Armed with an Orissa high court order, the Jagannath temple administration in Puri on Tuesday started the process of demolishing portions of a building close to the entrance of the 12th century shrine.
The HC on March 21 gave order to pull down part of the three-storey building of Pratihari Nijog (office of a priests’ organization) to ensure safety and security of the temple. The HC observed that the building was a structural threat to the entrance (Lion’s Gate or Simhadwar) of the temple. Besides, the artworks on the temple wall are concealed due to the building, the high court further observed.
“We pulled down some portions on Tuesday. The demolition drive will continue for a few more days,” said Puri sub-collector Uddhab Charan Majhi. Experts of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), custodian of the Jagannath temple, supervised the demolition process to ensure that no damage is caused to the main temple.
According to the high court’s direction, there would be a clear gap of 10 feet between Pratihari Nijog building and structure of lion positioned at the shrine’s main entrance (Simhadwar).
Similarly, a gap of 10 feet should be maintained between the Nijog building and the Meghanad Pacheri (outer boundary wall of temple) and the Gumuta (top portion of the Lion’s Gate).
The court also ordered that the height of the Pratihari Nijog building cannot exceed five metre. However, the court gave some relief to the Pratihari Nijog by saying that they can make an appeal before the chief administrator of the temple seeking allotment of another piece of land for their office.
Last year the Pratihari Nijog had moved the high court, challenging the decision of the Jagannath temple administration to demolish its building. The Nijog representatives had on July 22, 2012, opposed an attempt by temple administration to demolish the building. They had staged a demonstration in front of the temple, demanding protection of the heritage building, which they claim to have owned since 1889.
Sources said though the building was recorded in the name of Jagannath temple, Nijog is its caretaker. The nijog had moved the HC recently after the temple administration turned down the former’s proposal of transferring the ownership status of the building to its name. The Nijog in 2005 wanted to acquire the building by paying Rs 900 under the uniform land policy of Jagannath temple Act. But the temple administration rejected the proposal in view of security concern.
The temple administration restricted movement of devotees through Lion’s Gate due to the ongoing demolition drive. Devotees were allowed entry through other three gates.
Recently the Puri district administration demolished portions of Badachhata mutt and Chhauni mutt located on both sides of the temple entrance on security grounds. But encroachments around the outer wall continue to pose a threat as the district administration is struggling to evict unauthorized vendors from the restricted area.