Odisha has no plans to either open or audit Jagannath temple vault
The Odisha government has no plans either to open or audit the Ratna Bhandar (vault) of the 12th century Jagannath temple in Puri and make an inventory of the jewellery and precious stones stored there, Odisha law minister Pratap Jena told the State Assembly on Tuesday despite a demand by the opposition to do so.
The minister also assured the House that precious jewellery and ornaments of the deities of the shrine are safe and secured.
Replying to a question by senior Congress MLA Suresh Routray as to why the State government is not opening the temple vault, the law minister said the interior chamber of the Ratna Bhandar was opened last in July 1985 and a total of 454 pieces of gold and other articles weighing 12,838 ‘bhari’ and 1.75 ‘annas’ (One bhari equals to 11.66 grams and 16 annas is equal to one bhari) and 236 pieces of silver ornaments (with precious stones) and other articles weighing 18,815 ‘bhari’ and 6 annas were found in it. However, eight gold idols, six silver utensils and idols could not be weighed due to some reasons.
Jena further said that last time the inventory prepared was between May 13, 1978, and July 23, 1978.
The controversy over the Ratna Bhandar started on April 4 last year when a 17-member team of officials of the Archaeological Survey of India and temple administration went inside to assess its safety following orders from the Orissa High Court. However, the team could not enter as the keys they carried could not open the lock. Following a huge uproar over the missing keys, chief minister Naveen Patnaik last year ordered a judicial inquiry by a sitting High Court judge to probe. The probe cost the State exchequer ₹22 lakh and justice Raghubir Das submitted his findings in November 2018, but the State government is yet to make its contents public.
According to the Jagannath Temple Act, 1960, the government should have conducted at least six assessments of the Ratna Bhandar in the last 19 years, but it has not done even one.
Routray said the Ratna Bhandar must be opened in presence of a sitting judge of Orissa High Court, chief secretary, Director General of Police and servitors. “People have rights to know the details of the valuables there. Otherwise apprehension is being made that temple staff might have looted the valuables. The bureaucrats will loot all the treasure inside if the details aren’t made public soon,” he said.
Referring to seizure of hundreds of silver bricks from the Emar Mutt near the 12th century shrine a few years ago, Routray said, if Emar Mutt had such amount of valuables, one can only imagine the treasure stored in the Ratna Bhandar of the Jagannath temple.
Last month, leader of opposition Pradipta Naik too had written to the chief minister urging him to conduct an audit immediately to reassure everyone that the Lord’s wealth is safe. “The Ratna Bhandar should be opened immediately and the list of jewellery should be matched with the inventory prepared in 1978,” Naik demanded.