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Friday, March 05, 2021

NMA draft bylaws: Jagannath Temple admin objects, says talks must before regulation plan

In a letter to NMA, Chief Administrator Krishan Kumar wrote, “To protect the interest of the Lords, sevaks and devotees at large, I request you to immediately withdraw the draft notification under reference.”

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty | Bhubaneswar |
Updated: February 8, 2021 6:14:19 am
The Commission was established in 2016 to suggest measures for bringing in reforms for the functioning of the Puri Jagannath temple. (File)

Days after the National Monument Authority (NMA) issued draft bylaws for Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri, proposing a 100-m no construction zone around the shrine, the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) Sunday sought withdrawal of the proposed bylaws.

In a letter to NMA, Chief Administrator Krishan Kumar wrote, “To protect the interest of the Lords, sevaks and devotees at large, I request you to immediately withdraw the draft notification under reference.”

The NMA, under the Union Ministry of Culture, had released the draft bylaws under The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act (AMASR), 2010, for the Jagannath Temple and its subsidiary shrines, defining various zones for their conservation and periphery development.

The draft bylaws, prepared by a heritage expert committee, were notified on January 18 , with a provision for raising objections or comments within 30 days. They prescribe an area of 100 m (buffer zone) around Jagannath temple as a “prohibited” area.

The draft bylaws propose 9.7 acre as protected area and 37.061 acre as prohibited area along the Meghanad Pacheri area, forbidding any new construction by government or private agencies, and 138.385 acre as a regulated area.

Construction in the regulated area spread on all sides of the temple is prohibited, but requires NMA’s approval. The bylaws also propose capping the height of all buildings in the regulated area at 9 m.


A sensitive issue

The SJTA has stated that any such regulatory framework must be preceded by detailed consultations with members of the SJTA committee. “To manage the temple, affairs of sevaks (priests) and properties of the Lord, Shree Jagannath Temple Management Committee (SJTMC) has been constituted as a statutory body under ‘Shree Jagannath Temple Act, 1955 (Assented to by the President on October 15, 1955). SJTMC entered into agreement with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on August 22, 1979 for the conservation of the ancient built structures.”

The SJTA further said the Odisha government has acquired land for strengthening security of the centuries-old shrine for the project of Shree Jagannath Heritage Corridor (SJHC). “Any regulation which has the potential to restrict development of facilities and amenities on lands voluntarily contributed by devotees of the Lord will hurt their sentiments,” the letter stated.

“As the Sevayats are likely to be severely and adversely affected by any intervention of the authorities like this draft notification, they must be consulted before any process to restrict their rights is undertaken by National Monuments Authority (NMA). This is also very important as any adverse impact on Sevayats have a direct bearing on continuity of Niti-Kanti (rituals) of Lord Shree Jagannath,” the letter added.

The proposed bylaws have evoked sharp reactions from leaders of the ruling BJD.

Party MP and spokesperson Amar Patnaik tweeted, “It is appalling that Centre would make such inconsiderate effort against the beliefs and sentiments of the people of Odisha for which @Naveen_Odisha has worked tirelessly to develop SriMandir and Lingaraj Mandir. #Insult2Jagannath #ConspiracyAgainstOdias #OdishaExposesBJP.”

Puri MP Pinaki Misra called it an “outrageous attempt” by the Centre to “derail the extraordinary work being done by the state government to improve the surroundings of the Sri Mandir”. “Clubbing our living Gods’ abode with mausoleums is blasphemous. Odia sentiments deeply hurt,” he tweeted.

On Saturday, Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had urged Culture Minister Prahlad Singh Patel to reconsider the heritage bylaws as they were “restrictive” in nature.

Notably, the letter by SJTA comes amid the outrage over demolition around the 11th century Lingaraja Temple for a beautification drive during which parts of statues and structures believed to be of archaeological importance were damaged.

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