Puri heritage Corridor Project around Jagannath temple, Odisha will be open in January, 2024 despite dispute with the ASI

Puri Heritage Corridor work, Odisha thehansindia.com

If you think the  abuse of temple lands and arbitrary decision  to build structures in the listed heritage sites or around them by the government are confined to Tamil nadu, you are wrong. In May 2022, the government of Odisha embarked on a unique  project running into crores of rupees that was  several times larger than the  Shopping Mall Project (estimate Rs. 6 crore) under taken  recently by the HR & CE of TN at Tiruvannamalai. The chosen area is close to the historial Raja gopuram of Arunachaleswar temple facing east side.

Puri Heritage Corridor work, Odisha. orissapost.com

The ongoing  construction work called The Shree Jagannath Parikrama Prakalp, a heritage corridor project in Puri, is scheduled to  be inaugurated on January 17, 2024 as most of the works were nearing completion. It is 75-metre corridor heritage project around the 12th century temple,  featuring terraced landscapes, gardens, cloakrooms, and information kiosks. Simply,  it involves the beautification of the perimeter of the iconic Jagannath temple without affecting the heritage aspects. This project is taken up for the benefit of increasing number of devotees  daily to the temple dedicated to God Vishnu.

It is said on the inaugural day a ''puja and havan will also be held ” said Gajapati, who is the chief religious functionary of the famed temple besides being the chairman of the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee 

Obstructions on the road leading to the main temple will be removed so that pilgrims can walk comfortably. As part of beautification, landscaping will be done under the project. Likewise history and tradition of the  mutts will get priority.  

This Project was  introduced in  December 2019 involving the redevelopment of major portions of the vicinity of the temple and town. To beef up security and safety, a security zone will be developed and for this purpose  land acquisition began in November 2019 which atalled the work for a while.  Over 600 people living around the temple  gave up 15.64 acres to set up security zone.  Chief minister Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation stone of the project in November, 2021.

It is said this major work  would  transform the town into an international place of heritage. In February, 2020, the estimated cost of the project (first phase) Rs 800 crore, was approved by the state assembly through a resolution.  The Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) went along with the proposal and  approved the architectural design plan of the project. The estimated cost was  Rs 3,200 crore, a whopping sum.  It covers a  total of 22 different projects that  will be completed  in a phased manner including   SJTA building redevelopment, Musa river revival plan, Sri Setu (1.5 km long and 60-metre wide), multilevel car parking, etc.

 During the Court hearing, ASI, the custodian of 12 th CE  Jagannath temple,  has alleged that the project volates  Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act as the undergoing excavations and construction is happening around the prohibited zone. It  informed the court that, “No GPRS - Ground Penetrating Radar Survey- 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.” What is worrisome is at many places from the cuttings it is evident  15 to 20 ft stratified deposit is removed and this may affect the stability of the structure leading to damages.  In May 2021, a sculpture of a lion (of the Ganga dynasty), was found during excavation and  it is the third such lion sculpture found during the excavation work. The East Ganga dynasty had ruled Kalinga, as Odisha was called in ancient times, from the early fifth century to the early 15th century.

The state government project began in the past  without valid permission from the competent authorities, The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) moved the court and informed the Orissa High Court, Bhubaneswar .  ASI in its affidavit informed  that the competent authority had not given valid permission or No-Objection Certificate (NOC) to the ongoing construction work of the project. There were complaints that the Odisha government  was allegedly trying to damage the temple and  destroy  the archaeological remains of Odisha’s greatest heritage and the posterity will be left with nothing. Many were of the view that the undergoing construction work around the Jagannath Temple could  affect the structural stability of the old heritage temple.

Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi also raised objection to the project.  In a Twitter post he mentioned,  ...the elected  state government  is hell-bent upon brazenly defying the law.  BJP MP Patra said, ''We are neither against the development nor the beautification of the world heritage site but the law of the land should be followed which was not in this case.” 

The proposed new reception centre  won't be built  in the prohibited area, and would come up in the purview of the regulated area after taking due permission from competent authority. The center will provide cloakroom for keeping belongings of nearly 4,000 families, drinking water, toilet and will handle 6,000 devotees with baggage screening facility, modern amenities, etc. 

After long deliberations/hearing, at last.  the HC  rejected the prayer of the petitioner to stay the construction work near Puri temple and  directed the temple administration to continue the ongoing work in coordination with the ASI. The purpose is to save the heritage aspects under the ASI supervision.