ASI wants tweaking in Odisha govt.’s beautification plan around Jagannath temple

Politicking triggers claims, counter claims over development project in Puri 

Published - April 04, 2022 08:16 pm IST

Construction work going on near the Jagannath temple in Puri as part of the beautification project.

Construction work going on near the Jagannath temple in Puri as part of the beautification project. | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

BHUBANESWAR: The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has asked the Odisha government to tweak its much vaunted Shree Mandira Parikrama Project (SMPP) — a massive beautification project around the 12th-century Jagannath temple in Puri — which has already run into a controversy.   

Last week both Bharatiya Janata Party and Biju Janata Dal members came face to face twice, in the Lok Sabha and Odisha Assembly, over the issue. 

It is being alleged that neither does the State government have permission of the National Monument Authority (NMA) nor does it have approval from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to plan and execute the project which could potentially pose a threat to the centuries-old temple. 

Earlier this year, on February 21, the ASI Director-General V. Vidyavathi had visited the temple and inspected the project being executed around it. In her visit note, Ms Vidyavathi said, “The proposed amenities fall within the prohibited area of the temple. Government was also requested to keep the entire design simple in tandem with the spiritual nature of the entire temple complex.”

She pointed out that “One point of discussion was the proposed reception centre, part of which is situated at a distance of 75 meters from the temple.”

“This building is proposed to be used to hold devotees before they proceed to the main complex. Given that this would be very essential it was decided that the State government would consider options to slightly move the building beyond 100 meters. This would also be good in the interest of security of the temple,” the ASI DG suggested. 

The ASI DG’s observations came to 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 it is for the first time in centuries that the redevelopment of temple surroundings has been taken up on such a scale.

The chairman of the Shree Jagannath Temple managing committee and titular king of Puri, Dibyasingha Deb, had laid the foundation for the project at the end of a three-day-long yajna on November 24 last year in the presence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

After the foundation stone was laid, construction work started at a brisk pace with pillars being erected close to the temple. The controversy came to the fore when experts objected to the use of heavy machinery for digging, since it could have an adverse impact on the 12th Century temple. Questions were raised whether NMA or ASI had given approval for such construction activity.

While the project has been taken up by the Odisha Bridge and Construction Corporation (OBCC) under State’s Works Department, Tata Projects is the implementing authority. 

Raising the issue in Lok Sabha, Aparajita Sarangi MP from Bhubaneswar, said, “The 12th Century Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri is one of the char dhams (four most sacred pilgrimage places) for Hindus. The temple is our heritage and it is our collective responsibility to protect it.” 

“The 12th Century Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri is one of char dhams (four most sacred pilgrimage places) for Hindus. The temple is heritage for us and it is our collective responsibility to protect it,” said Aparajita Sarangi, Member of Parliament of Bhubaneswar in Lok Sabha. 

“As per the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act, 1958, no new construction can take place within a radius of 100 meter of a monument which is treated prohibited zone. The area up to 200 meters is known as regulated zone. The NMA permission is compulsory for any construction,” Ms. Sarangi said. 

“It is matter of great concern,” she added, “that massive demolition and construction works are taking place within 100 and 200 metre area of the temple. No permission of NMA and ASI has been taken. The work which is a threat to temple must stop.” 

She said, “When peripheral development project was taken up, a consultative committee was formed. The ASI was not given representation in the committee. It is surprising how this kind of work can be taken up without involving ASI. Other mandatory requirements such as heritage impact assessment and ground penetrating radar survey had not been taken up. The work going around the Jagannath temple is illegal.” 

Responding to Ms. Sarangi’s attack, BJD leader and MP from Puri, Pinaki Mishra, said, “every work carried out in Odisha is strictly by rules for which electors have been voting the Naveen Patnaik Government to power for past 22 years. The NMA had given its no objection certificate and the ASI was also involved,” 

Mr. Mishra said, “No digging is being done. Only four toilets are being constructed. Women devotees face difficulties when they visit the temple. Four toilets, two each for male and female, are being constructed. No additional construction is taking place.” 

The matter was also raised by BJP MLAs on the floor of the Assembly. They said the development work was a threat as use of heavy machinery could result in cracks on the temple. Congress leader Narasingha Mishra said if the State government had no approval of NMA or ASI, it was matter of grave concern. This led to the setting up of a House Committee comprising members of all parties to examine any threat 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 is said to have been asked to come up with a fresh project report. 

“Certain structures such as public toilets, drainage and electric or telephone lines are allowed in a prohibited zone. The structures need approval of ASI. Though ASI has power to take legal action against any violation, it has sent a letter s to Odisha government considering it as government agency,” said a senior ASI official. 

Regulatory requirements pertaining to monuments have been complied with in respect to big projects such as Delhi Metro corridor project, Ayodhya Temple complex and Sardar Sarovar Project. The Odisha government must respect the existing regulations, he said. 

Recently, the ASI gave clearance to a petroleum oil storage project near Chandikhole area of Jajpur district after conducting a detailed survey about presence of monuments. The agency said the basic ground penetrating radar survey had not been done in case of projects around the Jagannath temple. 

According to SMPP project, the 75-meter corridor abutting the outer boundary wall has been broadly divided into nine zones on the northern, southern and western side. 

Apart from buffer zone, which is seven-meter space adjacent to Meghanada Pacheri, ceremonial procession of deities will be facilitated in 10-meter antar (inner) pradakshina -- a pedestrian-only path round the year.  There would be 14-meter landscape zone comprising a garden and 10-meter public convenience zone for restrooms. The State government said about 90% of the heritage corridor, which is on 24.7 acre out of 26 acres, would be open and developed as green spaces. 

Under the Augmentation of Basic Amenities and Development of Heritage and Architecture (ABADHA) scheme, the Naveen Patnaik government has come up with plan to develop Puri as a World Class Heritage City at an estimated investment of Rs. 3200-crore. 

A section in the ruling BJD feels the BJP is creating roadblocks sensing that the Naveen Patnaik-led party would get all appreciations for shrine development. 

“The Kashi Vishwanath corridor project did not face any regulatory hurdles as BJP is ruling Uttar Pradesh. BJP does not want any other opposition party taking credit of temple development,” he said. 

The ASI clarified that there was no ASI-protected monument coming in the path of Kash Vishwanath corridor project. (EOM) 

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.