ASI is fully aware that the U.P. site has considerable historical significance, says Additional Director-General

In an interview with Madhur Tankha of The Hindu, Archaeological Survey of India Additional Director-General D.R. Mani, talks about the recent controversy surrounding ASI taking over the excavation work at Daundiya Kheda in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh.

ASI says it relied on preliminary survey of the Geological Survey of India which pointed to the presence of a “prominent non-magnetic anomalous zone” at the site where excavation is on. Has ASI relied on such data in the past too to carry out such excavations?

ASI works only if there is scientific or archaeological evidence.

What did the GSI report specifically say? What was its method of survey?

The Geological Survey of India has done its work at the site and submitted its report to the Union government. It has pointed out the presence of metals. But as far as the entire content of the report is concerned I do not want to elaborate. It is available on the Net and the contents of the report are being repeatedly beamed on television channels.

Did ASI deem presence of non-magnetic substance alone as sufficient evidence? Did ASI have corroborative historic evidence?

We have plenty of historical and archaeological evidence. ASI does not go in for searching of metals. Mining is done by a different department. We evaluate whether there is historical evidence before going in for excavations. The site at Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh is of archaeological as well as historical significance. From 1862 onwards the importance of this site has been mentioned in history books. It has also been mentioned by Chinese traveller Hsuan-Tsang in the 7th Century.

ASI’s first Director-General Alexander Cunningham also identified this site. But this is the first time that excavation has started in this place.

What was the basis of prioritising this dig? Was it discussed in the Standing Committee of CABA (Central Advisory Board of Archaeology)?

ASI works under the Union Culture Ministry, which ordered it to start excavation at Unnao. The dig was not discussed by the Standing Committee. ASI Director-General gives permission for excavation as per the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act.

Did the Union Minister have any role in pushing for or prioritising this case?

This you will have to ask the Minister.

How many other sites are there in India at the moment where ASI is similarly working on preliminary findings of the GSI?

I do not know.

Is ASI thinking of tying up with GSI for overall scanning of areas around all known archaeological sites to see if there are some more deposits of metals?

No comment.

What is the historical significance of Daundiya Kheda for ASI?

ASI is fully aware of the fact that the site has considerable historical significance. We are searching for habitation deposits, architecture of the site, architectural sequence, culture and period of the site.

It is being said excavation at the site could lead to destruction of the ruins or other historical objects which may be buried in the area. What safeguards are being adopted for this?

Excavation is the process in which digging is done. Once the soil is removed, it is not possible to dig at that place. Therefore, we record whenever dig. The Public Works Department can dig 5 metres in two days. But ASI has to do the digging in a meticulous manner. We have to do sampling at every stage.

How is ASI approaching the whole issue? Is it digging for gold or is it approaching it as it would any other historical find?

ASI is not interested in this site because there is possibility of 1,000 tonnes of gold or silver or iron ore lying buried under the ruins of Raja Ram Baksh Singh’s fort in Daundiya Kheda village. We believe there can be pieces of pottery.

If gold is indeed struck, what happens to it? Whose property would it be and who would be its custodian?

It will become the property of the owner. This fort is not under ASI. I am not aware whether the fort is being protected by the State government.

Following Shobhan Sarkar’s another dream, thieves began digging near a temple at Fatehpur. Do you think such instances are creating unscientific and irrational temperament?

All I can say is that we respect the seer but cannot comment on someone’s dream.