Friday, August 7, 2020
Home Government and Policy The Demolition Drive at Puri : Perspectives of all stakeholders

The Demolition Drive at Puri : Perspectives of all stakeholders

The mathadheesh of already demolished Emar Matha, Rajagopal Das puts it bluntly. "Only during the reigns of Islamic tyrants, Hindu religious institutions were destroyed in such manner".

Last month, the Odisha government led by Naveen Patnaik announced a slew of infrastructure projects to develop Puri into a world heritage city, amounting to 500 crore rupees and a result of that, a demolition drive is being carried out in Puri that has resulted in a massive controversy.

This includes restoring two rivers – Musa and Mangala – the creation of riverfront and a pilgrimage centre at Jagannatha Ballava. The NH 316 connecting Bhubaneswar-Puri will also get a cloverleaf exchange at Satapada bypass. There has also been a plan of a cable-stayed bridge at the same spot. Yesterday, the government took a massive beach cleaning exercise, involving 10,000 volunteers, touted as World’s largest beach cleaning exercise.

The state government seems to be on mission mode to renovate Puri and remodel the city into a world heritage city. As part of this, on 16th August, the state cabinet had approved a proposal to remove all the structures within the 75-metre radius of Shri Jagannatha temple to ensure safety and security of the 12th-century shrine.

The Demolition Drive at Puri, Odisha

Following the cabinet order, the demolition drive started on the 27th of August. So far mathas, around 300 dwelling units and a few hundred commercial establishments have been demolished. Among the mathas that have been demolished is Languli matha, Emar matha, Bada Akhada matha. Next on the radar are both Mangu and Punjabi mathas which hold special significance among Sikhs. Punjab CM Capt Amrinder Singh has written a letter to Naveen Patnaik requesting to stay the demolition of these 2 mathas as tens of thousands of Sikhs who visit Shri Jagannatha Temple every year also visit these mathas.

After Capt Singh’s letter, the Odisha government has given assurance that these two mathas will not be harmed. As many as 14 other small and big mathas are still on the list to be demolished. Radha Ballabha, Balaramakotaand Uttara Parswa Mathaare some of the significant mathas among others.

Demolition drive in Puri, Odisha

The Odisha Government’s stand on the demolition drive

The rationale for this ongoing demolition drive that the government has provided, is the safety and security of the temple which stems its root from Justice BP Das Commission report which has not been made public for reasons best known to the government.

“Terrorism has arisen as a major danger for the whole world. Terrorism has no religion. They target the holy places of various religions. It is therefore very essential to implement the recommendations that have come to ensure Srimandir’s security,” said CM Naveen Patnaik while briefing the media on the ongoing demolition drive.

“There are homes, commercial establishments and mathas immediately surrounding the temple. We are helpless if someone throws hazardous materials inside the temple by standing outside the boundary wall” quips a senior police official.

“We want this area cleared of all buildings, many of which are illegal, to facilitate strict vigil and prevent a terror attack. Since there are many structures adjacent to the main temple, it would have been very easy for terrorists to launch an attack on the temple,” said Puri district collector Balwant Singh.

There are of course structures built right next to Meghanad Pracheri, the 24 feet boundary wall surrounding the temple, some of which actually are built with the support of the wall itself and of course pose a threat to the physical structure. Most of the houses and commercial establishments around this area are illegal too and have been built on the temple land. However, the terrorism threat seems a bit out of place. If at all, it’s unlikely that the mathas also pose a similar threat.

What the Honourable Supreme Court has said so far

Two PILs were filed in SC to put a stay on the demolition drive. Odisha state advocate general pleading for the government submitted that the unsafe structures were being demolished with the consent of stakeholders to create a heritage corridor around Meghanad Pracheribefore the upcoming Nagarjuna Besha in 2020, which is happening after 25 years and may attract upwards of 15 lakhs people.

After several Mathadheesh wrote to SC to stop the demolition of the Mathas, SC sent amicus curiae Ranjit Kumar to make a field visit and file a report. Ranjit Kumar along with SG Tushar Mehta, went to the temple to have darshan after arriving in the city. Thereafter, he held meetings with SJTA (Shri Jagannatha Temple Administration) chief administrator Krishan Kumar, collector Balwant Singh, DIG Ashish Singh, SP Umashankar Dash. He also had closed-door meetings with various mathadheesh, chief servitor of Puri temple, chairman of the temple body, king of Puri Gajapati Dibyasingh Deb and also with Puri Shankaracharya Swamy Nischalananda Saraswati in Gobardhan Peeth.

He physically verified the ongoing demolition and beautification work. The report he submitted to SC suggests that there is no forcible displacement and the drive conducted by government is needed to transform Puri into a heritage corridor as well as necessary for the safety of the shrine. Everything is done as per law and temple stakeholders are cooperating. Following Ranjit Kumar’s report, SC has given a go ahead with the demolition drive.

