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A Tribune Special
Panel finds fault with Saraswati project
Maneesh Chhibber
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 8
In a move that could raise the hackles of some affiliates of the previous NDA Government at the Centre and the Sangh Parivar, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture has said the ambitious multi-crore Saraswati Heritage Project has not conformed to the criterion fixed for the excavation of archaeological sites.

The report could herald the end of government efforts with regard to the river, which is held in high esteem across India, particularly in Haryana, for religious reasons.

In its latest report, the panel has taken the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to task for failing to adhere to the criterion fixed for selection of sites to be excavated.

The Saraswati Heritage Project, the brainchild of the previous BJP-led NDA government, is aimed at tracing the course of the Saraswati, the lost river of the Harappan civilisation, which is said to originate from the Har Ki Doon glacier in the Himalayas and pass through many districts of Haryana like Yamunanagar, Karnal and Kurukshetra.

Many efforts are currently on by both government and private agencies to trace the course of the river and unearth it. So much so that when Mr Jagmohan was the Union Minister for Tourism in the previous government, he even set up a committee of four experts for this purpose.

The experts, Mr Baldeo Sahai of ISRO, Ahmedabad, archaeologist S. Kalyan Raman, glaciaologist Y.K. Puri, and water consultant Madhav Chitle, were drafted to oversee the first phase of excavation from Adi Badri to Bhagwanpura in Haryana.

The Minister had announced that the project would be done in two phases: first from Adi Badri to Bhagwanpura in Kurukshetra district and second from Bhagawanpur to Sirsa.

The previous government in Haryana had also promised all help in this regard.

However, the project had fallen foul of some historians, perceived to be pro-Left. They had dubbed the project as a “waste of time and money”. They had asserted that the project was part of an agenda of the RSS to prove that the Harappan civilisation was a Hindu civilisation.

Now, in its recent report, the Parliamentary Committee, which is headed by Mr Sitaram Yechury of the CPM, has observed that no academic body or university had recommended the project.

Pointing out several alleged irregularities in the preparation of the project, the committee’s report says that the existence of the river was purely a myth and scientific institutions like the ASI had not correctly proceeded in the matter.

Incidentally, the budget for the project, which was earlier fixed at Rs 36.02 crore, was subsequently reduced to Rs 4.98 crore.

The panel has expressed regret over such a large amount being spent “just to excavate a mythological river whereas, several other monuments/heritage sites of national importance are languishing due to acute shortage of funds”.

“The ASI is the custodian of the rich cultural heritage and as such its role to safeguard the cultural fabric of the country is of crucial national importance. Therefore, the committee reiterates that before undertaking any excavation of any such mythological projects like the Saraswati Heritage Project, the ASI should make proper scientific and technical appraisal and no extraneous factors should go into the decision-making,” the report says.

The committee also found an element of contradiction in the replies submitted by the Department of Culture to queries raised by it regarding the project.

“On the one hand, the Ministry of Culture has stated that the former Minister of Tourism and Culture was not the Chairman of the Saraswati Heritage Project, while on the other hand, the Ministry has stated that prior to the preparation of the project report, the government had constituted an Advisory Committee with the then Minister of Tourism and Culture as Chairman and that this committee had recommended the Saraswati Heritage Project,” he notes.

It also questioned the source of the claim that a survey had pointed out that the dry beds of the Ghaggar and Chautang rivers, also known as the Drisadvati, were beds of the Sarasvati.

While there was no confirmation from the ASI if the project had been shelved following the report of the parliamentary panel, Union Minister of Tourism Ambika Soni also could not be contacted for her comments.



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