Even though foreigners from South Asian countries come to India to visit Buddhist sites, the archaeological departments of various States are neither promoting nor spending enough funds for the upkeep of around 50 such ancient sites.
This information was provided in reply to a query filed under the Right to Information Act by non-government organisation Buddhist Forum.
For the past three years, the Forum has been seeking information on 12 aspects including exploration, excavation, preservation and promotion of Buddhist sites from 1990-2011.
“The results were shocking…the total financial spending of the States’ archaeological departments on the ancient Buddhist sites under their jurisdiction in the past 21 years was only Rs.17.63 crore. A majority of pilgrims from South Asian countries want to visit places other than known ones like Bodh Gaya. But these are not being maintained in a way that attracts the tourists,” a member of the NGO told The Hindu .
Arunachal Pradesh has spent the maximum amount (Rs.14 crore) on the maintenance of living monasteries like the Tawang Monastery, Gaden Rabgyeling Monastic School in Bomdila and Singsur Nunnery. Gujarat comes second with Rs. 1.92 crore as it has promoted Buddhist heritage by organising an international seminar.
In the third place is Haryana which has spent Rs.80.60 lakh on two sites at Yamuna Nagar and one at Kurukshetra. Jammu and Kashmir has spent Rs.28 lakh on Parihaspora and Pattan. Maharashtra has spent Rs.25 lakh on just one site in Osmanabad.
Andhra Pradesh, boasting a number of Buddhist sites, has spent only Rs.18.63 lakh, Odisha spent Rs.8.26 lakh on five sites and Kerala invested just Rs.57,787 on four sites.
Though Buddha attained enlightenment in Bihar and the State attracts a number of foreign tourists, the State Archaeological Department has listed only three protected Buddhist sites in Bihar. There is no information on tourist promotion and providing toilets, lighting and pathways.
Historically, Uttar Pradesh is the most significant area concerning Buddhist culture but the RTI reply from office of State Archaeological Department was that it did not have any State-protected Buddhist site under its jurisdiction in the past 21 years. Neither could it list any Buddhist site in whole of Uttar Pradesh.
Though Dharamshala is seen as the second home of Tibetan Buddhism, Himachal Pradesh’s State Department has still not initiated any move to protect sites under its jurisdiction.
Roshan Lal Negi, a Buddhist scholar in Himachal Pradesh, said in Lahaul-Spiti itself there are about 20-30 sites which bear evidence of ancient Buddhist culture and heritage.
“Honeymoon couples are allowed to visit the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath. This discourages travellers from South Asian countries to visit this site. Similarly, other sites are not being used as places of spiritualism,” he said.
States like Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Tripura and Uttarakhand never identified and preserved Buddhist sites. Archaeological Department of Madhya Pradesh, which has Sanchi Stupa, has no record of funds spent on the ancient Buddhist sites.
To keep alive Buddhist tradition, the NGO will file a petition in the Supreme Court so that the State departments spend appropriate maintenance on the upkeep of Buddhist sites.