Jaipur, Oct 4:  The historic and majestic Ranthambhore fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site visited by lakhs of wildlife and heritage lovers every year, is literally sitting on a powder keg, waiting for disaster to strike. (Read: Teacher recruitment exam of Kendriya Vidyalayas hit by paper leak allegations)

Located atop a hill in the heart of Ranthambhore National Park in Sawaimadhopur, the fort has an unmeasured but visibly large quantity of explosives stored in one part of the premises.Even as the presence of the explosives poses the risk of a mishap happening anytime at the fort — which is a protected monument of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) — the matter of its disposal hangs in balance with the Centre and the state government having so far failed to arrive at a solution.

Authorities have been exchanging communications to address the issue for nine long years now, but with no change in the situation.ASI, which is under the Union Ministry of Culture, says that the organisation has no expertise in examining and disposing of explosives and, therefore, needs experts — available with the state government — to rid the fort of the explosive haul.

But state government officials argue that since the monument comes under the jurisdiction of the Centre, it is for New Delhi to take a decision.The issue was recently highlighted at a meeting last month of the Rajasthan Heritage Conservation Authority at the Ganesh temple inside the fort following which it was brought to the notice of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.

Raje gave fresh instructions to a senior officer to take up the matter with the Centre in order to resolve the issue as soon as possible.The Authority also discussed the matter at another meeting chaired by Revenue Minister Amra Ram in Jaipur after the Ganesh temple discussions.

“An ASI official at the meeting said that Ranthambhore fort has explosives stored inside which must be disposed of. The monument is under the jurisdiction of the Centre and it is for the Centre to take a decision.

“The issue is being brought to the knowledge of competent authorities at the Centre,” said Onkar Singh Lakhawat, Chairman of the Rajasthan Heritage Conservation Authority. “This is a very serious issue and must be resolved as soon as possible,” he stressed.

The Authority on October 1 also wrote to Rajasthan Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria and DGP Manoj Bhatt requesting them to expeditiously resolve the matter with the Centre in view of the need to ensure the safety of the fort, the tourists who visit it and the wildlife that inhabits the area surrounding it.

“The chief minister gave directions for starting the communication afresh to resolve the issue. The matter will be taken up with the Centre at the appropriate level,” said Additional Chief Secretary (Devsthan department), Ashok Shekhar.

The matter came up again before Raje at a district officers’ meeting in Sawaimadhopur on September 30 where MP and MLAs were also present, a district-level officer informed. Raje was in various areas of Sawaimadhopur district for a sudden inspection.

The ASI has since October 12, 2006, sent several letters and reminders to various levels in the state government as well as to senior authorities of its own department requesting them to get the explosives examined and removed.

The matter was first brought to the notice of district authorities at a meeting on September 19, 2006 following which letters were written by ASI to the SP and Collector of Sawaimadhopur, Forensic Science Laboratory-Jaipur, Bomb Disposal Officer of Rajasthan Police, DG-ASI, state home department and other authorities.

However, no decision was taken at any level regarding the disposal of the explosives.The hazardous substance is lying in a room inside Hammir Mahal on the fort premises. The explosives may be lying there for scores, if not hundreds, of years and ASI has restricted entry of visitors to the area.

“An expert can determine the exact potential (of the explosives), but this is certainly risky for the fort and tourists,” an ASI official said on condition of anonymity.Thousands of tourists visit the fort during the peak season between October to April, the official added.

“More than 15 letters and reminders have been sent to the state government in nine years but nothing has been achieved,” the official said.In one section of the fort is situated the famous Trinetra Ganesh temple, which the people visit in large numbers. Devotees also cook food on the temple premises, the official said.

“Besides, temperatures in the area soar to 45-46 degrees Celsius in summer and, besides, any miscreant can also cause harm,” the officer added. Ranthambhore is among six hill forts in the desert state which were accorded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2013.

The fort is said to have been constructed by Maharaja Jayanta in 5th century AD while some theories suggest that it was built in 944 AD by Chauhan ruler Sapaldaksha. Hammir Deo was the most powerful ruler of Ranthambhore. The fort is surrounded by the Vindhya and Aravali ranges and is located 1,579 ft above the sea level.

Hammir Badi Kachahari, Chhoti Kachahari, Battis Khambha Chhatri, Hammir Palace and Rani Palace are the major attractions at the fort along with the Trinetra Ganesh temple and a few Jain temples.The fort lies in the heart of the famous Ranthambhore tiger reserve and is located nearly 150-km away from Jaipur.

A member of Rajasthan Wildlife Board, Rajpal Singh, meanwhile, said that the decision to dispose of the explosives must be taken in the interest of the wildlife and the visitors to Ranthambhore National Park, which is home to 55-60 tigers, including cubs and sub-adults, and other animals.