Why is ASI reluctant to publish the 2003 Ayodhya excavation report?

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A two-volume report by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on the excavations at the Ram Janma Bhoomi Babri Masjid disputed site in Ayodhya was the basis of the landmark judgement that changed the political landscape of India.

First the judges of the Allahabad High Court and later the Supreme Court of India had relied on the voluminous report — findings mentioned in it had been contested over and over again — that was submitted after a 50-members plus team conducted the excavations at the then disputed site on the orders of the Allahabad High Court in 2003.

However, little more than 11 years since the Allahabad High Court judgment and two years since the apex court verdict, the crucial ASI report has not been printed and put out in public domain. In fact, nobody has any clue about its status.

Writing/submitting a preliminary report on any excavation work and then publishing a detailed report is mandatory so that these can be available for experts, academicians, students, or even the general public.

The 2003 team was initially led by ASI’s then Superintending Archaeologist at the headquarters Dr B.R. Mani, but mid-way through the court had asked then Director (Antiquity) Hari Manjhi to join it as a result of which the final two-volume report bears both Manjhi and Mani’s name on the cover pages.

The team was constituted in March 2003. Entire excavation activity was recorded, and a brief report would be prepared at the end of the day signed by witnesses and observers from both sides of the dispute.

The final two-volume report was submitted in August 2003 — 10 chapters, 308 pages, 65 drawings and appendices in the first part and 235 photographs in the second.

The lead author and senior archaeologist, Mani, who retired from the ASI and later did a stint as the National Museum chief, refused to comment on the status of the report.

Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Jawahar Sircar, confirmed that there was no explicit ban from the court on publication after the 2010 judgement.

Sources said, the ASI has been reluctant to get the report published because the matter was sub-judice. Soon after the Supreme Court judgment in November 2019, the then Minister for Culture Prahlad Patel had said that the ASI report which was submitted to the court will be published as a book.

To IANS query, ASI’s Additional Director General (Archaeology) Dr Alok Tripathi said, “The report was prepared after an order of the court for excavation of the site. It was submitted to the court. Beyond that I don’t know.”

But whether or not it should be published?

Historian, archaeologist and former professor at the Department of History, University of Delhi, Nayanjot Lahiri, said, “Yes (it should be). Public money was spent on the excavation. Also, scholars and archaeologists should see the report and analyse it in the same way that other excavation reports are evaluated.”

Professor Sapna Varma was a witness to a major part of the 2003 excavations as an observer on behalf of the waqf board. “Nothing is going to come out of it. Only trained archaeologists can read it and understand it. If at all anybody wants it, a copy is available at the Central Secretariat Library.”

Originally, there were just 15 copies made of the report in old style — typed pages hard bound — that were all submitted to the court for various parties to the litigation. One copy was given to the then Director General (DG) ASI, the fate of which too no one knows.

Writing of such report/s is, in a way, an integral part of any archaeological excavation. However, for decades together, ASI had not been publishing such reports on time. But this is not the only report that the ASI is sitting on. Niti Aayog’s 2020 compendium ‘Improving Heritage Management’ was critical about the lack of procedure to regulate which reports are printed, which are not.

“Far too many excavations carried out by the ASI in recent decades have not culminated in the excavation report … For the excavation to result in a meaningful conclusion, the report should be freely disseminated through the ASI website and publications. The progress of excavations by licences should be monitored online, and this information should be available in the public domain.”

(Nivedita Khandekar can be reached at nivedita.k@ians.in)

20211205-202616

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