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Illegal mining near Morena threatens centuries' old Shiva temples

Photo: Sameer Garg

he rampant illegal mining of sandstone prevalent in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh, which cost IPS officer Narendra Kumar his life, has been threatening a group of Shiva temples at Bateshwar. The issue was taken up by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) a few years ago. However, despite its intervention, illegal mining of sandstone, which has huge demand not only in India, but also outside, continues unabated.

The sandstone, also known as Gwalior stone, is widely used in building construction. It is considered to be of better quality and costs almost eight to 10 times more than marble. At a distance of 25km from Morena town, Bateshwar comprises a cluster of about 200 ancient Shiva temples and a few Vishnu temples. The temples are made of sandstone and were built during the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty of Kannauj between 8th to 10th Century AD.

About five years ago, then superintendent of archaeology posted in Bhopal, KK Mohammad, expressed concern about the illegal mining that was damaging the temples. He wrote to the district administration and the state government. But nothing seemed to work.

A desperate Mohammad wrote a letter to then RSS chief KS Sudarshan, asking for his intervention. That helped, as there was considerable check on illegal mining between 2007 and 2009. The ASI excavated as many as 118 temples during the period.

"As of today, there are about 200 temples. Out of them, 80 were damaged due to blasts from illegal mining. They could have been salvaged but the mining activities have again resumed in the last two-three years after Mohammad was transferred. This (mining) is threatening the existence of the heritage structures," said AK Pandey, deputy superintendent of archaeology, who has worked in Bhopal with Mohammad.

State convenor of INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) Hari Ballabh Maheshwari said that the state government is not taking any concrete steps to stop illegal mining. "We've apprised the government of the problem several times. But nothing has worked. Illegal mining leads to loss of revenue as well as precious heritage," he said.

"The government should conduct a thorough survey and demarcate 'safer' areas where sandstone can be mined, leaving out the

'heritage zone'. If mining is legalised in certain areas, it will generate revenue and our heritage will also be protected. The area can also be developed as a tourist spot, which will also be a good source of revenue," said Maheshwari.

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