Several policemen were injured in a clash with protesters at the historic Jagannath Temple at Puri on Wednesday. Section 144 was imposed in and around the Jagannath Temple which was closed today due to the protests.

Violent scenes were witnessed as locals protested against the queue system, which has been introduced for the first time in the 12th century shrine as part of the reforms suggested by the Supreme Court.

They are also in opposition to the digging of the 22 steps called bayees pahachha to facilitate the construction of barricades for regulated darshan. The protesters say that the steps have religious significance and sentiments of the people are attached to it.

“It should never have been damaged or dug up,” said one of the agitated protesters.

Led by a group called Sri Jagannath Sena, the protesters barged into the temple and ransacked the office of Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA). They also uprooted barricades that had been erected on the steps and near Singhdwara.

The police said that the protesters ransacked a police outpost, a police station, and an information centre near the Singhadwara.

At least nine policemen were injured in the violence.

“It is an emotive issue and we did not anticipate such violence,” admitted IG Soumendra Priyadarshi.

The police had reportedly picked up the group’s convener Priyadarshan Patnaik and held him under preventive detention just before the violence broke out.

The Sri Jagannath Sena had called for a 12-hour bandh on Wednesday to protest the queue system’s introduction in the temple on Monday on an experimental basis.

Agitated protesters then attacked the residences of the local minister Maheswar Mohanty and that of the SP. Across the city, shops and educational institutions remained shut. Traffic movement was halted with protesters blocking roads at many places with burning tyres.

The police said that adequate police force has been deployed in order to restore normalcy in the tense city.

The recent exercise came in the backdrop of a Supreme Court direction seeking to undertake reforms to ensure exploitation-free and hassle-free darshan. An official said the queue system was introduced on an experimental basis and a review would be done as locals and servitors opposed it.