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Sisir kumar mishra

A joint inspection report annexed to the affidavit by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) submitted at the Orissa High Court has confirmed the fears of legions of Jagannath devotees. The report has confirmed that the dig work and the removal of soil from around Srimandir might have effectively weakened the 1000-year old monument at Puri. 

The Srimandir Parikrama Project, a populist programme by the BJD government, has triggered a groundswell of protests within and outside the state. The controversy has taken on political hues with both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) finding themselves on either side of the issue. 

The issue has also found echo in Parliament when Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha MP Aparajita Sarangi attacked the state government’s move, saying the excavation had no approval of the ASI nor the National Monument Authority (NMA). The state government, on its part, refuted the Sarangi’s assertion and said the heritage work had due permission from the concerned authorities. Since then, every political party, worth its salt in the state, has jumped into the ring. 

The joint inspection report of the Regional Director (eastern region), ASI has said excavation has taken place within the prohibited and regulated areas of the protected monument which is a clear violation of the NMA.

The report said the Managing Director of the executing agency Odisha Bridge Construction Corporation (OBCC) said as on date there is no permission or approval of NMA or any competent authorities. The MD said there are deviations in the plan and elevation as well as in the project design which the agency has already submitted to NMA on July 15, 2021. In the revised proposal, the height of various structures has been increased and more units have been added. 

The report has said at several locations, it is evident that removal of about 15 to 20 ft of stratified deposits have taken place, causing irreparable damage to the heritage site. The report pointed out that during discussion, OBCC officials were clueless about the method of soil removal and cultural findings from the digging. It was informed during the discussion that no heritage impact assessment studies have been conducted before commencement of the project. 

It said, no ground penetrating radar survey (GPRS) has been conducted to ascertain the archaeological and historical importance lying buried in the subsoil of 75 metre radius of the centrally-protected structure. The superintending archaeologist, Bhubaneswar circle, said that the revised DPR of the heritage project was submitted by the SJTA on April 6, 2022. 

Further, the DPR is silent on the redevelopment and renovation of mathas located around the monument. During discussions, OBCC stated that there was a provision of constructing a khandalite masonry wall around the temple at a distance of 46 metre, but the details are not mentioned in the DPR.

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