Four hours from Bhuj in Gujarat, in Dholavira, lie the remains of an ancient city. Within this excavation site are long streets lined with suburban-style block homes, large reservoirs and ruins of public baths dating back to 3100 BC.
Experts and other citizens have no way of knowing this. Since 1962, when this large Harappan site was discovered, the ASI has not published its final report on the work carried out there. Such a report should include a detailed excavation timeline, drawings of the site, an inventory of antiquities found, photographs and an analysis of the structures.
For prestigious sites such as Dholavira and Kanganahalli in Karnataka, where a labelled sculpture of Asoka has been found, as well as smaller ones, the ASI has put out only preliminary reports.
Yet one of its primary functions is to prepare these final reports because they form the bedrock of future research. The absence of inventories means that some artefacts could be lost, destroyed or stolen, say experts. Since the ASI allows academicians and other archeological bodies to conduct excavations, these reports become a vital account of exactly what these bodies are doing at the sites. The ASI has about 15 digs under way each year on average. “Public money is spent on these excavations and people have the right to know what has been done. Unless a measure of accountability is brought in, the bulk of ASI reports will continue to remain unpublished,” said Nayanjot Lahiri, author and professor of history at Delhi University.
But things have been improving over the past two years — after the government made several policy changes, including appointing a professional to head ASI last year. Bureaucrats had headed it for two decades before that. “Over the past three years, there have been more detailed records,” said Vasant Shinde, archaeologist and joint director of the Deccan College and Research Institute in Pune. “But much more work needs to be done.”
The ASI has also revived Ancient India, its biennial bulletin. “We will start releasing reports one by one in 2012, during our 150th anniversary celebrations,” said the ASI chief and archaeologist Gautam Sengupta.