With the construction of a new Bhakta Niwas, meant for housing the poor, is far from seeing the light of the day, the leasing out of existing two Bhakta Niswas’ to third party leasers has raises serious doubts on the intention of the Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA).
The Supreme Court had directed the SJTA (in 2018) to provide stay for 60,000 devotees who throng Puri for the darshan of Lord Jagannath and stay in the spiritual environment the pilgrim town.
The State government had also filed an affidavit in this regard in the Court.
However, even three years after the order, there is no sight of a Bhakta Niwas for the poor. Rather, the SJTA took a decision in 2020 to lease out two existing, Niladri Bhakta Niwas and Gundicha Bhakta Niwas to private operators under PPP mode which raises questions on the intention of the Temple authority.
Dilip Baral, an RTI activist said, “If the SJTA is citing loss from the Bhakta Niwas’ then why are they constructing more sophisticated Bhakta Niwas’?”
“Moreover, if the Bhakta Niwas’ are commercialised, then it is very likely that the private operators will hile the rents, thereby denying the poor devotees of a roof over their head in Puri,” Baral said.
Echoing the sentiments of Baral, one of the inmates at the Nilachal Bhakta Niwas said, “Leasing out to private operators will pave way for them to fix rent as per their convenience. It will definitely hurt the poor devotees.”
However, the Administrator (Rituals) of the SJTA, Jitendra Kumar Sahu refuted the allegations of denying the poor devotees of stay in Bhakta Niwas.
Speaking to reporters, Sahu said, “Bhakta Niwas’ were running under a commercial arrangement. The only difference now is that they are being operated in PPP mode.”
“As far as the affordability for the poor is concerned, we have separate projects in the pipeline to address that issue,” he clarified.
Meanwhile, State Law Minister, Pratap Jena denied of any decision having been taken in this regard. Speaking to reporters, Jena said, “We have not taken any decision to lease out the Bhakta Niwas. Everything will be done keeping the interest of the devotees in mind.”