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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Already in a soup over the reported violations of AMASR Act in Ekamra Kshetra Development Plan, Odisha government displayed another knee-jerk reaction on Sunday when the Shri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) shot off a missive to the National Monument Authority (NMA) seeking withdrawal of the draft heritage bye-laws released for Puri.

The alacrity with which the SJTA has shot off a letter has baffled many heritage experts here. The moot point, they observe, is when they are mere draft bye-laws, what’s the hurry for seeking withdrawal?

Calling it unprecedented, many experts smell a rat in SJTA’s swift missive to NMA. They questioned,

“Is this aimed to protect the State government’s much-touted ABADHA 2.0 Plan or SJHC (Shree Jagannath Heritage Corridor) coming under the NMA scanner?”

WHY BYE-LAWS FOR PURI?

Highlighting how sensitive the monument is, the NMA says it is surrounded by a large number of modern constructions, concrete roads, telephone towers, etc. and is under tremendous developmental pressure due to urbanization.

HISTORY OF BYE-LAWS

The draft bye-laws for Puri are not the first in the country. NMA had already approved (not draft) four by-laws for the heritage sites in the national capital Delhi. They are for:

  • Khair—ul – Manzil and Sher Shah Gate,
  • Nizammudin Basti,
  • Purana Qila,
  • Amjad Ali Shah Mausoleum.

As per reports, there were no protests from residents dwelling there.

BYE-LAWS – A ‘BYE FELICIA’?

The heritage bye-laws mandate that sans the permission of a competent authority (Zonal Archaeology head), no construction, alteration or addition work is allowed in the prohibited and regulated area.

There seems no dispute over this part of bye-law.

However, the norm of imposing restrictions on the height of the structures around the protected area falling in the prohibited (up to 100mt) and regulated area (up to 300mt) looks somewhat of debatable nature.

The draft bye-laws had nowhere mentioned anything that is contrary to the culture of Lord Jagannath. Rather, a detailed glance shows that the draft proposes a very meticulous plan to preserve the ancient heritage status of the one among the Chaar Dhams.

ABOUT HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS

As per the draft bye-laws for Puri, the NMA has proposed to put height restrictions on structures around the Shree Jagannath Temple (protected national monument).

The height restrictions put forth are:

  • North: Permissible height of structures here would be 10mt maximum height of up to 2 storied structure.
  • South: The restriction imposed on the maximum height of structures is 10-mt or 2-storied
  • East: The same restriction was imposed with regard to the height of the structures.
  • West: Here the maximum permissible height is fixed at 12mt or a 4-storied structure allowed.

The draft bye-laws very clearly outlined that there will be no tinkering in with the Floor Area Space that was given approval by local urban authorities in Puri. And the guidelines issued by PKDA (Puri-Konark Development Authority) will remain valid.

SO IS THIS AN IRRITANT? As per heritage expert (INTACH) and eminent historian, Anil Dhir,

“It will not be a major irritant. These bye-laws will apply mostly on new constructions. NMA will fix a cut-off-date and some alterations will be undertaken for the houses having more than prescribed height limits. However, there will be a complete bar on bringing up new multi-storied buildings in the prohibited and regulated area, which is a very welcome step.”  

WHY SJTA TAKES UP THE CUDGELS?

As per the excerpts of SJTA Chief Kishan Kumar’s missive,

“Any regulation which has the potential to restrict the development of facilities and amenities on lands voluntarily donated by devotees of the lord will hurt their sentiments.”

REALITY CHECK: However, the NMA draft bye-laws nowhere had put any restrictions on the amenities for the visitors to the ancient Vaishnavite shrine. (See the image below)

A DISSECTION OF SJTA LETTER

A critical analysis of SJTA chief Kishan Kumar’s letter brings to fore the reasons behind the missive.

Take a look at the excerpts of the letter.

The tone and tenor of the letter clearly hint at the reason of BJD government’s withdrawal demand.

It speaks about how the State government has acquired lands (contributed voluntarily) from devotees to build its ambitious Shree Jagannath Heritage Corridor (SJHC) – which the government has, in fact, planned without taking approval from NMA or ASI.

Shedding more light on the tone and tenor, INTACH expert Anil Dhir explained,

“The fear of Odisha government is, henceforth, it cannot develop the Shree Jagannath Temple Project as per its discretion. The government has to take permission from NMA, and the so-called grand plan could be declared null and void by the apex monument authority. Even, SC has recently passed an order prohibiting constructions other than temple related in the prohibited area of archaeologically significant monuments. For which, the SJTA has taken this knee-jerk reaction demanding its withdrawal.”  

HOW BJD WINS THE POLITICAL ROUND – 1

Heritage experts are perplexed at the fact of how BJP (Union Ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Pratap Sarangi) is playing to the meticulously planned BJD script.

“The tweet made by Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan demanding some relaxations for Puri is completely erroneous. The same parameters have been applied in Delhi monuments but none demanded relaxations. Then, why here?” questioned Anil Dhir.

The firebrand BJP leader and Union MoS for MSME Pratap Sarangi went on to defensive mode when at a press conference scribes asked on BJD’s charge of destroying what they call ‘Jagannath culture’.

Curiously, the firebrand Minister turned coy when asked whether the Centre has taken a decision without consulting stakeholders?

Pratap Sarangi:

“Yes, notification of draft bye-laws ought to have been done after proper consultation with all the stakeholders {as demanded by SJTA (read BJD) letter)} before announcing the bye-laws.”

THE REALITY: NMA has exactly done that. It has released its draft bye-laws and had sought an opinion from all stakeholders.

THE POLITICAL SHOW: Playing to the BJD’s symphony and script, the BJP bigwigs in Odisha have politically ceded the space of custodian of Jagannath Culture on a platter to BJD.

Therefore, politically, the BJD strategists have pulled off a coup here.

 

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