Serious threat to Jagannath temple at Puri due to Odisha govt's unauthorised construction: Plea before Supreme Court

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A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the order of the Orissa High Court not restraining the State government from carrying out excavation work around Shree Jagannath temple at Puri in Odisha alleging that the said excavation poses a serious threat to the temple.

It was mentioned today before a bench of Justices BR Gavai and Hima Kohli seeking urgent listing. Court agreed to list the same tomorrow. The Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed through Gautam Das, Advocate On Record, challenges the order of the division bench of Orissa High Court dated May 9, 2022.

The order of the High Court was passed in a PIL filed in March stating that the digging up of the area close to the temple wall is dangerous to the temple’s structural safety. The high court had asked the Archeological Survey of India as well as the State government agencies to conduct a joint inspection of the area and submit a report.

The  ASI in its affidavit informed the High Court that the Odisha Bridge Construction Corporation, the PSU which is undertaking the construction, may have destroyed archaeological remains from around the 12th century Jagannath temple by carrying out deep excavation to build common facilities under Srimandir Parikrama Plan.

It was further submitted that the government had not obtained any permission to carry out the construction work. The State, however, contended that it had obtained all the requisite permission for the construction. The court had on May 9, 2022 took this on record and asked the State of Odisha to file a reply to ASI’s affidavit.

The plea before the Supreme Court states that it intends to throw a light on how State agencies have been working in gross violation of Section 20 A of the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains Act and its unauthorised construction is posing a serious threat to the ancient temple.

The plea notes that as per Section 19 of the AMSAR act, no person can construct any building within the 100 meters radius protected area and the the temple was declared a protected area in 1975 and that such a constriction is happening at a structure called Meghanad Pacheri which is an integral part of the temple.

It notes that the State government is trying to construct certain structures by using heavy machinery and has already dug up upto 30 feet from the ground level adjacent to the western side of Meghnad Pacheri. The plea further submits that the equipment used for construction is putting pressure on the foundation of the temple.

The plea alleges that the local authorities are not permitting photography or videography near the temple and hence no photograph could be produced. In the light of the aforementioned reasons, the plea seeks for a stay of the operation of the construction work near the temple.

What is the construction project that is being challenged in the plea?

In 2021, the  Odisha Chief Minister laid down the foundation stone for the Jagannath Temple corridor project wherein 75-metre perimeter of the Jagannath Temple was sought to be transformed into a heritage corridor to attract devotees. Titled 'the Srimandir Parikrama project' it has been designed to have wide terraced green landscape and pedestrian-only pathway.

According to Hindustan Times, the project was aimed to be completed by May 2023, with creation of amenities for pilgrims such cloak rooms, restrooms, drinking water fountains, temple reception centre with a queue management facility for 6,000 people, information-cum-donation kiosks, shelter pavilions for shade and rest, multi-level car parking, dedicated shuttle cum emergency lane for accommodating police, fire and emergency vehicles and an integrated command and control centre.

The plea will be heard tomorrow (May 31, 2022)

Case title: Sumanta Kumar Gadhei Vs State of Orissa