Ancient Chola port city: ASI refused NOC for Poompuhar harbour
Publication:Times Of India Chennai; Date:Apr 26, 2008; Page Number:4
ASI refuses NOC for Poompuhar harbour
Accuses DMK Government Of Arm-twisting
T S Sreenivasa Raghavan | TNN
Chennai: Even as the Ram Setu row continues to simmer, the DMK government is headed for another controversy, this one set in the backdrop of the historic Poompuhar town in Nagapattinam district.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and state archaeology department have accused the government of armtwisting them into giving a ‘no objection’ certificate’ (NOC) for a Union government-funded Rs 40-crore fishing harbour at Poompuhar that could destroy the ruins of the ancient Chola port city, lying at a depth of eight metres under the sea.
Archaeologists have refused to issue NOC for the proposed project since “the site chosen has several on and offshore archaeological structures.”
The firm stand taken by the ASI/state archaeology officials could be attributed to the underwater images captured by National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) when it carried out a site scan immediately after the tsunami and reconnaissance survey in 2006. These exclusive images and video film are available with The Times of India.
Interestingly, fisheries commissioner Shambu Kallolikar in his March 19 letter to the state archaeology principal commissioner S Gurumurthy claimed monuments identified by NIOT were buried at a distance of four to five km from the shoreline and at a depth of more than 50 feet.
“They’re old. He’s not aware about recent surveys. The structures are less than half-a-kilometer and they lie at a depth of seven to 11 meters. The fisheries commissioner’s claim is based on villagers’ opinion, not scientific data,” archaeological sources said.
Shambu in his letter played to popular sentiments to justify the harbour site saying “it would protect the Poompuhar village from sea erosion.”
But, what upset ASI/state archaeology officials was the blunt comment by a top official of the fisheries department during a meeting in March. “He said it was more important to ensure livelihood to the living rather than protecting submerged temples and vihars constructed by dead people. We’re shocked,” sources said.
Former director of the state archaeology department Natana Kasinathan, who attended the meeting, said: “I made it clear. If the site had some archaeological structures, then the harbour has to be shelved.”
His opinion assumes significance since the five underwater surveys undertaken during his tenure between 1991 and 1997 had unearthed a shipwreck, lead ingots and six man-made structures at Poompuhar.
“No construction can happen in 200 to 300 meters of monuments of archaeological importance. It’s not possible to construct the harbour since several archaeological structures are strewn around the site,” sources said, adding the structures discovered by NIOT needed further studies. “They’re huge in size. They’re also covered with bio-fouling. Only when you remove the fouling, we will know if the structures are parts of Buddhist vihars, temples or a row of houses,” they said.
Shambu Kallolikar, when contacted, confessed the project was in a state of limbo. However, he denied charges of arm-twisting. “If they (archaeologists) think I am bulldozing them, they’re wrong. We are ready to alter the structural design if the harbour meddles with their monuments. But, they have no conclusive proof. So, we’re asking National Institute of Oceanography, Goa to do a survey. Also let me make it clear there’s no political pressure to push this project through.”