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"For Benefit Of Devotees" : Supreme Court Dismisses Pleas Challenging Construction Activities In Puri Jagannath Temple By Odisha Govt

Srishti Ojha
3 Jun 2022 5:36 AM GMT
For Benefit Of Devotees : Supreme Court Dismisses Pleas Challenging Construction Activities In Puri Jagannath Temple By Odisha Govt
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The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed two petitions filed against the construction and redevelopment works undertaken by the Odisha Government at the iconic Shree Jagannath Temple premises at Puri.

Terming the petitions as frivolous and contrary to public interest, the Court dismissed them with cost of Rupees one lakh each. "We highly deprecate practice of filing such frivolous petitions. They are nothing but abuse of process of law. They encroach upon a valuable judicial time which could be otherwise utilized for considering genuine issues. It is high time that such so­called public interest litigations are nipped in the bud so that the developmental activities in the larger public interest are not stalled"., the bench observed.

The Court held that the activities undertaken by the State are necessary in the larger public interest and are in tune with the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 and also with the earlier directions issued by the Supreme Court in relation to the administration of the temple.

"The construction is being carried out for the purpose of providing basic and essential amenities like toilets for men and women, cloak rooms, electricity rooms etc. These are the basic facilities which are necessary for the convenience of the devotees at large. As already discussed hereinabove, the legislative intent appears to be clear. The legislature has deliberately excluded four categories from the definition of "construction". The purpose behind it appears to be that the repairs and renovation of the buildings, which are existing and the constructions which are necessary for providing basic facilities like drainage, toilets, water supply and distribution of electricity should be kept out of the rigour of requirement of statutory permissions:"

The petitioner raised an argument that such permission can be given only to an individual residing in the area for construction or renovation of an existing structure and not for the State to provide facilities for the public.

The bench rejected this argument as :

"If an individual person can construct a toilet in a prohibited area; can the State be denied to do so, when the State finds it necessary to do it in the larger public interest for providing basic facilities to the lakhs of devotees visiting the shrine? The answer is an emphatic 'no'".

The Court said that a hue and cry was made that construction was against ASI report, however note of the Director General would falsify this position. The High Court had recorded the Advocate General's submission that no archeological remains are missed out or damaged.

A vacation bench comprising Justice BR Gavai and Justice Hima Kohli had yesterday reserved its orders in 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

Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 539

Head notes

Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 - Sections 20A, 20C, 20D -The repairs and renovation of the buildings, which are existing and the constructions which are necessary for providing basic facilities like drainage, toilets, water supply and distribution of electricity are kept out of the rigour of requirement of statutory permissions - Para 51

Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 - Sections 20A, 20C, 20D -When sub­section (4) of Section 20A of the said Act is read in harmony with clause (dc) of Section 2 and the provisions of Sections 20C and 20D of the said Act, we find that the submission that no construction at all can be made in the prohibited area or the regulated area, would be unsustainable.(Para 41)

Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 - Section 2(dc)- Definition of "Construction" - The legislative intent is clear that the re­construction,repair, renovation of the existing buildings has been excluded from the definition. Similarly, the construction, maintenance etc. of drains, drainage works, public latrines and urinals; the construction and maintenance of works meant for providing supply of water to public; and construction etc. for distribution of electricity, which could be construed to be essential services for catering to the needs of the public at large, have consciously been kept out of the definition of "construction" (Para 41, 42)

Interpretation of Statutes - It is a settled principle of law that all the provisions in the statute have to be read harmoniously. It is presumed that each and every provision has been brought by the legislature into the statute book with some purpose. A particular provision cannot be read in isolation and has to be read in context to each other. An attempt has to be made to reconcile all the provisions of the statute together, unless it is impossible (Para 40)

Public Interest Litigation - Frivolous PILs should be nipped in the bud - In the recent past, it is noticed that there is mushroom growth of public interest litigations. However, in many of such petitions, there is no public interest involved at all. The petitions are either publicity interest litigations or personal interest litigation. We highly deprecate practice of filing such frivolous petitions. They are nothing but abuse of process of law. They encroach upon a valuable judicial time which could be otherwise utilized for considering genuine issues. It is high time that such so­called public interest litigations are nipped in the bud so that the developmental activities in the larger public interest are not stalled (Para 59)

Click here to read/download the judgment




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