An increasing number of tourists are now visiting Shalban Vihara and Mainamati Museum in Cumilla, but the security there has not improved. Petty crimes such as snatching and mugging are also on the increase.
Local people complain that goons extort money and steal mobile phones and vanity bags from tourists outside these premises. The goons enter the Vihara premises by climbing over the boundary walls.
Thousands of local and foreign tourists come every day to the historical Shalban Vihara and Mainamati Museum. These places become especially busy in winter not only with tourists, but also with picnic parties that come from other districts.
Two tourists, Shah Imran and Asha Babu Salam, who came to Shalban Vihara, said they visit the place 4-5 times a year. They also said they are not satisfied with the security there.
They said there is no security problem inside the premises for the time being, but local goons gather outside the Vihara. They suggested installing CCTV cameras at the main gate and along the boundary walls, and deploying security guards so that tourists can come and go freely and safely.
Some thugs took away a mobile phone from a businessman named Shahid, 28, on January 14 as he was coming out of the Vihara. On December 18 last year, local goons snatched a vanity bag from a girl in front of the Vihara.
The authorities say that 14 CCTV cameras were installed there in the 2016-17 fiscal year, but they malfunctioned just after a couple of months. Six of them were repaired, but even those have not been working for the last six months.
The authorities also say that the premises are understaffed, and many positions have been vacant for the last 12 years. This is not only hampering security, but the overall activities there as well. For example, five of 26 positions are vacant while the other five are on deputation. One of four security guard positions is vacant too. There are also seven vacant positions in the office of the regional director.
Despite the shortage of manpower at these places, one officer each from Shalban Vihara and Mainamati Museum have been transferred to Itakhola Mura and Rupban Mura.
Two people are on duty every day at the Vihara gate while two others look after tourists inside the premises.
Hafizur Rahman, the custodian of Shalban Vihara and Museum, said, "We intend to repair the CCTV cameras. We are trying to provide security with the limited manpower we have."
"No new post has been created since 1987. We have only 26 staff positions whereas we need at least 60. Of these 26 positions, five are vacant and five others are on deputation. We have already applied to the authorities for recruiting more manpower," said Dr Ataur Rahman, director of the archaeology department (Chattogram and Sylhet region).
Security has been tightened and it will become an international standard tourist spot if we get the required manpower, he added.
The local police say they consider these tourist spots to be important places, and they take action against any wrongdoing there.
"Since Shalban Vihara is a significant tourist spot, we do not wait for the authorities to call us in case any untoward incident takes place there. We take action as soon as we are informed of a crime," said Cumilla Sadar Dakkhin Police Station Inspector (investigation) Kamol Krishna Dhar.
Around 49 lakh local and 11,000 foreign tourists visited Shalban Vihara and Museum between 2009 and 2019. As a result, the authorities earn a significant amount of money from ticket and booklet sales, car parking, picnic spots charges and rest houses etc.
The fee for a local tourist to enter the premises is Tk20, Tk5 for students up to secondary level, Tk100 for tourists from Saarc countries, and Tk200 for tourists from other countries.
In 2016-17, the Vihara and Museum earned around Tk1.22 crore, in 2017-18 and 2018-19 the earning was around 1.5 crore.
Shalban Vihara in Mainamati is eight kilometres west of Cumilla city. The 37-acre Vihara is the oldest Buddha Vihara in Bangladesh. It is 50 feet high. It was built between the seventh and eighth centuries during the reign of Buddha King. There are innumerable antiques here. These two historical places are under the Department of Archelogy of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.