‘More excavation only after report’

Print edition : January 20, 2017

ALTHOUGH the division bench of Justices S. Nagamuthu and M.V. Muralidaran of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court asked, on November 15, why the Keezhadi artefacts could not be taken to the ASI’s circle office in Chennai instead of Bengaluru for scientific cleaning, analysis and documentation, subsequently, on November 24, the bench permitted the ASI to shift the finds to its chemistry branch headquarters in Dehradun or any other laboratory in the country.

The judges based their decision on ASI Director General Rakesh Tewari’s submission that “all the required examination of the excavated materials cannot be carried out” at the ASI’s chemistry laboratory in Chennai because it “is not equipped with the necessary and advanced facilities for proper examination and analysis” of the artefacts. “Thus, for proper and necessary examination and also for the preparation of the report thereon... the excavated materials would have to be ideally shifted to the Dehradun laboratory,” the ASI Director General told the judges.

The judges asked the Commissioner of the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department to take stock of the artefacts before they were transported from Keezhadi. The Commissioner should personally monitor the work of noting down the details of each artefact excavated during the field season in 2016, besides taking photographs of and videographing them. On the court being informed that the artefacts unearthed during the 2015 field season had already been moved to Bengaluru, the judges asked the State Archaeology Commissioner to depute a subordinate to Bengaluru to collect details of those artefacts. They, too, should be videographed, they said.

“After the scientific analysis, the excavated material should be brought and kept in Keezhadi or in the Sivaganga district museum or any other suitable building,” the judges ruled.

Earlier, Rakesh Tewari, in his report submitted to the court, said the ASI had received more than 120 proposals for exploration and excavation in every field season and added that it was “a tedious process to propose a site museum at any of the sites”. A site’s archaeological importance and historical value was established only after extensive excavation and post-excavation analysis. Only after this the ASI decides whether to declare it a protected site, and only later “a proposal for establishing a site museum can be considered”, the Director General said.

“The ASI is unable to establish a site museum at Keezhadi because the site is unprotected,” Rakesh Tewari told the court in his report. The Keezhadi antiquities were safely kept in the ASI’s custody and they would be used for writing a report on the excavation and the unearthed artefacts.

The Director General submitted this report to the court after it directed him, on November 15, to consider the plea for establishing a site museum at Keezhadi and inform the court about the decision taken by November 24.

When Frontline contacted Rakesh Tewari on November 25 in his New Delhi office, he asserted: “We cannot make a site museum at every site [we excavate].” He added that “important [Keezhadi] artefacts can be displayed in Chennai, but after some time”.

Asked whether he would give Amarnath Ramakrishna the licence to excavate for the third field season in 2017 because there was a popular demand for the excavation to continue, the Director General said: “The licence for the third year will be given after the completion of the documentation of the excavation and the artefacts found during the first two years. Otherwise, the report never comes.”

When it was pointed out to him that the licence for excavating the Harappan site at a village called 4 MSR, near Anupgarh, Rajasthan, had been granted now for the third field season [without a report being written about the first two field seasons’ excavation], he replied: “First of all, he [Amarnath Ramakrishna] should publish a report on the excavation. Then only we will give him the licence for the third year because he has got more than 4,000 artefacts.”

T.S. Subramanian