The inauguration earlier this month of a plaque and the laying of a foundation stone for the construction of a tourist amenities centre close to the second century BCE Buddhist site at Thotlakonda in Visakhapatnam has worried heritage conservationists and members of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). The proposed centre includes an amphitheatre, rest rooms and information centre.

Experts say that the buildings will not only mar the original heritage site but are also against norms laid down by the courts.

Protected area

The Thotlakonda site was first discovered in 1976. In 1978, the A.P. government declared the entire site of 3148.45 acres under Mangamaripeta village a protected monument. Later, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) demarcated about seven acres consisting of the stupa area as the core area and fenced it. The agency also fenced another 120 acres as protected area.

The conservationists contend that the new buildings are not only coming up within the protected 120 acres but just about 40 metres from the core area.

In 2016, the AP High Court passed an order stating that ‘Pending further orders, no construction or development activity of any sort shall be permitted within the boundaries of the ancient site of Thotlakonda as detailed in the GO 627 of 1978.” According to Mr. Edward Paul of INTACH, the court order clearly indicates that no construction activity should be taken up on the entire hill, as it is declared protected area. “We want tourism to develop, but not at the cost of protected areas,” he said, adding that the organisation had no objections to construction beyond the protected area.

District Tourism Officer R. Poornima Devi, however, said there had been no violations and the construction activity was being taken up 100 metres from the core area. According to a Supreme Court judgment in regard to the Jantar Mantar case in New Delhi in 2006, a distance of 100 metres has to be counted from the outer boundary wall of the monument which has protected area of 5.39 acres and not just the physical structures of the observatory, said Mr. Paul.

Mr. Venkat Rao of the ASI said the agency had received a representation against the constructions and a decision on permitting them would be taken soon.

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