres from the stupas and chaityas. “Even though some roads and connectivity have been provided by the tourism department, their activities have resulted in violation of archeological norms too. There’s no proper maintenance, basic amenities or adequate watch to protect these sites from vandalism. These sites have the potential to attract foreign tourists from Buddhist countries and in turn boost tourism and ought to be included in and publicised through tourism literature of the state,” added Rath.

Intach experts pointed out that most of the problems have stemmed from the fact that in Andhra Pradesh, there’s no separate head for the archaeology department and both tourism and archaeology are headed by the same person ? the CMD of APTDC, which is why accountability is lost in the process. “There’s also lack of scientific and scholarly people, who are experts in subjects such as archaeology and heritage conservation,” said Rani Sarma, co-ordinator of Buddhist sites of Andhra Pradesh, Intach.

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