Raising serious questions over the ongoing excavation work close to Puri Shree Jagannath Temple, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has informed the Orissa High Court stating that “there is every possibility that the agency (Orissa Bridge Construction Corporation) during the excavation/soil removal might have destroyed the archaeological remains of the heritage site”.
In a damning finding the ASI apprised the court that “at several locations as seen from the cuttings/section, it is evident that removal of about 15 to 20 feet stratified deposit have taken place, which has caused irreparable damage to the heritage site. During the discussion, OBCC officials were clueless about the method of soil removal and cultural findings from the digging”.
Responding to the HC’s query on the reported construction and development activities carried out within the prohibited area of protected heritage site, the ASI furnished an affidavit and uncovered commission of gross improprieties including carrying out of work sans valid permission by the Odisha government agency entrusted to execute the construction activity.
It may be noted here that devout followers of Jagannath cult and opposition parties had earlier assailed the government for undertaking a massive development project around Jagannath Temple, Puri without the permission of the National Monument Authority (NMA) and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Earlier on last month, the Orissa High Court in response to public interest litigation had sought responses from the state government and the Archaeological Survey of India asking whether permission has been obtained for carrying out such construction and whether there is any structural threat to the iconic temple.
“During the Joint inspection followed by onsite discussions with OBCC and Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) officials, it is found that the ongoing construction work of the Shree Mandira Parikrama Project has no valid permission/No Objection Certificate (NOC) issued by the Competent Authority”, ASI in its affidavit informed the High Court.
The drawings and structural designs included in the revised Detailed Plan Report are different from the one presented to NMA. Frequent changes have been noticed, the ASI’s joint inspector report stated.
“It has been informed by the Managing Director of executing agency OBCC during the discussion that, as on date there is no permission or approval of NMA/Competent Authority is available for structural activities and its design of Shree Mandira Parikrama Project”, ASI said in a fact-finding inspection report.
“The Managing Director of the executing agency OBCC has further informed that there are deviations in plan & elevation as well as in the project design, which they have already submitted to NMA on 15 July 2021 and a presentation made before the NMA on 17 August 2021. In the revised proposal height of various structural units had been increased and more units had been added”, ASI informed the HC finding out further irregularities in the Parkrama project.
No Heritage Impact Assessment studies have been conducted before commencement of the project. No Ground Penetrating Radar Survey (GPRS) has been conducted to ascertain the archaeological & historical importance lying buried in the subsoil of 75 metre radius (Construction Zone) of Centrally Protected Monuments.