Explainer | Puri Jagannath Temple: Have Recent Constructions Put The 12th-century Monument At Risk?

The construction of the Puri Heritage Corridor is taking shape of a major political controversy with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)’s latest submission in the Orissa High Court

Jagannath Temple Complex in Puri, Odisha

The BJD-led Odisha government's Puri Hetitage Corridor Project has taken the shape of a massive controversy. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has fuelled the debate further by submitting an affidavid stating that the ongoing construction work without any valid permission is likely to have caused considerable amount of damage to the iconic Jagannath temple.

About the Puri Hetitage Corridor Project

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik alongside Puri’s titular king Gajapati Dibya Singha Deb had laid the foundation stone for the ambitious Puri Heritage Corridor Project with an aim to elevate the town's status to an international place of heritage. The blue print of the project also emcompassed redevelopment of major portions of the town and the iconic Jagannath Temple.Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) approved the architectural design plan of the project at an estimated cost of Rs 3,200 crore after the state assembly unanimously passed a resolution for the project.

Total of 22 different projects including Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) building redevelopment, a 600-capacity Srimandir reception centre, Jagannath cultural centre including Raghunandan library, integrated command, and control centre, Badadanda heritage streetscape, Srimandir amenities improvement amongst several others are scheduled to be executed in a phased manner

The Odisha government’s Augmentation of Basic Amenities and Development of Heritage and Architecture at Puri (ABADHA) scheme will roll out another Rs 265 crore in the first phase after the initial sanction of Rs 800 crore.

Origin of the BJP-BJD feud

Previously, an affidavid was filed at the Orisaa High Court following a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) raising concerns over the ongoing constrction activities around the temple complex. Several independent organisations including lawyers association in Puri and civil society members have raised concerns around the structural stability of the 12th-century monument as JCB machines are deployed to dig up the area which is well within the 75 metre radius of the Jagannath Temple.

BJP salmmed the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD government over the execution of the ambitious project without proper permission. Several BJP officials including national spokesperson Sambit Patra and BJP MP Aparajita Sarangi raised their voices against the 'illegal' construction work.

The controversy further intensified after the state government officials and the Archaelolgical Survey of India (ASI) conducted a joint opereation. After the survey, the central body responsible for safeguarding the archaelogical assets of the country said that the ongoing construction work lacked the required permission by competent authorities and the activities might be endangering the heritage temple’s structural safety.

What did the ASI affidavid say?

The rules consolidated under Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and validation) Act imposes a restriction on construction activities within the ambit of 100 metre around a monument’s perimeter unless National Monuments Authority (NMA) aprroves it.

For the heritage project, it has been reported that on September 4, 2021, the NMA had issued a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to the state government which allowed construction of a cloakroom, a shelter pavilion, three toilets, an electrical room and a pavement within the prohibited zone. 

The NOC issued by NMA is with regard to the fact that the public amenities do not come under the definition of construction as per the AMASR Act and that NMA has no objection if the project is carried out under ASI’s supervision. 

However, the Archaeological Survey of India stated that no such NOC has been issued by them which invalidated the legal support behind the ongoing work.