BHUBANESWAR: The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has asked the government of Odisha to modify its much-vaunted Shree Mandira Parikrama Project (SMPP) – a massive beautification project around the 12 andJagannath temple of the last century in Puri – which has already been the subject of controversy.
Last week, members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Biju Janata Dal clashed twice, in the Lok Sabha and Odisha Assembly, over the issue.
It is alleged that the state government also lacks permission from the National Monument Authority (NMA) nor approval from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to plan and execute the project which could potentially pose a threat for centuries. ancient temple.
Earlier this year, on February 21, ASI Director General V. Vidyavathi visited the temple and inspected the project being carried out around it. In her tour note, Ms. Vidyavathi said, “The amenities offered fall within the prohibited area of the temple. The government was also asked to keep the whole design simple in tandem with the spiritual nature of the entire temple complex.
She pointed out that “one of the talking points was the proposed visitor center, part of which is located at a distance of 75 meters from the temple.”
“This building is proposed to be used to welcome worshipers before they proceed to the main compound. Since this would be very essential, it was decided that the state government would consider options to move the building slightly beyond 100 meters. It would also be good in the interests of temple security,” the ASI DG suggested.
The observations of the ASI DG fell into the public domain at a time when the state government was accused of implementing the Rs. 800 crore SMPP or the Shree Jagannath Heritage Corridor (SJHC) without keeping ASI in the loop, which is mandatory since the temple is a centrally protected monument.
It has been claimed that this is the first time in centuries that the redevelopment of the approaches to the temple has been undertaken on such a scale.
Chairman of the Shree Jagannath temple management committee and titular King of Puri, Dibyasingha Deb, laid the groundwork for the project at the end of a three-day yajna on Nov. 24 in the presence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
After the foundation stone was laid, construction work began at a brisk pace with pillars being erected near the temple. Controversy erupted when experts objected to the use of heavy machinery for digging because it could negatively impact the 12 and Temple of the century. Questions were raised as to whether the NMA or ASI had given approval for such construction activity.
While the project has been taken over by the Odisha Bridge and Construction Corporation (OBCC) under the State Department of Works, Tata Projects is the implementing authority.
Raising the issue in Lok Sabha, MP Aparajita Sarangi from Bhubaneswar said: “On 12 and Century Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri is one of the char dhams (four holiest shrines) for Hindus. The temple is our heritage and it is our collective responsibility to protect it.
” The 12 and Century Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri is one of the char dhams (four holiest shrines) for Hindus. The temple is a heritage for us and it is our collective responsibility to protect it,” said Aparajita Sarangi, MP for Bhubaneswar in Lok Sabha.
“In accordance with the 1958 law on ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains (AMASR), no new construction can take place within a radius of 100 meters from a monument treated as a prohibited zone. The area up to 200 meters is known as the restricted area. NMA authorization is mandatory for any construction,” Ms. Sarangi said.
“It is of great concern,” she added, “that massive demolition and construction work is taking place within 100 to 200 meters of the temple. No clearance from the NMA and ASI has been taken. The work that threatens the temple must cease.
She said, “When the peripheral development project was launched, an advisory committee was formed. ASI was not represented on the committee. It is surprising how this type of work can be undertaken without involving the UPS. Other mandatory requirements such as the Heritage Impact Assessment and Ground Penetrating Radar Survey had not been taken into account. Works around Jagannath temple are illegal.
Responding to Ms Sarangi’s attack, BJD leader and MP for Puri, Pinaki Mishra, said: “Every job done in Odisha is strictly in accordance with the rules for which voters voted for the ruling Naveen Patnaik government during of the last 22 years. The NMA had given their no-objection certificate and the ASI was also involved,”
Mr Mishra said: “There is no digging going on. Only four toilets are under construction. Devout women encounter difficulties when visiting the temple. Four toilets, two for men and two for women, are under construction. No additional construction is underway.
The issue was also raised by BJP MPs on the floor of the Assembly. They said the development work posed a threat as the use of heavy machinery could lead to cracks on the temple. Congress leader Narasingha Mishra said if the state government does not have the endorsement of the NMA or ASI, it is a matter of serious concern. This led to the creation of a House committee made up of members from all parties to look into any threats to the Jagannath temple.
According to sources, the ASI has also raised objections to any construction within 100 meters of the temple. The state government would have been asked to submit a new report on the project.
“Certain structures such as public restrooms, drainage, and power or telephone lines are permitted in a no-go zone. Structures must be approved by ASI. Although ASI has the power to take legal action against any violation, it has sent a letter to the government of Odisha regarding it as a government agency,” a senior ASI official said.
Monuments regulatory requirements were met with respect to major projects such as the Delhi Metro Corridor Project, Ayodhya Temple Complex and Sardar Sarovar Project. The Odisha government must abide by the regulations, he said.
Recently, ASI licensed an oil storage project near Chandikhole area of Jajpur district after conducting a detailed survey for the presence of monuments. The agency said basic ground penetrating radar survey was not carried out in case of projects around Jagannath Temple.
According to the SMPP project, the 75-meter corridor adjoining the outer perimeter wall has been broadly divided into nine zones on the north, south and west sides.
Apart from the buffer zone, which is a seven-meter space adjacent to Meghanada Pacheri, the ceremonial procession of the deities will be facilitated in the 10-meter antar (inner) pradakshina – a path reserved for pedestrians all year round. There would be a 14 meter landscaped area including a garden and a 10 meter public amenities area for toilets. The state government said about 90% of the heritage corridor, which is 24.7 acres by 26 acres, would be open and landscaped.
Under the Basic Amenity Augmentation and Heritage and Architecture Development (ABADHA) program, the government of Naveen Patnaik has drawn up a plan to develop Puri as a world-class heritage city with investment estimated at Rs. 3200 crores.
A section of the ruling BJD believes that the BJP is creating roadblocks by feeling that the party led by Naveen Patnaik would get all the credit for the development of the sanctuary.
“The Kashi Vishwanath Corridor Project has not encountered any regulatory hurdles as the BJP rules Uttar Pradesh. The BJP does not want another opposition party to take credit for the development of the temple,” he said.
ASI clarified that no ASI-protected monument is in the way of the Kash Vishwanath Corridor Project. (EOM)