Mrunal Manmay Dash

It has arguably become normal for government agencies to exceed their budgeted spending for different projects. Surprisingly, the Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) which manages the affairs of the Srimandir in Puri seems to have surpassed its budget by over nine times in some cases.

As per reports, while the budget for the construction of Chariots during the last Rath Yatra was only Rs 15 lakh, Rs 1.21 crore was actually spent, which is around nine times the allocation.

Similarly, Rs 5.5 lakh was allocated to be spent for Chandan Yatra, but actual expenditure was recorded at Rs 11.29 lakh. The allowance of the servitors for Chandan Yatra was set at Rs 5.5 lakh, but Rs 11.28 lakh was incurred. Flag remuneration for servitors was budgeted to be around Rs 8.75 lakh, but in reality Rs 13.83 lakh was spent for the same.

And the last but not the least, the health insurance premium for the servitors was initially set at Rs 76.75 lakh, but as per reports, Rs 3.11 crore was paid for the insurance.

Such overruns has not only raised concerns, but it has also made some former management committee members smell rat.

Senior Servitor and former Srimandir Management Committee member, Ramachandra Dasmahapatra said, “The Chief Administrator of Srimandir spends money as per his liking. If the government takes transparency seriously, then it should get the SJTA’s income and expenditures audited by the CAG.”

“There is not a single head where the expenditure has not exceeded the budget by at least twice. I am sure the money is spent on the paper to warm the pockets of some senior officials,” a Puri local, Biswanath Dash said.

It is pertinent to mention here that the expenses of the SJTA have increased manyfold since the Nabakalebar in 2015 when the prize money and allowance of the servitors was increased. However, spending a lot more than what the temple earns through donations, revenue and government aid has forced the devotees to question the prudence of the SJTA.

However, the current Development Administrator of Srimandir, Ajay Jena did not seem to be perturbed by the reports. Speaking to OTV, Jena said, “The cost sometimes crosses the threshold depending on the importance of the festival and sometimes due to the situation at hand. We cannot compromise on the services and rituals of the Holy Trinity.”

Madhaba Pujapanda, a Management Committee member said, “The budget is discussed in the finance sub-committee before approval. So everything is transparent here. As far as excess expenditure is concerned, it has doubled during Covid times in last two years. Whatever excess money is spent, it is passed in the supplementary budget, subsequently.”

(Reported By Madhusudan Mishra, OTV)