Sirsa is believed to be one of the oldest towns located in Haryana, the ancient route leading to Taxila. Its present name is derived from the ancient name Sarishika, which finds mention in the Mahabharta, Panini's Ashtadhyayi and Buddhist text Divyavadana. The ruins of the ancient Sarishika are presumably buried in this mound. This extensive site is spread over an area of about five kms. in circumference with a maximum height of about fifteen meters. No archaeological excavations have so far been conducted at this site. Stone sculptures, coins, an inscription, pottery pieces and other antiquities collected from surface exploration are sufficient to prove its archaeological relevance.
The prospect of clearing entire 82 acres of the ‘Ther Mound’ — a protected archaeological site which has nearly 50,000 people living there — continues to haunt the Haryana government. The Mound is believed to hold clues to the ancient city of ‘Sarishika’, but it must be cleared for the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to confirm its historicity. What the state government faces is a dual challenge of protecting the Mound and rehabilitating the evacuees.
Falling on the old route to Takshashila, the 6th-5th century BC city of ‘Sarishika’, found mention in the Mahabharata, Panini’s Ashtadhyayi and the Buddhist text Divyavadana.
The Mound rises 15-18 metres above nearby areas, but there is a dispute over the size of the protected area. It was under the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act of 1904 that Sirsa’s ‘Ther Mound’ was declared a protected monument back in 1932.
Over flowing sewerage water in front of the apartments in Sector 19 Housing Board Colony alotted to the families that were shifted from Ther (Express Photo: Kamleshwar Singh)
On July 9, 1932, the then Punjab government had issued a notification under Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904, and the then Governor in Council had declared Ther Mound of Sirsa in Haryana, a protected monument/site of national importance.
Implementing the High Court orders in 2017, the state government had moved 788 families out of the Ther Mound and settled them in Sirsa’s Housing Board Colony in Sector 19. The state government claims to have cleared around 31 acres of the protected site’s area, but removing the remaining families, and where and how to rehabilitate them remains a headache.
Manohar Lal Khattar led Haryana government’s earlier attempts to denotify the Ther Mound’s land could not see light of the day. But considering the arduous task ahead, the state government is again proceeding to get in touch with ASI to explore the options of getting the land denotified.
Rehabilitating hundreds of families (those who are yet to be moved from Ther Mound) to another location is also appearing an arduous task as the state government is facing an inter-departmental tussle on who shall take up the task of rehabilitating the alleged “encroachers”.
It was in March, 2019 when the Cabinet headed by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar took a decision that Archaeology and Museums Department will purchase Housing Board flats for rehabilitation of persons displaced from Ther Mound.
Ashok Khemka, Principal Secretary, Archives, Archaeology and Museums Department, however, had been vehemently refusing to toe the government’s line, calling the move “illegal”.
“The need for rehabilitation at the Ther Mound has arisen due to unlawful encroachment, and not due to helplessness of generational settlers caught unaware of the notification. Because land is a Revenue Department subject, therefore encroachment of general provincial land falls within its jurisdiction, or of the Home Department regarding the maintenance of Law and Order with respect to carrying out the orders of the High Court,” Khemka wrote to the government in December, 2019.
The Housing Board, whose flats are now being used to rehabilitate people removed from Ther Mound, has raised a demand of Rs 137.34 crore for 788 flats at the rate of Rs 17.43 lakhs per flat. While the state government maintains that Archaeology and Museums Department should take up the responsibility of rehabilitating the evacuees, Khemka put his foot down, calling it “setting a wrong precedent”.