A monumental tragedy in making at heritage sites in Bihar
Several monuments in Bihar, including those designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are a picture of dereliction and negligence, which authorities blame on shortage of funds, the Covid-19 pandemic and most recently the flooding caused by heavy rain in parts of the state.
While the Ashokan pillar at Lauriya in West Champaran is under water these days, the Buddhist Stupa at Kesaria in East Champaran too is water logged and thick bushes have grown all over its walls and terraces.
Even at Nalanda University remains, portions of the ancient structure have been overrun with thick bushes.
There are 72 Nationally Protected Monuments in Bihar, including the Ashokan pillar and Buddhist Stupa at Lauria Nandangarh in West Champaran, Buddhist Stupa at Kesaria and the Nalanda University remains.
The Nalanda University, the most ancient university in the country, was declared World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2016. The Kesaria Stupa is the tallest cylindrical Buddhist Stupa in the world, built by Emperor Ashok.
All these monuments and sites are managed and maintained by Patna circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
“These are prime tourism attractions in our state. Vaishali and Kesaria Stupas are in a miserable condition,” says SK Singh, vice-president of Tourism Association of Bihar.
Terraces of Kesaria Stupa are covered by thick bushes while the ground around is marshy land. The approach road to the monument has big potholes, Singh said.
Often the tour planners plan to promote Kesara Stupa as foreign tourists are found to be eager to go there while being on way to Lumbini, Lord Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal. “But what can be done in this situation?,” he asked.
HS Naik, superintending archaeologist at ASI (Patna circle), said he was aware of the conditions but pleaded helplessness. “I have been told that water level around Ashokan pillar is almost eight feet high. It has to be stopped as it will damage the monument,” he said. The ASI is sending letter to the West Champaran administration to plan something to stop it, Naik said.
He said the condition of monuments at Kesaria and Nalanda too have been affected because of Covid-19 pandemic and prolonged lockdown. “There has been shortage of man power. Many workers are on leave during the second wave of Covid,” he said.
Naik said he recently visited Nalanda University remains and asked employees to take proper care of monument. “ I will soon visit Kesaria to take stock of situation,” he said.
He said efforts are being taken to maintain monuments in the limited budget they have. “It has been almost halved in the last five years,” he said, adding that it had come down from ₹6 crore in 2015 to ₹3 crore in 2021.
Bihar’s tourism minister Narayan Prasad said he had a plan to visit Champaran to review development plans for heritage sites on June 18, but it had to be postponed due to flood situation there.