Keezhadi excavations: Court orders transfer of ASI officer Amarnath Ramakrishna back to Tamil Nadu

The Madras High Court on March 15 has directed the central government to transfer Amarnath Ramakrishna, the Archeological Survey of India officer who led the Keezhadi excavations, back to Tamil Nadu. The Centre has been granted 15 days to bring the officer’s transfer into effect. The officer was shunted out to Assam in 2017.

The order came on a petition filed against the officer’s transfer. A bench consisting of Justices R Mahadevan and PD Audikesavalu emphasised that the central government should show more interest in proceeding with the excavations carried out on the Vaigai river bed. These excavations have given evidence of an ancient civilisation that had thrived on the banks of river Vaigai, the court said.

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“When the excavations get completed, the pride of Tamil people would get recognised worldwide but we wonder why the Central government is so adamant on this issue,” the court said.

In 2013-14, the ASI carried out explorations along the Vaigai river valley in 293 sites in Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts. Keezhadi in Sivaganga was chosen for excavation. During the second phase of the excavation, the artefacts unearthed by the team led by Amarnath established a substantial evidencethat an ancient urban civilisation had thrived on the banks of the Vaigai.

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In 2017, carbon dating of charcoal found at the site confirmed that the settlement was from 200 BC. More than 8,000 artefacts, including pottery with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions, gold coins, beads, iron tools and jewellery, that were unearthed indicated that an urban civilisationhad existed during the Sangam era — between the 4th century BC and 2nd century BC that is regarded as a golden era for Tamil language, literature and culture — and that it had trade link with other civilizations including Rome.

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The transfer of Amarnath Ramakrishna in 2017 invited sharp criticism and protests across the state since it was he who began excavations at Keezhadi, in Sivagangai district in south Tamil Nadu, which provided substantial evidence of an ancient civilisation dating back to 200 BC on the banks of river Vaigai.

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The project has been mired in controversy since 2016 when the central government reportedly delayed fund allocation for the continuation of the excavation. It has been alleged that since the discoveries in Keezhadi showed signs of a secular culture, there were delays in fund allocation and other obstacles in the project continuing.

In March 2017, the archaeologist who was leading the excavations, Amarnath Ramakrishna, was transferred to Assam. In 2018 June, Amarnath Ramakrishna was denied permission to deliver a lecture series in the United States of America on the Keezhadi findings. In October 2018, he was not allowed to file a final report on the Keezhadi findings. The project has completed four phases resulting in the unearthing of around 15,000 artefacts.

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