Two years from now, R. Sivanandan, the chief epigraphist of the State Archaeology department, will be the lone expert available for conservation of protected monuments across Tamil Nadu.
Nearly every archaeologist in the State, including the present commissioner, would have retired by early 2015.
The shortage of archaeological experts threatens the conservation of heritage structures, including 85 protected monuments and inscriptions, and site museums in the state.
Government sources say at present as many as 32 posts in the department — including those of 14 curators, ten archaeological officers, five epigraphists and each pre-historic epigraphist and an archaeologist — have been vacant for many years now.
Apart from these, posts of two deputy directors and three additional deputy superintending archaeologists are also vacant.
Their roles have been assumed as additional responsibilities by a handful of experts available at the department’s headquarters in Chennai – but they too will retire soon.
“I will be retiring by June this year and the rest of the experts will do so soon. However, efforts are being taken to bridge the gap,” said V. Ramamurthy, deputy superintending archaeologist at the department.
Deputy chemist Ravi Shankar will retire in April this year and senior archaeologist P. Gouthamaputhiran in August.
In 2014, the existing registering officer in Chennai, P. Sampath, as well as the additional director and curator of the Rajarajan site museum in Tanjore, G. Arjunan, will retire.
In 2015, the commissioner in-charge of the department, S. Vasanthi, who is also an additional superintending archaeologist, will go. So will Ashok Dean, the chief chemist of the department.
In an indication of official apathy towards this state of affairs, the official website of the State Archaeology department has D. Gopalan, an eminent archaeologist, listed as the existing curator of the Madurai site museum (the famous Thirumalai Nayakkar Palace). However, Mr. Gopalan retired more than a year ago and later passed away.
“As an alternative, we are making use of postgraduates students in archaeology, who do their research at the department, to help us,” said commissioner in-charge, Ms. Vasanthi.
Of the 14 site museums in the State, only two museums in Vellore and Tiruvallur have independent curators, while five museums, including the ones in Perambalur, Ramanathapuram, Tirunevelli and Dharmapuri, do not have curators. The rest have curators who hold these posts as additional charges.
A similar situation prevails in the eight district archaeological offices of the State. Except at the Chennai district archaeological office, which is manned by the commissioner herself, none of the other district offices have archaeological officers (AOs).
The Coimbatore district archaeological office is manned by Mr. Gouthamaputhiran, who visits the district office once a month, but is based at the headquarters in Chennai.
Due to a lack of experts, all registering offices of the department have been closed, except the one in Chennai. These offices play an important role in the prevention of smuggling of treasured artefacts.
The registering officer and the staff are appointed by the department and funded by the Central government to curb any attempt at smuggling. However, with all the offices in the State with the exception of Chennai shut, monitoring sites is close to impossible.
To date, 42, 358 antiquities have been registered in the State.