Epigraphy gets short shrift in ASI restructuring exercise

June 13, 2021 10:53 pm | Updated 10:53 pm IST - MYSURU

The ASI’s epigraphy branch is the basis for the reconstruction of history based on inscriptions on rocks, caves, temples, pillars, stones, and copper plates.

The ASI’s epigraphy branch is the basis for the reconstruction of history based on inscriptions on rocks, caves, temples, pillars, stones, and copper plates.

The proposed restructuring of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has left the scholars and retired staff of the department fuming. They have alleged that the field of epigraphy has been given short shrift by the government.

As per a circular of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, 758 new posts would be created in the ASI as part of a cadre-restructuring exercise, subject to the abolition of 304 posts in the existing scheme of things.

But what has left scholars shocked is that not a single post has been created for the epigraphy branch, which is the basis for the reconstruction of history based on material evidence such as inscriptions on rocks, caves, temples, pillars, stones, and copper plates which are still being discovered.

In as late as March 2021, the ASI had issued a note that 41 Group A posts would be revived, including that of Director, Epigraphy (Sanskrit and Dravidian), and Director, Epigraphy (Arabic and Persian). A notification calling for the appointment of Director, Epigraphy (Sanskrit and Dravidian), was issued on Tuesday, but this is only on deputation while two other posts related to the Sanskrit branch have lapsed. In the new scheme of things, 70 posts related to horticulture have been created, including 55 horticultural assistants, apart from 434 conservation assistants whose job will basically be to oversee the maintenance of monuments. But not a single post related to epigraphy has been notified.

When contacted, senior officials in the ASI preferred not to comment on the issue, saying they were not authorised to do so.

Contrary to plan

But T.S. Ravi Shankar, retired Director of the epigraphy branch of ASI, told The Hindu that the new proposal flew in the face of NITI Aayog’s plan of the ASI restructuring under which strengthening the epigraphy branch was clearly enunciated.

The restricting and cadre review takes place once in a few decades and by ignoring epigraphy, the government has demoralised the staff, said Dr. Ravi Shankar, adding that it would not attract new talent nor retain the existing staff.

Another scholar, who has retired from the epigraphy branch after more than three decades of service but did not wished to be named, remarked that professionals would have to retire in the same post to which they were appointed at the time of joining and hence this development would pave the way for the flight of talent from the epigraphy branch to universities.

Citing his own example, the scholar said he had remained as an assistant in the department for 22 years despite many publications to his credit, while he would have retired as a Head of Department had he joined any university.

Given the vastness of the country and the potential for unearthing more inscriptions, it is imperative to at least retain or revive the sanctioned posts, but instead some of the posts have been abolished, said Dr. Ravi Shankar. Though two zonal offices of the epigraphy branch were created in the 1990s, it did not result in the creation of new posts, he added.

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