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Friday, January 28, 2022

Explained: Amendment to the Jagannath Temple Act

🔴 The Odisha state cabinet has approved amendments to the Sri Jagannath Temple Act of 1954. A look at the law, the amendments and why this is being considered a historic move.

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty , Edited by Explained Desk | Bhubaneswar |
Updated: January 6, 2022 8:19:34 am
Shri Jagannath Temple, Puri (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In a historic decision, the Odisha state cabinet on Wednesday approved amendments to the Sri Jagannath Temple Act of 1954, simplifying issues pertaining to land owned by the Jagannath Temple. Following the amendment, the temple administration and concerned officials now have the power to sell or lease out temple land, without any approval from the state government. Earlier, people who had occupied or were in possession of the temple land for a long period of time had to approach the state government for sale or transfer of the land.

What is the Jagannath Temple Act, 1954 ?

In the year 1806, the then British government had issued regulations for management of the Jagannath temple which was referred to as the Juggernaut temple by the colonial rulers. Under these regulations, pilgrims who visited the temple were expected to pay taxes. The British government was entrusted with appointing senior priests at the temple. Three years later, the powers of management of the temple were passed on to the King of Khordha while the colonial government continued to retain some control. After his death, the temple management was passed on to the queen and thereafter to their grandson. It was only after India gained Independence that the state of Odisha formally introduced the Jagannath Temple Act in the year 1952, which came into effect in 1954. The Act contains provision on land rights of the temple, duties of the sevayat, administrative powers of the Shri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, rights and privileges of the Raja of Puri and other persons connected with the management and administration of the temple.

What does the recent amendment propose?

The recent amendment approved by the state cabinet now decentralizes the power to settle land related issues of the temple. The cabinet has delegated power to temple administration and concerned officials for sale and lease of land in name of Jagannath temple. Unlike earlier, no approval will be required from the state government for the process. Through the sale of land, used and unused, the temple will also generate additional corpus funds.

Section 16 (2) of the Act states that no immovable property taken possession of by the temple committee shall be leased out, mortgaged, sold or otherwise alienated except with the previous sanction of the State Government. The Cabinet has approved an amendment to this section which implies that no prior sanction from the state government will be required for leasing out, mortgaging or selling any immovable properties owned by the temple. The temple managing committee, administrative officials and Collectors of respective districts can take decisions in this regard from now onwards.

Who can purchase land belonging to the temple?

Around 60,426 acres of land in the name of Lord Jagannath, has been identified in 24 districts across the state. Over 395 acres of land has been identified in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Bihar as well. But these lands have been occupied by people or even institutes like schools and hospitals for more than five decades. After the temple administration identified these lands, in 2003 it proposed that the occupants can buy the land or take it on lease from the temple rather than driving them away.

So the land in this case can be bought by people who are already occupying land owned by the temple and have no land rights to claim ownership. The temple administration also allows sale of land which has remained unused to eligible persons for setting up of schools, hospitals, etc.

From 2001 to 2010, a total of 291 acres of land was settled and from 2011 to 2021, a total of 96 acres of land was settled.So far a total of 11.20 crore has been earned through the settlements, Law Minister Pratap Jena had mentioned in a written reply in the state assembly.

Why is the amendment being considered a historic move?

Until now, every sale of land even for a small area was sent to the state government for approval. The process at times took over two years for clearance, creating hurdles for people who have been residing on the land. “After the uniform policy came into effect in 2003, a lot of people occupying these lands and living there for generations had approached the state government for sale or transfer of the land in their names. But the process was rather tedious and time taking since every case from across districts would come to the state government for approval. In many cases it took over two-four years for the state government to clear the files and thousands of applicants faced difficulties. But as per the amendment, the process will be decentralized and decisions will be taken at various levels,” Chief Secretary Suresh Chandra Mohapatra said.

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