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Ramakanta Biswas

The unholy management of holy temples in Odisha has been brought to the fore by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report.

The latest report on the General and Social Sector for the year ended March 2020 by the constitutional watchdog reveals of large-scale misappropriation of property and funds of the religious institutions across the State. 

As per the audit report tabled in the State Assembly, the temple management by the Odisha Law Department is afflicted by one-thousand one ills - from the encroachment of land property, malfunctioning of the trust boards, improper management of housing properties, deficient management of commercial premises, unauthorized custody of jewels of the deities to non-maintenance of records et al.

The findings said the objective of the Orissa Hindu Religious Endowment (OHRE) Act, 1951 was not being largely adhered to by the religious institutions' boards in the State. There was a lack of proper control and monitoring mechanism to safeguard property and valuables of the religious institutions, the report pointed out. 

The CAG conducted an audit of the records of 13 temples of the State and found that of the total landed property of 12,767.679 acres of these temples, only 5,749.464 acres (45.03 per cent) were under their possession and 35.28 per cent of the land was under encroachment.

According to the report, Sri Lingaraj Temple has 69.423 acres of land property in Bhubaneswar out of which 36.370 acres were under encroachment. The highest 4,030.78 acres of land belonging to Debottar Dhenkanal is under encroachment. 

Historian Anil Dhir said, “The land properties of Lord Jagannath were identified across Odisha and seven other states. What measures were taken by the State government to get the properties back? Many influential people have encroached upon the temple lands in a big way. There are thousands of temples under the endowment commission in the State. The properties of those temples cannot be controlled without an adequate workforce.”   

Saroj Kumar Sethi, Dhenkanal Collector said, “We recently held a meeting and tehsildars have been asked to carry out eviction drive to free the temple land from encroachments. After the eviction, the land measurement will be done and the property will be brought back to the possession of the administration.”  

Meanwhile, the finding of the CAG report has given fresh ammo to the Opposition BJP and Congress, who made no delay in launching a scathing attack at the ruling party. 

BJP general secretary Lekhashree Samantasinghar said, “It was said that 8,510.500 gms of gold articles of Sri Akhandalamani Temple were stored in an iron chest in District Treasury of Bhadrak. Now, it has come to light that the two keys of the iron chest are missing akin to the keys of Srimandir Ratna Bhandar. It indicates that Hindu temples are being largely ignored and we suspect a big conspiracy behind it by the State government.”   

Congress MLA Santosh Singh Saluja said, “The State government is maintaining silence on such mega irregularities in religious institutions because people nominated by it are indulging in such corruption at those sacred institutions.”

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