What the Mathadheeshs and Seers are saying

The mathadheesh of already demolished Emar Matha, Rajagopal Das puts it bluntly. “Only during the reigns of Islamic tyrants, Hindu religious institutions were destroyed in such manner”. Puri Shankaracharya Swamy Nischalananda Saraswati of the Gobardhan Peeth is equally scathing in his attack. He says, “The demolitions have a larger and more sinister motive and are a conspiracy against Sanatana Dharma”. He terms Justice BP Das commission report illegal as it has been prepared without consulting all stakeholders and presents one side of the view. Also, it has neither been made public nor tabled on the floor of the house.

What the Cultural Experts and Archaeologists have to say

Apart from the safety and security of the 12th-century shrine, another argument the government is putting forward is, many of the building being demolished is very old and not safe anymore. However, experts argue that such structures should have been strengthened and not demolished right away. Many of the buildings, including the roof of Bada Emar Matha, have been used as the viewing gallery for the annual Ratha Jatra, by VVIPs including ministers, judges and senior bureaucrats. They would not climb upto an unsafe building to watch Ratha Jatra, argues conservationist Anil Dhir. Dhir goes a step ahead and equates the current demolition drive to the destruction of Bamiyan Buddha by the Taliban. Amiya Bhusan Tripathy, state convenor of INTACH says, “Demolishing mathas which are integral to the niti kanti (daily ritual) of the temple is sacrilegious. The government should have preserved the heritage”.

The mathas not only have a deep association with the niti kanti (a daily ritual) of the temple, some of them also play an important part during various festivals of the Lord including the annual Ratha Jatra. Some of the mathas have in fact been set up by Guru Nanak and Ramanujacharya Themselves.

The Emar matha prepares Chamara and Canopy seva, Chandrikamade of the flower are supplied daily. Uttara Parswa matha offers daily Mohan Bhoga. Trimali matha (Which remains in the list) offers bhoga (Prasad)during annual Chandana Jatra. Radha Ballabha matha does the Alata and Chamar seva so does the Mangu matha. A detailed list can be accessed here on the government of Odisha website.

The mathas have not only played a religious role but a social role as well as it sheltered and provided great support to many freedom fighters during the British rule. The mathas also opened their granaries to the general public during the great famine of 1866.

The mathas, as cultural centres, have also been imparting cultural and religious training. They used to run schools and feed the poor. They have also been helping with lodging for poor pilgrims.

Rehabilitation after the demolition drive

After the huge outcry, the government has announced a mega rehabilitation plan. Dwelling units those have been affected would get Rs. 50,000 relocation allowance and Rs. 10,000 assistance per month till they are handed over a residential unit or one-time assistance of Rs. 30 lakh. If the family opts for former, they will be allotted a residential unit having a size of 520 square feet built-up area within 1.5 KM of the temple. If the family agrees to move further, they will get a 1000 square feet resettlement plot.

Shops and commercial establishments such as lodges and hotels will be provided rental assistance as per their size till handing over shopping units to be built by the government. Lodges will also be paid income assistance of Rs 25 per square feet per month till acquisition of property which will be 2000 square feet. Besides, they will also be provided with construction assistance.

Mathas will get special package considering the heritage, cultural and social value associated with them. Apart from providing adequate land to these religious institutions, the deities and gaadis in the affected mathas will be preserved. The redevelopment plan of each matha will include various components, have adequate rooms, dwelling units, parking places. The construction of all such mathas will focus on heritage architecture and the plan will be prepared along with all the stakeholders.


Anybody who has been to Puri temple will agree that the place needed an uplift. Areas in and around the temple highly encroached, ultra-dense and not to mention the absolute filth the houses and commercial establishments created alongside the temple. If you go to Koili Baikuntha and look on the other side of Meghanad Pracheri, you would realise that the place needed to be cleaned up. People literally dumped their household trash near Temple boundary. Puri is a heritage city of utmost importance. Other temple towns of equal importance like Tirupati, Rameswaram, Dwarka have done well to preserve the sanctity. However, Puri has failed to do so. As we say, cleanliness is next to Godliness and that very fact was missing right in front of Singha Dwar (Lion’s Gate), the main entrance of the Temple.

Apart from the safety, security and general hygiene of the temple, it also created traffic nuisance. A customary look at the road from Bada Danda (Grand Road) to Swarga Dwara and beach via Bali Sahi will tell you the level of encroachment that had happened over years (And this is just a small sample).

