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SC raps ED over delay in C’garh liquor probe

ByDebabrata Mohanty, Bhubaneswar
Jul 10, 2024 05:58 AM IST

Jagannath temple's Ratna Bhandar, containing valuable jewels, to be opened on July 14, first time in 46 years, pending government approval.

Ratna Bhandar, the treasury of Jagannath temple in Puri containing jewellery and other the valuables will be opened on July 14, said retired Orissa high court judge Biswanath Rath, head of the new high-level committee appointed by the Mohan Majhi government.

The Supreme Court of India (PTI)
The Supreme Court of India (PTI)

This will be the first time in 46 years that the inner chamber of the treasury will be opened, a move that should put to an end rumours that have swirled around the safety of the valuables stored within. To be sure, while the committee has recommended this, the government still needs to sign off.

Rath, who was last week appointed head of a new 16-member panel that would oversee the much-awaited inventorisation of the treasury, said: “The committee reached a consensus that whether the key is available or not, or whether it functions or not, Ratna Bhandar will be reopened. As the Rath Yatra festival is still continuing, officials are busy. Hence, the Chief Administrator of the temple has been asked to produce the key on July 14 before the committee. We hope that the government will provide necessary permission to us.”

Over last week there has been confusion over the opening of the Ratna Bhandar with the state’s new Bharatiya Janata Party government scrapping the old panel headed by former judge of SC, Arijit Pasayat. The old committee with 12 members set up by the Naveen Patnaik government in February this year had met twice.

Standing at a height of 11.78 metres, and having a width of 8.79 metres and a length of 6.74 metres, the Ratna Bhandar has two chambers — Bahara Bhandar (outer chamber) and Bhitara Bhandar (inner chamber) that contain the gold and silver jewels offered to Lord Jagannath. Though the outer chamber is opened for various rituals and the valuables stored there are used during Suna Besha of Lord Jagannath, the inner chamber has not been opened since 1978. The Jagannath Temple Act states that there has to be an audit of all valuables kept in the inner chamber of the Ratna Bhandar every three years. That has not happened.

Justice (retired) Rath said as the audit process is a time consuming affair there is a need of competent persons who can identify old ornaments some of which are over 1500 years old. “A group of goldsmiths and metrologists will be formed and it is the responsibility of the Odisha government. The temple management has informed (us) that a designated place has been finalised where the ornaments will be shifted. As the temple property cannot be shifted outside, the designated place will be identified inside the temple. We will see the nature of the ornaments, character of the ornaments (whether 22 or 24 carat), and nature of gems. The state government needs to make necessary provisions so that inventory work can start. Several teams need to be formed and confidential and experienced people need to be selected,” he said.

He added that during the opening of Ratna Bhandar, devotees can continue to visit the temple. “There would be some problems during inventory and repair work. The devotees may have to see the Lord from a distance during that period, but devotees can continue visiting the temple. Emphasis will be given to two aspects — repair work of the Ratna Bhandar and inventory of the ornaments,” he added.

In April 4, 2018, a 16-member team comprising members of Archaeological Survey of India, the state government, the temple administration, and district officials tried opening the Ratna Bhandar following an order by the Orissa High Court. However, the keys that the team carried did not match the padlock triggering a major controversy.

The opening of Ratna Bhandar became a major poll issue during the recent assembly elections, with the Bharatiya Janata Party highlighting the ‘disappearance’ of the treasury key in 2018. From PM Modi to Amit Shah, all BJP leaders raised the slogan of ‘Odia Asmita’ (Odia pride) to oust the Biju Janata Dal government led by Naveen Patnaik. The BJP, in its elections manifesto, promised an audit and inventorisation of the treasury if voted to power.

Officials aware of the matter said the government is likely to accept the proposal of the committee headed by the former HC judge on opening of Ratna Bhandar on July 14. “The government would soon come out with a formal announcement,” said a person familiar with the developments.

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