Saswat Singhdeo

Puri: The newly appointed amicus curiae Ranjit Kumar will visit Puri on February 22 and hold discussions with servitors and State government in connection with reforms at Srimandir, informed Chief Administrator of Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) Pradipta Mohapatra today. Kumar is likely to hold discussions with several stake holders over several problems faced by devotees at the shrine.

"As per the information with us, the amicus curiae will be visiting the State on February 22," said Mohapatra.

According to official sources,  meeting between the amicus curiae and all the stakeholders including Odisha government, SJTA and others will be held on February 23.

During a hearing in Supreme Court, (amicus curiae) Kumar today said one of the major issues at Puri temple was lack of proper crowd management and absence of queue system for the devotees. The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice A K Sikri later posted the matter for further hearing on February 27.

The Apex Court is dealing with a plea highlighting the difficulties faced by the devotees at Jagannath temple and their alleged harassment or exploitation by the 'servitors' of the temple.

"The apex court has directed the State government, temple administration and other stakeholders to give a status of the previous reports to the amicus curiae," Prabhu Prasanna, the advocate of the servitors said.

To this, the State counsel said that as the architecture of the shrine was different it was not easy to have a "typical queue system" for the devotees at Srimandir.

Referring to the architecture of the sanctum sanctorum there, the State counsel said, "The amicus curiae can go there and see the situation. The problem which the state is facing today cannot be visible unless the amicus goes there and sees it himself. We are not opposing the queue system."

After Kumar said he would go to the shrine, the bench asked the State to make all arrangements for his visit.

The Supreme Court bench also said that Puri's District Judge, who had earlier given a report about the administration of the shrine, and administrator of the temple to assist the amicus. Kumar referred to the interim report filed last year by the district judge in the top court which had raised the issue of alleged harassment of devotees by the 'sevaks' (staffs) of the temple.

On January 9, the Supreme Court had appointed Kumar as amicus curiae to assist it in the case. Earlier, the apex court had on November 30 last year accepted the request of senior advocate Gopal Subramanium to relieve him as amicus curiae in the matter.

It is pertinent to mention here that nine policemen were injured in the violence at Puri in October last year during a 12-hour bandh called by a socio-cultural organisation protesting the introduction of a queue system for devotees at Puri Srimandir.

The Court had earlier said that no policeman should enter Jagannath temple "with weapons and shoes" after it was alleged before it that during the October 3 violence at the shrine last year, the cops had entered the shrine with shoes and guns.

The Odisha government's counsel had termed the allegations as "absolutely false" and said no policeman had entered the temple as the incident had taken place at the office of Shree Jagannath temple administration which is situated around 500 metres from the main temple.

(With inputs from PTI)