Bhubaneswar/Puri: Staying true to his penchant for swimming against the current, the irrepressible Damodar Rout, Minister for Excise and Cooperation, today described the payment of Rs 2 crore to Daitapatis by way of ‘compensation’ for the loss suffered by them on account of the ban on devotees climbing on to the chariots during the nine-day Rath Yatra by his own government as the ‘paapachar pain puraskar’ (reward for sin) even as his party defended the payment.
BJD has grossly termed the payment as compensation while party vice president and minister Damodar Rout’s dubbed it ‘Price of Papachar’ (prize for curse) while criticising the government indirectly.
“Taking some amount from the devotees to allow them to touch the deities is ‘papachar’. I do not want to comment if somebody desires to give a prize for it. But I have no respect for those who offer money to ensure that the servitors do not help the devotees to climb the chariots,” said the minister.
Rout did not spare the servitors either terming them as ‘papistha’ (sinners). “They are ‘papistha’ (sinners). They are ruining the Jagannath culture and showing disregard to the Lord of the world,” he said.
His party, on the other hand, strongly denied the charge that amount paid to the sevayats was bribe. ” I don’t agree with the allegation that it is bribe,” BJD spokesperson Pratap Deb said.
“Besides the High Court order that sanctions it, this system has been continuing since 1869. The sevayats had written to the temple administration and it accepted their proposal. Even the Shankaracharya had also written to government about it,” Deb said.
Interestingly, while there were diametrically opposite views on the issue in the BJD, senior BJP leader Biswa Bhushan Harichandan, for once, backed the ruling party’s claim.
“Generally, the daita servitors have no duty beyond the Rath Yatra. There is no need to create a controversy if the government paid some amount to them during the grand event,” the former Law minister stated.
However, Congress dubbed it as the government’s move to keep the servitors in good humor. “The grand fete virtually ended in a fiasco even after the payment of huge sums. This is clear proof of the government’s inability to conduct the event smoothly,” senior Congress leader Niranjan Patnaik said.
OTV had exposed the deal between government and the daitapatis yesterday.
In a letter to Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) dated 12th May, 2016, a copy of which is in the possession of OTV, the state government has directed chief administrator of the shrine body to “accord approval of Rs 2 crore (Two Crore) only towards payment of compensation to Daitapati Nijog for prohibiting the devotees from climbing the chariots during the Rath Yatra, 2015.”
The revelation has evoked sharp criticism from all quarters. While experts on Jagannath cult have criticised the government for appeasing the servitors, others including retired bureaucrats have condemned the act.