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Devbrat Patnaik

Puri: Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta and Supreme Court-appointed Amicus Curiae Ranjit Kumar on Saturday virtually gave a clean chit to the Odisha government's demolition drive on structures around Puri Srimandir saying it was being carried out with consent of the stakeholders and would benefit the people.

The duo first visited the temple before meeting Puri Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb and Govardhan Peeth Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati. Later they held a closed door meeting with Sree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief Krishan Kumar, Advocate General Ashok Parija and other officials of the district to find out whether the decision taken by the government with regard to removal of structures up to 75 metres from the Meghanad Pacheri of the 12th century shrine, is in favour of people or not.

Dodging any media queries, Ranjit Kumar said "The Apex Court had asked us to look into the action of the state government and we found that the decision taken in view of converting Puri into a World Heritage city is not affecting people in any way. "

"We collected views from the Managing Committee and also investigated other aspects, interacted with people. No one is being forced during the eviction process and all that is being carried out now will benefit everyone," Kumar stated.

The Amicus Curiae further revealed, "The future plan of the government is pretty clear. Preparations have already begun for next year's Nagarjuna Besha of the sibling deities which comes once in 25 years. As many as 15 lakh people are expected to congregate in the holy city, so whatever is being done for beautification, I feel it is necessary."

Referring to the protests by local residents and sadhus, Kumar said, "Eviction drive was initiated only after a negotiation with the locals. The government's future projection is valid and I don't think this eviction should be stopped in any case."

Kumar will submit his review report in connection with the State government's eviction move in Puri in the apex court on September 17.

During the meeting with the Amicus Curiae, Puri Shankaracharya called upon the government machinery not to make the pilgrimage hub into entertainment centre.

"Care should be taken so that Puri which our great ancestors named as one of the 4 dhams of the country, continue to preserve its spiritual and religious significance. Intervention of secularism philosophy in the affairs of such holy sites like Puri is unwarranted," said Shankaracharya.

Meanwhile, several local residents and members of Srikhetra Surakshya Manch, have expressed their displeasure for not getting an opportunity to meet the two visiting officials.

"We were expecting to convey our grievances about the rehabilitation policy of the state government," said Manch convenor Damodar Pradhani. "We are not opposing the eviction drive, but want proper rehabilitation of the affected families."

Pradhani said the people, who were evicted by the state government during the Lord Nabakalebara festival in 2015, were yet to be rehabilitated.

Similarly, senior servitor Rama Chandra Khuntia said, "Had the government taken judicious steps to consult the stakeholders and made provisions for the rehabilitation of the displaced, everyone would have heartily welcomed the move."

Also Read:Solicitor General & Amicus Curiae To Inquire Into Eviction Drive Near Puri Srimandir

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