Missing Ratna Bhandar key: Was replacing SJTA chief a damage control move?

Bhubaneswar: The corridors of power are buzzing with speculations over removal of Pradeep Jena as Chief Administrator of the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) amid the ongoing controversy over the missing Ratna Bhandar key.

Discussions are on whether Odisha government’s decision to remove Pradeep Jena was because of administrative lapses or a mere damage control move.

At a meeting of the Sri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee on April 4, it was recorded that the keys of the inner chamber of the Ratna Bhandar had gone missing; however, SJTA accepted the fact on June 4, after Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ordered a judicial probe.

The silence of Jena for over two months could be one of the reasons behind his ouster. But what is seemingly clear is the fact that Jena paid the price of the criticism directed at the State government over mismanagement of Srimandir affairs.

In the meantime, after Jena’s removal, political parties have trained their guns at each other.

“The government has accepted its incompetence but what good will appointment of Mohapatra in place of Jena do,” questioned Odisha BJP vice-president, Sameer Mohanty.

“How serious is the government on the issue? The key will not be recovered or the jewellery will not return back to the Ratna Bhandar with the transfer of a person. It is an attempt of the government to divert the attention of the people,” said Congress MLA, Prafulla Majhi.

In response to the allegations, BJD Spokesperson Sameer Das said, “Transfer of the chief administrator is a regular affair and there is nothing to ponder about it. There is no pressure on the government.”

Earlier on Monday, Pradipta Kumar Mohapatra replaced Jena as the chief administrator of SJTA.

The newly-appointed administrator now faces major challeges including resolution of the Ratna Bhandar issue, implementation of Supreme Court’s order on temple management and preparation of a blueprint for smooth management and conduct of the annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath scheduled to be held on July 14.

“As the government has given me the responsibility my aim will be to perform my duty. The main focus will be to conduct Rath Yatra on time,” said Mohapatra.