File photo: Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. (HT FILE PHOTO)
File photo: Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. (HT FILE PHOTO)

'Heritage development through demolition?': Odisha BJP MP's jibe at CM

  • On Saturday, the CM had placed a resolution on 3,200 cr Jagannath temple corridor project that seeks to transform the area into a heritage corridor.
By Debabrata Mohanty, Bhubaneswar
UPDATED ON MAR 01, 2021 12:48 AM IST

A day after Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik presented a resolution in the Assembly seeking quicker completion of the Jagannath temple corridor project, BJP MP from Bhubaneswar, Aparajita Sarangi, in an open letter to Patnaik, asked whether heritage development was being done by destroying it.

On Saturday, Patnaik had placed a resolution in the Assembly on 3,200 crore Jagannath temple corridor project that seeks to transform the area around the 12th-century temple in Puri into a heritage corridor.

“The greatest identity of the Odia community is Lord Jagannath. Our history, culture, tradition and belief system are all centred on the Almighty. He is the symbol of Odia esteem and pride. All devotees, who come to the Jagannath temple in Puri to see the Lord, have a desire in their hearts to behold the deities in a calm, beautiful and spiritual environment. It is the responsibility of all of us to come back with a divine feeling,” said Patnaik while tabling the resolution that was unanimously passed by the Assembly.

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However, Sarangi, who met the servitors of Puri's Jagannath temple as well as Bhubaneswar's Lingaraj temple, on Sunday wrote an open letter asking several questions about the demolition of several heritage structures within the 75-metre radius of the iconic temple.

"The last few days have allowed me to delve deeper into the proposed Heritage Development Project in Shree Kshetra and Ekamra Kshetra. I have extensively toured the areas proposed for development, especially the surrounding areas of the two temples, and got the opportunity to discuss with servitors, evicted families, commercial shopowners and street vendors. In the name of beautification, some of the most sacred 'mathas' of Puri, namely, Emar Matha, Mangu Matha, Languli Matha, Uttar Parshwa Matha and Dakshin Parshwa Mathas, have been demolished and razed to the ground. I believe that you are aware of the roles of the mathas (mutts) in the development of the Jagannath cult and their role in many of the rituals associated with Lord Jagannath," she wrote.

"I would like to know which heritage conservationist is advising your government on demolishing monuments which are integral to the growth of Jagannath cult, demolishing mathas established by the holiest of Indian saints, namely, Acharya Ramanuja and Guru Nanak," she stated, demanding reasons behind demolishing mathas which are "integral to the daily rituals of Lord Jagannath".

The BJP MP also sought from the state government, the basis on which it was concluded that "replacing these 'invaluable' monuments with manicured lawns, fountains and toilets is going to enhance the spiritual experience of visitors coming to pray to Lord Jagannath."

"It is all the more painful to learn that mathas associated with the most revered saints have been razed to the ground. People are left with a sense of disbelief that mathas/heritage monuments which were so closely associated with our religious belief system, integral to the daily and special rituals of Lord Jagannath, have been demolished," she said.

Sarangi said though some may argue that the heritage development in Puri and Bhubaneswar is simply following the path of Kashi Bishwanath Heritage Corridor, in reality, the demolition between the temple in Kashi and the Ganga ghat in Varanasi only covered residential buildings and commercial shops and no heritage structures have been destroyed.

"Which heritage conservationist was monitoring and guiding the reckless demolition using heavy earth moving machinery like JCBs, bulldozers and Jackhammer drills in an extremely sensitive zone and in areas which are sentimentally, emotionally and spiritually two of the most sacred sites for the Hindus? The result is there for everyone to see - razed mathas set up by the most revered saints, demolition of an iconic library like Raghunandan Library, the discovery of broken remnants of several sculptures on account of drilling and excavation below the area surrounding Lingaraj Temple. All this would leave any self-respecting Odia in shock and disbelief. It is possible that present generation of Odias may not be asking questions on such mindless and reckless demolition. However, posterity is going to seek accountability for such a gigantic scale of destruction of Odisha's rich heritage and legacy which probably happened for the first time in independent India," she said.

Sarangi said that though she supported the development work around Jagannath temple and Lingaraj temple, it has to be conducted within the framework of the law.

She urged the chief minister to set up a committee consisting of senior officials of the ASI, the archaeology department of Odisha, representatives of the INTACH and a few heritage conservationists to assess the scale of destruction and examine whether existing laws have been violated or not.

"In case existing laws have been violated, accountability must be fixed and strict action must be taken against people responsible for the destruction of centuries-old heritage and legacy. An inquiry must be done to see whether provisions of Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, Places of Worship (Special Provision) Act, Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, Indian Treasure Trove Act, Charter for Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites (Venice Charter-1964), Charter for Protection and Management of the Archaeological Heritage (Lausanne Charter-1990), have been violated while taking up such demolition of centuries-old structures," she wrote in her letter.

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) did not comment on Sarangi's letter to Patnaik.

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