Amid raging controversy over the ongoing construction around the 12th century Jagannath temple, the Orissa High Court on Friday demanded responses from the state government and the Archaeological Survey of India asking if the Permission had been obtained to carry out such construction and if there are any structures threatening the iconic temple.
Responding to a PIL from a resident of the temple town, the High Court requested the Odisha government and ASI to file their responses by April 17 before the case goes to trial on April 21. .
Even as the High Court searched for answers, the Puri district administration on Friday filled the pits dug around the temple. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which criticized the construction, said the state government should clarify its position on why it started digging and then filling the pits.
Since January 20, the area around the perimeter of the temple has been dug deep by a private contractor with a plan to build several facilities, including toilets and changing rooms under the ₹800 crore Shree Jagannath Heritage Corridor Project which aims to establish Puri as an international heritage place. In November last year, Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik and King of Puri Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb laid the groundwork for the project. The project also includes a 600-seat visitor center, a cultural center, an integrated command and control center, a pilgrimage center and a multi-level parking lot, among others.
However, once the excavations around the temple began in January, there was strong opposition from various quarters including local people, defenders, temple servants and the opposition BJP who alleged that the excavations using shovels had affected the structural stability of the monument. While the state government maintained that the necessary permission had been obtained from the ASI, the BJP said that no written permission had been issued to the ASI.
In Lok Sabha last week, Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi and Puri MP Pinaki Mishra had a verbal duel with the former alleging that work had been undertaken around the temple without permission from ASI and NMA .
Citing a February 2022 letter written by an ASI official in Puri to the Odisha Bridge and Construction Corporation which is undertaking the digging near the temple’s boundary wall, Sarangi said OBCC officials were invited to show any letter of authorization from the competent authority which authorized construction in the prohibited zone of the monument.
“In accordance with the 1992 Notice issued under Rule 32 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Relics Rule 1959, and further in accordance with the 2010 Notice issued under Rule 10 of 2010 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010, area up to 100 meters from the protected boundary of the monument has been declared a ‘prohibited area’ Any type of excavation and construction is totally prohibited and beyond in the restricted area up to 200 meters, the competent authority is authorized to authorize any type of construction and mining activities,” said Sarangi.
Pinaki Mishra, however, said the National Monument Authority had issued a certificate of no objection to the state government for the construction of a changing room, mini changing room, shelter pavilion and toilets on September 4, in the prohibited zone of 75 meters.
The BJP MP retaliated saying that DG ASI during his visit to Puri last month had warned Sri Jagannath Temple Administration and Public Works Department officials that works around the ancient monument will not could not be carried out as they were.
The construction sparked outrage on social media as well as hundreds of Twitter users protesting the digging and construction around the temple with the hashtag #SaveJagannathTemple.