Sisupalgarh of Bhubaneswar: A team from Intach led by the State Convener A.B.Tripathy IPS (Retd) had recently visited Sisupalgarh to examine the ongoing demarcation exercise being jointly conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India and the Tehsildar, Bhubaneswar.
Intach had filed the PIL for protection of the old site in 2007. After fifteen years, in January 2023, a two judge bench of the Orissa High Court, comprising of Chief Justice S Muralidhar and Justice M S Raman had issued orders for demarcation and construction of a boundary wall around the entire 562.68 acres centrally-protected ruined city. While disposing of the PIL, the two-judge bench had directed the state government and the ASI to jointly complete the exercise within six months.
The bench had issued the order after the state government by way of an affidavit had informed the High Court that “encroachers over government land within the notified area (562.68 acres) will be evicted and the same would be handed over to the ASI after that”. The affidavit, which had been made after a joint meeting of the Chief Secretary and the ASI on October 20, 2022, had stated that “a joint survey under the supervision of Tehsildar (Bhubaneswar) and representatives of ASI will be taken up and completed within 90 days\”. However, little headway has been made in the court directed six months period.
Later, in March 2023, the High Court once again asked the State Government to clear the air to facilitate construction of the boundary wall. The two-judge bench of Chief Justice S Muralidhar and Justice Patnaik had said: “The state government must come up with a detailed plan on how it proposes to go about enforcing the Gazette Notification by removing encroachments and facilitating construction of the boundary wall around the notified demarcated area.”
The Intach team found that no work whatsoever had been done for the demarcation. A few boundary markers that had been put up were unearthed soon after by the land mafia prevalent in the area. The Intach team also discovered that little of the old structures of the fort remain. Of the 16 pillars of the Sola Khamba, two have vanished, only 14 remain. A major part of the moat has been filled up and houses constructed on it. Many of the old discernible features of the Fort city have disappeared. Even the sites where excavations had been made by the Deccan College in collaboration with the University of California have been encroached upon with constructions.
According to Anil Dhir, Convener of Intach’s Bhubaneswar Chapter, Sisupalgarh is now a lost case. Very little, maybe just a fractional percentile, can be saved. If proper demarcation is not done soon, even the 14 pillars of the Sola Khamba will be demolished by the land mafia. There are more than 1100 houses, some multi-storied, that have been constructed inside the notified area of 562.68 acres. It will be nigh impossible to evict them.
As things stand today, against the protected area in terms of the Central Government\’s Gazette Notification of November 13, 1950 is to an extent of 562.68 acres at Sisupalgarh, only 0.775 acres has been recorded in favour of ASI after 1982-85 Settlement.
Intach’s State Convener, A.B.Tripathy met the ASI officials and has written to the Chief Secretary for implementation of the High Court’s orders. He has specifically stressed that status quo should be maintained and no further developmental work should be done inside the notified area. Registration of land sale deeds inside the notified area is still rampant, and many plots exchange hands. This should be immediately stopped.
In a recent drone survey done by the ASI, 15-20 acres vacant land has been located. A large patch around the Sola Khamba is vacant, but construction activity is creeping upon this last site. The ASI officials shall be submitting their drone survey report to the government soon, which will have to be verified by the Tehsildar at the ground level. Even if the vacant areas are demarcated and walled, it will be some relief in saving the heritage one of the oldest fortified cities of the country.