Mrunal Manmay Dash

Congress party on Tuesday came down heavily on the Odisha government over Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief’s statement advising elderly devotees to refrain from visiting the shrine.

Speaking to reporters, senior Congress leader, Prasad Harichandan said, “Indian Constitution guarantees us to practice our religious beliefs. Restricting people from visiting Srimandir is anti-constitutional and illegal. By restricting elderly persons from visiting Srimandir, the government has put a high barrier between the devotees and the God.”

Harichandan’s reaction came after SJTA chief Ranjan Kumar Das made an appeal, saying that elderly and sick devotees should not come during rush days for darshan.

“We appeal to them (devotees) not to come into the crowd by being excessively enthusiastic. Those, who are extremely sick due to age or feeling physically weak and cannot stand for long hours, can pray to the Lord at any place they like. The Lord will listen to their prayers,” Das had said.

Asked about the SJTA chief’s appeal, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLA Umakanta Samantray said, “The government is aware of the situation in Srimandir and is taking appropriate steps in this regard. SJTA Chief and the district Collector are keeping vigil on the ground situation so that the devotees can avail darshan smoothly.”

On Monday, many devotees were found standing in queues for hours and complained about a lack of proper facilities. Visually upsetting images like a woman devotee fainting and an elderly woman sitting down and crying for help triggered outrage.