July 29, 2020
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Tasneem Mehta

Covenor, Greater Mumbai Chapter of INTACH, on saving the Elephanta Caves

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Tasneem Mehta
What was the basic problem with Elephanta?
When I visited it two years ago, it was in a terrible shape. People were urinating inside, playing cricket. It was just not the way a World Heritage site was expected to look.

What changes have you brought about?
Intach has spent about Rs 40 lakh on redesigning the area around the site. We have dispensed with the local securitymen since they were ineffective. We have appointed private guards and cleared all hawkers from the site.

There is a perception that the journey to Elephanta is unsafe.
Yes. On the boat to the island and on the island, there isn't adequate security. We are working on it. Also, the monkey menace. Hotels like the Taj don't promote Elephanta because they are worried that tourists might get bitten by the monkeys.

How do you plan to handle this?
Monkeys flock to the site because of easy access to food. While we have evicted hawkers, there is a restaurant that has got a stay order from the court.

Isn't the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) authorised to remove encroachers on a heritage site?
Yes. That's why I feel the stay order is a contravention of powers given to the ASI.

Is there any other way you plan to tackle the monkeys?
We are looking at long-term sterilisation to check their population.

What about animal rights activists?
Such a plan will be worked out in conjunction with animal rights activists.

There are three villages on the island housing 1,200 people. Any responsibilities towards them ?
Of course. We have a comprehensive education programme for the children and a health programme for the villagers.

Will the heritage site give them jobs ?
The villagers are chiefly hawkers or fishermen. They don't except jobs from the site. But we will be employing some of them in various departments.

The island has no electricity. When will it be linked to the power grid ?
The Maharasthra CM has promised us that the island will have power by next Diwali.

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