Controversy erupts over ground survey near Puri Jagannath temple

The survey to trace any archaeological treasure has snowballed into a full-scale political controversy 

Updated - May 22, 2022 08:33 pm IST

Published - May 22, 2022 02:34 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

Construction work outside the Puri Jagannath temple for the beautification of the temple at Puri. File.

Construction work outside the Puri Jagannath temple for the beautification of the temple at Puri. File. | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

Months after undertaking construction around the 12th century Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri, as part of the ₹800-crore Shree Mandir Parikrama Project (SMPP), the Odisha government started the Ground Penetrating Radar Survey (GPRS) to trace any archaeological treasure beneath the soil on Saturday night.

The Odisha Bridge Construction Corporation (OBCC), the State government’s designated agency that implements SMPP had roped in the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, which deployed GeoCarte Radar Technology Private Limited for the GPRS, according to official sources. As per guidelines, the GPRS should have been done prior to commencing of construction.

The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) had informed the Orissa High Court, which is hearing a public interest litigation petition pertaining to the controversial construction around Jagannath Temple, that, “No GPRS has been conducted to ascertain the archaeological and historical importance lying buried in the subsoil of 75m radius (construction zone) of the centrally protected monument.”

“At several locations as seen from the cuttings, it is evident that the removal of about 15 to 20 ft stratified deposit has taken place, which has caused irreparable damage to the heritage site. During the discussion, OBCC officials were clueless about the method of soil removal and cultural findings from the digging,” says ASI’s joint inspection report.

Incidentally, two half-broken lion sculpture pieces were discovered from the demolished site of Emar Mutt. Anticipating it to be ancient remnants, the ASI took the pieces into its possession.

Lies exposed, says Sambit Patra

The current GPRS has triggered a massive political controversy. Addressing a press conference at New Delhi, national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party Sambit Patra came down heavily on Puri Member of Parliament Pinaki Misra saying that his lies have been exposed.

A couple of days ago, Mr. Misra took to Twitter saying, “as documents will show, GPRS was duly done and therefore allegations about digging without doing GPRS are baseless. HC affidavit will clarify all these aspects. All that is needed is a little more patience and a little less malice.”

“History will identify these people as charlatans and malefic clowns who were obstructing development, security and conservation works of Puri Temple, purely out of selfish greed and unbridled malice,” he said.

The Biju Janata Dal backed the Puri MP with party spokesperson Sulata Deo saying, “the GPRS study was done earlier and was submitted along with the Detailed Project Report to the National Monument Authority. But still you are trying to mislead the people of Puri”. The statement is, however, contrary to ASI’s joint inspection report which said that no GPRS was done.

Stating that the GPRS was conducted secretly and hurriedly in the midnight, Mr. Patra said, “The government should have first got the GPRS done and thereafter, it could have gone for digging of soil for construction. On the contrary, the government first dug soil and then carried out GPRS. This is unscientific conservation work.”

“The apprehensions raised by ASI appeared to be true. Many archaeological and historical importances might have been lost due to Odisha government’s unscientific way of handling sensitive monuments and their surroundings,” the BJP spokesperson charged.

‘A cover-up’

Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi, who had been vocal about the SMPP being implemented in violation of existing ASI guidelines, said the present GPRS was done “to cover up the past mistake”.

Similarly, Narasingha Mishra, Leader of Congress Legislature Party in the Assembly, questioned the delay behind the House Committee undertaking verification as the construction was stated to have posed a threat to the main Jagannath Temple. After MLAs raised fears about indiscriminate digging around the Jagannath Temple, Speaker Surjya Narayan Patro constituted a House Committee during the last Assembly session.

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