‘Protected’ Buddhist sites under threat

The Hindu, June 9, 2008

New Delhi, India -- Buddhist monuments that have been declared “protected” by the Archaeological Survey of India at Lalitagiri and Udaygiri in Jajpur district, 50 km from here, are under threat, thanks to rampant illegal quarrying activities in close proximity of the protected sites.

“Under the pretext of permits issued by the local administration, even as a Central directive banned such activities within 5 km radius of any protected monument, there has been indiscriminate onslaught on the remains of various stupas here,” allege members of Buddhayan, a State-level Buddhist cultural organisation.

It is apprehended that if timely action is not taken against quarrying activities, the protected sites, where the ASI found the corporeal relics of Lord Buddha, would then be completely ruined.

Repeated appeals by locals to the authorities to ban quarrying near the two sites have evoked little response. Petitions seeking judicial intervention were filed in the High Court.

At least five orders relating to illegal quarrying near Lalitagiri and Udaygiri were issued by the court in the past six months. Though interim stay orders were issued on permits granted by the local authorities, illegal quarrying continues unabated.

Last week, Mahanga block BJD chief Rudra Singh and seven of his associates, who were charged with illegal quarrying at the protected site, were granted conditional bail by a local court.

The court issued NBWs against these persons after the local police declared them “absconders.”

Sources allege that the tahsildars of Mahanga and Darpani issued permits for quarrying laterite chips on demarcated areas adjoining the protected site.

On the basis of such permits , the local influential persons are out to destroy more than 1,300-year-old Buddhist monuments that survived the ravages of time.

Udaygiri was a Vajrayana centre between the 8th and 9th century A.D. At Udaygiri, there were remains of several stupas – one of which is the Dhyani Buddha – having descriptions in the Vajrayana texts, sources said.