An unexpected but in controvertibly important news item in The Times of India (January 12) has moved me to do a bit of reminiscing which, I hope, readers will appreciate and even sanctify! It concerns Hampi, capital of the Vijayanagar Empire which grew to great heights during the reign of Krishnadevaraya. A world heritage site it is under assault by ruthless elements with no one venturing to interfere. As the news item stated, “a capital steeped in political and cultural wealth through its monuments is sadly being eaten away by encroachers”.
Acording to the report some parts of a fort wall of the Vijayanagar capital built in 1422 AD have been demolished and levelled down and “unauthorised persons have virtually taken over several streets in the 500 year ruins, to sell their wares, even as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the State Tourism Department have been watching helplessly.” Plainly this is unacceptable. And to think that Veerappa Moily, presently a power in the UPA Government is around with an additional responsibility of handling the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
According to The Economic Times (January 12), in less than one month, Moily has cleared more than 280 projects pending environmental clearance. Why can’t he intervene in Karnataka, presently under a Congress Government and see that justice is done? Why, it maybe asked, should it be Moily’s business to interfere in Hampi? Let me go back to 1981 when Moily was Minister of Finance and Tourism in the Karnataka Government. I was then editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India. As editor, I was bringing out every four weeks a special edition of the weekly dealing with one or other of India’s twenty odd states. In March-April 1981, it was the turn of Karnataka. I travelled extensively in Karnataka to do my cover story and especially spent a lot of time in heritage places which included Hampi. Hampi was at that time practically in ruins.
In addition to by writing the cover story, I even drew up a plan for Hampi’s reconstruction and wrote to four persons, I thought they would be interested. They included first Veerappa Moily himself who was both Minister of Finance and Tourism. I wrote a similar letter to the Director of Archaeological Survey, one Nagaraj Rao explaining what I had in mind. A third letter was written to my old friend. HY Sharada Prasad, a true blue Kannadiga and Press Adviser to Indira Gandhi. And the last letter I wrote to none less than PN Haksar who was Indira Gandhi’s closest political adviser and a power by himself.
Moily, did call a meeting which was practically captured by the local MP, the local MLAs, the local petty politicians; the District officials including the District Collector and the District Superintendent of Police. I was invited to the meeting but nobody took notice of me, as if I was an outsider. I was no “outsider, being a full-fledged Kannadiga in my own right; but even if I was one, at least the audience should have listened to me for ideas. They didn’t. A few years later when I paid a visit to Hampi I was devastated. New buildings had come up on the main streets, destroying the uniqueness of the place and nobody seemed to care. And the same thing has obviously been going on since then.
According to The Times report in July 2011 the Government began removing encroachments at the Virupaksha Temple complex being used by petty traders. Shops were razed to the grounds with the traders taking their case ot the High Court. What is obviously needed is strong action by a Government which is not afraid of public and traders’ outcry. The setting up of a University must be given full consideration, but primarily the nexus between traders and petty bureaucrats has to be broken. According to The Times report even after the Karnataka Government was pulled up by the High Court, the former has done little to protect the glorious history of Hampi.