I-card move to check unruly priests during Nabakalebar

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‘Fake’ and ‘uncouth’ priests at Jagannath temple in Puri have prompted the state government to issue identity cards to servitors at the shrine during the Nabakalebar festival in 2015.

While reviewing the preparedness measures for the proposed festival, chief secretary J K Mohapatra recently asked the Jagannath temple administration to issue the identity cards by December 2014.

“The temple’s chief administrator and revenue divisional commissioner (central range) have told us that action is being taken to issue identity cards to the sevayats. The temple administration should also ensure that all the daily rituals of the temple are performed on time,” the minutes of the meeting said.

Though the Jagannath temple has attempted to issue identity cards to servitors in the past, the process was stalled because of stiff opposition from some sections of the priests.

“It is true that some men at times put on priestly robes and fleece devotees. But issuing identity cards to priests is not a good idea. It will hurt our sentiments. The administration should think of some alternative means (to check fake priests),” said servitor Ramakrushna Dasmohapatra.

As part of the Nabakalebar preparations, the government has decided to shift the Puri district jail to the outskirts of the town. The move is aimed at expanding the road next to the jail compounded. “The chief secretary has instructed the Puri collector to look for a plot measuring around 20-25 acre within a radius of 15km from Puri for relocation of the jail,” the minutes of the meeting said.

Worried about inadequate accommodation at Puri, the government has decided to ask hoteliers to increase their boarding capacity by adding extra beds in the hotel rooms. “The bed strength should be raised to 30,000 from the current 19,886 at the 400-odd hotels. About 24 hotels are coming up in Puri, which are expected to add another 1,600 rooms. The temple administration should build low-cost hotels to create more beds,” the minutes pointed out.

The district administration expects a footfall of more than 30 lakh during the festival. The government plans to arrange for temporary accommodation for nearly one lakh pilgrims near the bus stand, railway station and Tala Bania.

To control the crowd, the government has decided to install giant TV screens on the beach and other locations for live coverage of important rituals to divert the crowd from the temple area and Grand Road. “Around 16 dilapidated buildings around the temple have been identified for demolition. About 16 CCTV cameras are already in place inside Jagannath temple. More such surveillance cameras will be installed in Gundicha temple as well,” the minutes said.

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