Pradeep Pattanayak

The keys of the Bhitara Ratna Bhandara (inner treasure chamber) of Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri have not been deposited at the district treasury since 1970. An RTI query has revealed this startling fact, adding yet another chapter to the yet-to-be-solved mystery surrounding the Ratna Bhandara keys. 

RTI activist Dillip Baral had sought information regarding the status of Ratna Bhandara’s original and duplicate keys. The district treasury officer’s letter, received by Baral in response to his query, has laid it bare that the keys of inner treasure chamber have been missing since 1970. 

In the letter, it is clearly mentioned that in 2018 when the issue of reopening of the Ratna Bhandara, after 34 long years, took centre stage, the then treasury officer had already informed the then district collector Aravind Agrawal that the keys of the Ratna Bhandra were missing since 1970.  

This revelation has given rise to several questions that instantly come to the mind of even a layman. If the keys were missing, how the 17-member expert committee inspected the Ratna Bhandara? Was it just a drama? Why the team did not mention in the Ratna Bhandara register about the status of the keys of the inner treasure chamber? How the experts said the inner treasure chamber was visible from the Bahara Ratna Bhandara (outer treasure chamber) and there was no need to open?

Servitors and devotes alleged that the entire episode of the Ratna Bhandara being opened and inspected is nothing but an eyewash, orchestrated to cheat crores of Jagannath devotees as well as the Orissa High Court. 

“The then Collector had said the duplicate keys were found and deposited in the record room on August 6, 2018. I also sought information from the record room. The record room’s letter states that there is no record of original or duplicate keys being deposited in the treasury. If the keys, be they original or duplicates, are there in the treasury, then why the government or the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration is not taking steps to open the inner treasure chamber and carryout renovations,” asked Baral. 

Senior servitor Binayak Dasmohapatra said the State government should immediately come out with a statement, declaring that the Ratna Bhandara is safe and the ornaments of the Lords are safe as well.

Expressing his concern, a devotee, Sagar Suman, made the same demand as that of Dasmohapatra. “I request the government to clarify the status of the Ratna Bhandara keys,” he said. 

It is worth mentioning here that the then district Collector had said on January 13, 2018 that a duplicate key has been found from a closed envelop from the district records room.

People found the statement a bitter pill to swallow. Opposition parties had cornered the government over this issue, forcing the latter to hand over the investigation to a commission headed by Justice Raghubir Das on June 4 the same year. The Commission has already submitted its report to the government. 

Meanwhile, the Opposition parties have trained their guns on the government. “The government is misleading people. The then Collector should clarify on the truth about the keys of the inner treasure chamber,” observed Golak Mohapatra, BJP leader. 

Similarly, Congress leader Debasish Pattanayak alleged that the State government is playing with the sentiments of the people as well as Lord Jagannath. “They should come out with a statement to clear all the doubts regarding the keys,” he said. 

When pointedly asked about the present status of the keys, Law Minister Pratap Jena sought to evade.