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Supreme Court Reserves Orders On Pleas Against Construction Activities By Odisha Govt At Puri Jagannath Temple Premises

Srishti Ojha
2 Jun 2022 7:59 AM GMT
Supreme Court Reserves Orders On Pleas Against Construction Activities By Odisha Govt At Puri Jagannath Temple Premises

The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved orders in the petitions filed alleging illegal excavation and construction work by the Odisha Government at the iconic Shree Jagannath Temple premises at Puri.

The Court will pronounce orders tomorrow.

A vacation bench comprising Justice BR Gavai and Justice Hima Kohli was considering two special leave petitions filed challenging Odisha High Court's order refusing to restrain the State from carrying out any excavation in and around Lord Jagannath Temple, Puri.

Arguments of petitioners

Senior Advocate Mahalakshmi Pavani, appearing in one of the petitions, submitted that as per the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains Act 1958, the State Government has to mandatorily obtain an NOC from the competent for carrying out any works in a protected site. The State took an NOC from the National Monuments Authority for the construction works. However, the competent authority under the Act to grant the NOC is the Director or Commissioner of Archeology.

The senior counsel referred to inspection reports to submit that "irreparable damage" has been cause to the heritage site.

Advocate Vinay Navare, appearing for the second petitioner, supplemented the arguments. "What's happening is excavation. These are centuries old monuments. Also, you can't give it to someone from outside. Report of officer of Archeology department records that construction carried out is within prohibited area", he submitted.

According to the petitioners, the State Government is trying to make some construction by excavating through heavy excavators more than 30 Feet depth from the ground level, exactly adjacent to the western side of Meghanad Pacheri, which is an integral part of the Temple. Further, it has been alleged that cracks have been found in the temple and its wall.

The petitioners have alleged that the Government of Odisha is doing unauthorized construction work which is posing serious threat to the structure of the ancient temple of Mahaprabhu Shree Jagannath

They submitted that Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri, has been declared a monument of AMASR Act, 1958 through Gazette Notification 3rd Feb 1975 and under Section 19(1) of the AMASR Act, no person including the owner occupier can construct any building within the protected area.It has been argued that Section 20A of AMASR Act is clear about the fact that there cannot be any construction within the 100 meter distance of the prohibited area.

Arguments of State

Ashok Kumar Parija, Advocate General of Odisha, submitted that the authority under the AMASR Act is the National Monuments Authority and Director Culture of the State of Odisha has been notified as the competent authority. The AG said that the activities undertaken by the State do not come within the purview of "construction" as per the Act.

Referring to Section 2(dc) of the Act, the AG said that any re-construction, repair and renovation of an existing structure or building, or, construction, maintenance and cleansing of drains and drainage works and of public latrines, urinals and similar conveniences, or, the construction and maintenance of works meant for providing supply of water for public do not come within the ambit of "construction".

The AG said that the State is undertaking the activities to provide amenities to the pilgrims and the same has permission from the NMA.

"60,000 people are visiting everyday, that's the footfall. It was said that there's a need to have toilets. The Amicus pointed out there was necessity of more toilets and court had issued directions in that regard..What is being carried out is to beautify the area and create facilities for the devotees. Some other work is in the security of the temple", the AG submitted.

Senior Advocate Pinaki Mishra, appearing for a respondent, submitted that during the annual Rath Yatra, around 15-20 lakh people visit the place, and there have been instances of stampedes in the past. Therefore, there was a need to clear the area and also to increase the amenities for pilgrims.

"Entire sevayak association support this state govt venture to decongest the area so that Puri becomes a world heritage city. They are backing this as they have given their lands and buildings and want the work to be completed", he submitted.

Advocates Tomy Chacko assited Senior Advocate Mahalakshmi Pavani in one petition, which was filed through and Advocaet Gurudatta Ankolekar. The second SLP was filed through Advocate Gautam Das.

Case Title: Ardhendu Kumar Das vs State of Odisha & ors, Sumanta Kumar Ghadei vs State of Orissa & Ors

Click Here To Read/Download Order

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