The government has ordered a full security audit of the famous Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya in Bihar, before according an armed protection cover of central paramilitary commandos to the World Heritage Site thronged by lakhs of devotees every year.
Officials said the decision to undertake a fresh security audit and survey of the temple complex, including an assessment of the required security manpower, has been directed by the Union home ministry after a high-level meeting was convened in this regard here recently, also attended by officials of the Bihar government.
PTI had reported two weeks back that the Centre is planning to provide an armed security cover to the temple, four years after it was hit by a terror strike.
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the paramilitary force that guards vital installations of the country like airports and those in the aerospace and nuclear domain, will conduct the audit.
A team of its experts will soon visit the temple, known as the cradle of Buddhism, and undertake the exercise along with authorities of the Bihar police, Gaya administration and the Mahabodhi temple.
The report will then be submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
A series of blasts in and around the temple on July 7, 2013 had injured two monks, following which Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had sought an armed security cover for the temple complex and its adjoining temples, 115 kms south of the state capital Patna.
The CISF, that has expertise and a special wing for securing vital installations and buildings, had carried out a survey of the temple complex in 2013, immediately after the blasts.
That report is old for consideration now and hence a new security audit is required to assess the current threats to the temple complex, they said.
Officials added that the MHA has also sought comments of the ministry of culture seeking to know if it could bear some percentage of the approximately Rs 15 crore annual security bill for the CISF deployment.
They said while Bihar government representatives have proposed a 50:50 sharing of security cost between the state government and the Centre, the Union government is not readily agreed to this.
“The Bihar government has sought such an arrangement for payment of the security fees saying that Bodh Gaya is a World Heritage Site identified by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and is a place of national pride for the country,” the official said.
An armed cover for the religious site is being planned after security agencies recently analysed that the world-famous temple site needs to be secured against any potential terror threat or sabotage as it is thronged by lakhs of domestic and international tourists and followers every year.
The first demand for an armed security cover to the temple complex was made by the Bihar government in 2013, right after the blasts.
However, various issues like the pattern of deployment and CISF cover being provided only to high threat perception utilities kept the decision hanging for the last four years, a senior officer said.
The earlier security audit had projected requirement of 150-200 CISF personnel to secure the 4.8600-hectare complex, officials said.
Frequented by Buddhist pilgrims from Sri Lanka, China, Japan and the whole of southeast Asia, the temple and the Bodhi Tree, under which Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment, did not suffer any damage in the blasts that shook the holy town of Bodh Gaya in 2013.