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Dilip Kumar

Bhubaneswar: As the demand for reopening of temples and religious places across Odisha grows louder following the Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA)'s announcement to open the 12th century shrine, the Odisha government has started initiating the process for reopening of other religious institutions which too remained shut for devotees in the last nine months due to coronavirus pandemic.

Odisha chief secretary Asit Tripathy hinted at the reopening of all religious places in Odisha for public in near future. In a tweet, he stated "State govt has earlier empowered Collectors to take local level decisions to open religious institutions for public worship after discussing with stakeholders & putting SoPs in place. It is understood that the process in on for opening religious institutions in different districts."

Earlier, the Endowments Commission also recommended the government to reopen temples across Odisha in strict adherence to Covid-19 guidelines. "Some people had filed multiple petitions in the Orissa High Court, seeking permission for reopening of temples. The Court heard the petitions and left the decision to the State Government. Following the Court's order the Endowments Commission has fixed some modalities related to Covi-19 guidelines and recommended the government to reopen the temples. The government is yet to take a call in this regard,” said Chittaranjan Mohapatra, Endowments Commissioner.

Two days ago, the Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) made a significant announcement to open the 12th century shrine from December 23 in phased manner.

Following a meeting with Chhattisha Nijog--the highest body of servitors-- the temple authorities recommended the State government to take decision in this regard.

In the first phase, only Puri residents will be allowed to have darshan of the sibling deities. Devotees from other parts of the state will be able to enter the shrine only from January 3. But, they are required to produce covid-19 negative report before entering the shrine.

The temple authorities have decided to keep the shrine closed on the New Year and January 2 in anticipation of heavy crowd.

Strict Covid-19 protocols like wearing of mask, use of hand sanitiser and social distancing will be insisted upon during visit of devotees to the temple, officials said.

The announcement made by the SJTA has prompted the servitors of other temples across the State to intensify their demand for reopening all religious places in strict adherence to the Covid-19 norms.

The servitors at Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack Chandi temple, Ghatagaan temple and Goddess Charchika temple at Banki and others have approached the government to take a call immediately on reopening of all shrines.

They said the closure of temples had rendered the servitors and local shopkeepers--selling Prasad—in a state of despair as  their only source of sustenance has dried up.

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