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PURI HERITAGE CORRIDOR CASE

Introduction

The Puri Heritage Corridor Project, which was conceived in 2016 and revealed in December 2019, aims to turn the town into a recognized cultural destination on a global scale. For visitors and tourists, the project involves redeveloping significant town areas and the temple area. The state assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution for the project in February 2020, and the first phase of development is expected to cost Rs 800 crore. The Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) accepted the project’s architectural design plan, which was expected to cost Rs 3,200 crore.[1] There will be a total of 22 separate projects that are carried out in stages. A further Rs 265 crore would be granted in the first phase after the original Rs 800 crore from the state government’s Augmentation of Basic Amenities and Development of Heritage and Architecture at Puri (ABADHA) program. The project comprises the renovation of the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) building, a 600-capacity Srimandir welcome center, the Jagannath Cultural Center, which contains the Raghunandan Library and an integrated command and control center, the Badadanda Heritage Streetscape, improvements to Srimandir amenities, Sri Setu, the Jagannath Ballav pilgrim center, multilevel parking, the construction of the municipal market, Swargadwar, Pramod Udyan, Gurukulam, Mahodadhi market, beachfront development, Puri lake, Atharnala and housing for servants.[2]

What is the controversy?

The ASI is the custodian of the 12th-century shrine, which is a monument that is centrally protected. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act stipulates restrictions on construction activities within a 100-meter radius of such monuments. Only with the National Monuments Authority’s consent may constructions be carried out. Under the terms of the AMSAR Act[3], the NMA, a body under the Union Ministry of Culture, was established for the conservation and preservation of monuments and sites via administration of the restricted area around the centrally protected monuments. One of the NMA’s duties is to examine granting applicants’ requests for authorization to conduct construction-related activity in an area that is both restricted and controlled. According to NMA rules, any construction activity near an important archaeological site with a built-up area of more than 5,000 square meters must include a heritage impact assessment study[4]. The size of the Jagannath temple is 43,301.36 square meters. On September 4, 2021, the NMA granted the state government a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for the historic project, authorizing the building of a cloakroom, a shelter pavilion, three restrooms, an electrical room, and a pavement inside the restricted 75-meter zone. The NOC from NMA states that the project can proceed as planned as long as ASI is in charge of it and that public facilities do not fall within the AMASR Act’s definition of construction.[5] However, the ASI has not yet given such a NOC. Following the Director-General, ASI’s visit on February 21, 2022, to assess the project’s development efforts, ASI requested in a letter to the state government dated March 5 that the interested parties submit a new proposal for the development surrounding the Puri Sri mandir.[6] The proposed receiving center, which is located 75 meters from the temple, was one topic of dispute (part falls under the prohibited area). Worshipers are meant to be accommodated in the building before entering the main structure. According to the letter, it was decided that the state government would look into ways to gently transfer the building beyond 100 meters since this would be incredibly vital, as well as good for the temple’s protection.

What does the report say?

According to the ASI’s report to the Orissa High Court, the 800-year-old Jagannath Temple may have been harmed by the continuing building of the Puri Heritage Corridor. The archaeological remnants of the historic site may have been destroyed by the construction company OBCC (Odisha Bridge Construction Company) during the mining and disposal of the dirt, according to the ASI’s affidavit. It further noted that the updated detailed project report’s (DPR) structural designs varied from those that were given to the NMA. News source PTI further quoted the ASI as saying, “No heritage impact assessments were carried out before the project’s start. The historic site has sustained irreversible damage as a result of stratified deposits of around 15 to 20 feet deep that have occurred at various spots. “These building efforts have caused cracks to form in the Nata Mandap of the 12th-century shrine,” and “further construction activity will pose a threat to the structure of the temple.”

What happened in the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court dismissed a petition accusing the Odisha government of unlawful excavation and building activity at the famous Shree Jagannath temple in Puri. A vacation bench comprising Justices B R Gavai and Hima Kohli dismissed the PIL with costs, stating that the building activity is important in the broader public interest. The Supreme Court ruled that Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that is not in the public interest is harmful to the public interest. The Supreme Court also said that  “In recent years, there has been a mushroom expansion in the number of public interest lawsuits. It is a waste of court time and must be halted immediately to avoid a delay in growth. We firmly oppose the practice of filing such frivolous petitions. They are nothing more than a misuse of the legal system. They consume valuable judicial time that could otherwise be used to consider important matters. It is past time to end so-called Public Interest Litigations so that development operations in the wider public interest do not halt.”[8]

Conclusion

The Supreme court ruled that the State’s operations are required for the greater public good and are consistent with the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains Act[9] of 1958, as well as previous Supreme Court orders on temple administration. The building is being done to give basic and necessary amenities such as restrooms for men and women, cloakrooms, electricity rooms, and so on.[10] These are the fundamental amenities required for the convenience of all worshipers. The legislators purposefully left four categories out of the term “building.” The goal appears to be that existing building repairs and renovations, as well as constructions required for fundamental utilities such as drainage, toilets, water supply, and power distribution, should be exempt from the requirements of statutory licenses.

Author(s) Name: Saransh Sinha (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies)

 References:

[1] Aishwarya Mohanty, ‘What is the Puri heritage corridor, whose foundation will be laid soon in Odisha?’ (Indian express, 18 November 2021) <https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/what-is-puri-heritage-corridor-foundation-odisha-7627726/> accessed on 5 July 2022

[2] Ibid

[3] Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958

[4] ‘The case against the Puri Heritage Corridor Project that the Supreme Court dismissed’ (Firstpost, 3 June 2022) <https://www.firstpost.com/india/explained-the-case-against-the-puri-heritage-corridor-project-that-the-supreme-court-dismissed-10754491.html> accessed on 5 July 2022

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] ‘Puri Heritage Corridor construction may have damaged Jagannath Temple: ASI to Orissa HC’ (adplive, 9 May 2022) <https://news.abplive.com/news/india/puri-heritage-corridor-construction-may-have-damaged-jagannath-temple-asi-to-orissa-hc-1530717> accessed on 6 July 2022

[8] Jyoti Prakash Dutta, ‘Orissa High Court disposes of a pending case challenging Puri Jagannath Temple Corridor Project in view of Supreme Court Decision’ (livelaw, 24 June 2022) <https://www.livelaw.in/news updates/orissa-high-court-disposes-jagannatha-temple-corridor-project-202207>  accessed on 6 July 2022

[9] Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958

[10] Srishti Ojha, ‘ For Benefit of Devotees: Supreme Court dismisses pleas challenging construction activities in Puri Jagannath Temple by Odisha Govt’ (livelaw, 3 June 2022) <https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-puri-jagannath-temple-excavation-construction-work-odisha-200755>  accessed on 6 July 2022