HC treats former officer's letter on Burzhom as PIL

The High Court on Monday sought response to a plea seeking protection and conservation of the archaeological site and remains at Burzhom in the outskirts of Srinagar.  

After treating a “communication” by former IAS Officer Muhammad ShafiPandit as a Public Interest Litigation, the bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Abdul Rashid Dar issued notice to the Government of India through the Director General Archaeological Survey of India, Ministry of Culture, and Jammu and Kashmir government through the Director Archives and Archaeology & Museums.    The court sought response to the plea by July 28.

While Tahir Majid Shamsi, Assistant Solicitor General accepted notice for the Director General Archaeological Survey of India, Senior Additional Advocate General BA Dar accepted notice on behalf of the Director, Archives, Archaeology& Museums.

The court ordered that a copy of Pandit’s communication should be made available to both the counsels who, it said, may file the status report within four weeks.

In his letter, Pandit, who is also Chairman of Civil Society Group of Concerned Citizens J&K, has said that the Burzhom site has been protected under   the Archaelogical Monuments Sites and Remains Act, (AMSAR), and at the time of notification, 82 kanals of land were transferred to the Archaeological Survey of India.

The letter revealed that the site was identified and excavated by a Yale-Cambridge expedition in 1935 and subsequently by TN Khazanchi of the ASI in 1960. “These excavations revealed immense importance of the site and was therefore placed on the tentative list of World Heritage sites by UNESCO in 2014,” he writes.  

 The UNESCO, the letter said, describes the site as “a unique comprehensive story teller of life between 3000 BCE to 1000 BCE”.

 “The site, as per the UNESCO listing, acted as a bridge between Central Asia and beyond and the Gangetic plains and peninsular India,” the letter said.

“The sports agencies have been organizing premier league matches under the patronage of State and District Administration at the site in contravention of the Central Act and the rules guiding the protection of archeological sites,” the letter added.    

Pandit apprised the court that he along with two avid activists of heritage preservation—SaifuddinSoz and Saleem Beg—visited the site recently saying it was absolutely disheartening to find that even the signages at the site had been damaged.

The site interpretation sheds and passage had also been damaged.

The letter said these developments were viewed, with serious concern, by the members of the Group of Concerned Citizens, a civil society group which raises its voice from time to time on important issues.

“The issue which needs immediate consideration is that the site is now being utilised for playing cricket matches. This aspect concerns the state government directly,” the letter reads. 

While the letter pointed out there was the need to explore the possibility of identifying suitable land around the area for setting up of a sports field, it said the artefacts which have been taken by the ASI authorities to Delhi for the purpose of a detailed study of age determination and linkages should be brought back.

“This had become necessary in the absence of necessary facilities for study and storage at the site in Srinagar. It is therefore necessary to pursue the project already conceived for development of the site from archaeological point of view,” the letter said.

The former IAS officer also called for taking immediate remedial action by District Srinagar administration by providing necessary support to the ASI for fencing and for stopping misuse of the site.