The tussle over selection of a new director general for Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) threatens to ruin the case for Rakesh Tewari, the current director of Uttar Pradesh Archaeological Department, who has been shortlisted to head the country’s premier monuments preservation body.
Two former employees of the ASI have approached the Central Administrative Tribunal, challenging the selection process. One of the complainant, Dr Dharam Vir Sharma, has raised questions over the constitution of the selection committee, and demanded a fresh process. Dr K P Poonacha has alleged Tewari is related to one of the selection committee member, Vibha Tripathi. Both Tewari and Tripathi have denied any blood relation.
Sources said the culture ministry is waiting for the CAT decision before making an announcement. Interestingly, even the last selection process for the post of DG, ASI in 2010 was challenged in CAT.
A trained archaeologist, Tewari is expected to replace Pravin Srivastva, an IAS officer who has been given the additional charge of the 150-year-old organisation.
The 60-year-old Tewari has a doctorate in archaeology. He has been head of the UP archaeological department since 1989. His significant research involves finding the antiquity of use of iron in the middle Ganga plains. His study revealed that its use was prevalent since 1500 BC, thus raising the question whether iron working was brought in to India during supposed immigrations of the second millennium BC, or developed independently. The other researches include the interactions between the Harrapan and middle Ganga plains; domestication of rice in the Ganga plains and ancient trade route.
What facilitated the entry of archaeologists into heading the ASI, was the change in policy in 2010 by the culture ministry headed by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at that time to select experts as the in-charge of the cultural bodies. Earlier ASI had IAS officers heading the body for over two decades. The last head was Gautam Sengupta. Interestingly, when Sengupta’s name was finalised in 2010, some aggrieved person had approached CAT. Sources said the hunt for the new DG of ASI started in November last, and the process was completed in May with the conduct of interviews.
The importance of being a ASI chief can be gauged from the fact with the kind of work handled by the body, and its history.
At present, ASI protects 3,678 monuments including 21 World Heritage Cultural Properties and maintains 44 museums around the country. Countries top monuments like Red Fort, Taj Mahal, Qutab Minar, Mahabalipuram temples, Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi, Rock Shelters of Bhimbetaka, Ajanta, Ellora Caves, Churches of Old Goa all come under its supervision.
It has a budget of over Rs 555 crore for the current fiscal. As an expert body, ASI has been a pioneer in the field since it was formally launched in 1861, with Alexander Cunningham as its first chief. It was responsible for excavating some of the most historic sites in the country including those related to Harappan civilisation, and ancient Indian monuments.
Currently, the ASI not only looks after the day-to-day conservation of monuments, but carries out excavation, and publishes research reports. It is also handling several international projects like conservation and preservation of Ta Prohm temple in Combodia, conservation of Vat Phou temple in Lao PDR, and Ananda temple in Myanmar.
Though not a protected a monument under the ASI, the recently devastated Kedarnath Temple will be restored with ASI’s help.