Former KAS officer raises question as Jammu University denies its possession
Signifying failure of the state government to preserve prized fossil findings, there is no trace of the mammoth, believed to be 50,000 year old, which was discovered from Galandhar, Pampore, in 2000.
The mammoth (extinct elephants widely distributed in the Pleistocene) was discovered by a student of University of Kashmir in 2000 and later excavated by a team of experts. Geologists had declared it as one of the rare fossil finds having the potential to put Jammu and Kashmir on the map of great mammoth era.
In 2007, the mammoth was “secretly” removed from its makeshift tin shed at the excavation site and shifted to University of Jammu. The fossil had become a bone of contention between Universities of Kashmir and Jammu, with former accusing latter of “clandestinely” shifting it without their knowledge in 2007.
For several years, the mammoth skull with complete lower and upper jaws and a broken tusk was gathering dust in corridor of the Jammu University’s Geology department. The fossil was later shifted to newly set up Wadia Museum of natural history in the varsity.
“I was shocked to learn from the Jammu University authorities that the mammoth is not there,” said Khalid Bashir Ahmad, a former KAS officer who retired as secretary Cultural Academy.
Bashir said during his research for a write up, he had sought information on the mammoth from Jammu University through an RTI application on November 22, 2017.
Bashir said he had asked for details about how the fossil reached Jammu University. “I had also sought information on the action taken against the person who removed it from Galandhar since his act was unauthorized and illegal,” he said.
“I wanted to know details of the money Jammu University had spent on activities related to the stolen fossil and if it intended to return it to Kashmir,” he said.
The RTI application had also sought information on whether the fossil had been installed in the newly set up Wadia Museum of Natural History (WMNH), Jammu University, foreclosing possibility of its return to Kashmir.
He said “shockingly” the public information officer Jammu University in his response dated December 4, 2017 refused information on the ground “that the information sought by you is not related to any public activity or interest and also does not involve the larger public interest. He asked me to justify the public interest in the disclosure of the information sought”.
On December 16, 2017, Bashir shot a letter to the PIO Jammu University. “I am shocked to read your response, coming as it is from a University faculty. You ask me to justify public interest in the theft of a fossil estimated to be at least 50,000 years old which experts are optimistic would redefine natural and climatic history and human presence in Kashmir – a land of 7 million people?” Bashir stated in the letter.
“If seeking information about such an immensely significant object, especially when it has been illegally and unlawfully removed from Kashmir and not returned despite assurances by the then vice-chancellor of the University now holding it, and directions from the then Chief Minister to bring it back, is not of public interest what else would be? The information sought by me is of infinite public interest and I would request you to provide the same in the right earnest,” the letter further states.
In response to the letter, PIO Jammu University replied that “there is no mammoth fossil housed in Wadia Museum of Natural History, University of Jammu.”
“In response to my justification, I have now received a letter dated January 9, 2018 from the PIO Jammu University forwarding a document dated 4 January 2018, signed jointly by head of the Postgraduate Department of Geology, and director Wadia Museum of Natural History Jammu University stating therein that “there is no mammoth fossil housed in Wadia Museum of Natural History, University of Jammu,” Bashir said.
“Intriguingly, the PIO maintains a loud silence on whether the Galandhar fossil missing from Kashmir, was surreptitiously brought to Jammu University in 2007. He is also silent on whether the University knew that the fossil had been illegally and unauthorizedly brought from Kashmir, and whether it supported this illegal act.”
“Silence is equally maintained on whether the University will return the fossil, and on its response to requests made earlier for its return in view of the then vice chancellor’s assurance. Of all the points raised in the RTI application, the PIO has chosen only to respond to the query whether the fossil has been installed at the newly established WMNH. And, the reply is an absolute and mammoth lie,” he said.
When contacted, a senior officer of Jammu University wishing not to be named said, “There is no mammoth in our museum, but we have Galandhar fossils.”
Bashir said some officers at Jammu University are trying to create confusion. “At the time of discovery, the experts declared it as mammoth, but it was unlawfully removed from Galandhar in 2007. It is housed and displayed in the Wadia Museum of Natural History, Jammu University. I have documentary evidence in the form of photographs taken as recently as on January 17 and 29, 2018, clearly showing the stolen fossil installed and displayed in the museum,” he said.