Picture Showing Encroachment on The Swargadwar Road from Sri Mandira to Sea beach via Bali Sahi

This was supposed to be a major thoroughfare and the connection between the Temple and the Sea beach. Today, residents of these areas can’t even access basic ambulance service as ambulances can’t enter the bylanes which are heavily encroached. These needed to go. And those who have been to the temple and especially the Khaja Patiarea, the below photo will come as a fresh breath of air.

Khaja Pati, Bali Sahi, Puri

However, the government should have been more careful while dealing with religious institutions. These are not just Brick and Mortar structures. If Jagannatha Temple is the heart of Hindu culture, these are the arteries supplying life substance to the shrine. These are our heritage. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. You can’t recreate them. Even if one were to believe Justice BP Das commission report, should the government not tell us, what steps it took to preserve the heritage institutes failing which it decided to raze them to the ground. And, now the government is saying that the mathadheesh have been taken into account while drawing up the rehabilitation plan for the mathas. Why it was not done before ordering the demolition. That would not have created an unpleasant situation as it has now. Why not get rid of the houses and commercial establishments only and have the mathas and other religious institutions intact.

These could have been termed as the outer periphery of the temple as they are part of the temple itself, as per government’s own manuscripts. The area inside Meghanad Prachericould has been termed as inner periphery. Were there enough deliberations done before deciding on razing everything to the ground? This smacks of high handedness as the decision was taken unilaterally.

In the end, we hope the government’s rehabilitation plan is not just on papers but actually made to work on the ground. We hope the mathas are provided adequate land and the heritage structures are built with all its past glory which will enable the mathas to function in its full fervour discharging their religious, cultural and social responsibilities. Because, not only the Hindus but as we say in Odia, “Chaka aakhi sabu dekhuchi” – The One with round eyes is watching it all.

  Support Us  

Whether NDTV or 'The Wire', they never have to worry about funds. In name of saving democracy, they get money from various sources. We need your support to fight them. Please contribute whatever you can afford

Related Articles

Trending now

Muslims chose to stay back in India: An analysis of the mythical, unsubstantiated trope that is used to make Hindus feel guilty

Muslims who stayed back in India after the partition, did not primarily do so out of their innate love for mother India

Soil from ancient Sharda Peeth in PoK was also used in Ram Mandir Bhoomi Pujan: Read how VHP and some dedicated devotees managed that

This Sharada Peeth is significantly important for Hindus because it is said to be one among the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas.

Assam: Ram Mandir Bhoomi Pujan celebration by Bajrang Dal attacked by Muslim locals, curfew imposed

The Muslim locals allegedly objected to the Bajrang Dal members chanting slogans and playing music. The arguments soon led to a violent clash.

Ram Janmabhoomi movement: Three sacrifices that can never be forgotten

Five hundred years of struggle went into Ram Janmabhoomi moment. There would be so many heroes that it is impossible to remember them all.

From being bigoted, kids are ‘hope of secularism’. The Wire’s Rohini Singh explains how

The Wire journalist Rohini Singh on Wednesday took to Twitter to share an image wherein she claimed that her child drew a mosque and a temple side by side and wrote an essay on tolerance.

Hindu cricketer Danish Kaneria deletes tweet about Ram Mandir billboard in NYC after Pakistani Islamists flood his TL. Here is what happened

The former Pakistani cricketer had shared an image featuring Ram Mandir's digital image in a giant billboard at New York's Times Square before deleting it.

Recently Popular

Twitter user arrested by Maharashtra police for criticising the Uddhav Thackeray govt on social media

Mumbai Police arrested Twitter user Sunaina Holey for posting against Maharashtra CM and his son, to be presented in court today

Here is why #BabyPenguin is trending on Twitter, and why Aaditya Thackeray is called so by some

Yuva Sena registered complaint against twitter user for calling Aaditya Thackeray "Baby Penguin" and Uddhav Thackeray "Aurangzeb"

While most Bollywood actors and cricketers chose not to welcome Ram Mandir, here are the ones who did not shy away

Only a few actors and sportspersons celebrated Ram Mandir Bhoomi Pujan and shared wishes on social media.

TV actor Sameer Sharma found hanging from the kitchen ceiling, case of accidental death registered

After body of Sameer Sharma was recovered from his house, a case of accidental death has been registered by the Malad police

Muslims chose to stay back in India: An analysis of the mythical, unsubstantiated trope that is used to make Hindus feel guilty

Muslims who stayed back in India after the partition, did not primarily do so out of their innate love for mother India

Maulana from All India Imam Association threatens that ‘believers of justice’ will demolish Ram Mandir and rebuild disputed structure

Maulana Rashidi stated that the Ram Mandir will one day be demolished and a disputed structure will be rebuilt.

Pakistan borrows $1 Billion from its all-weather ally China to repay $1 Billion Saudi Arabia loan to avoid default on international debt obligations

China tightens its grip over Pakistan, gives $1 billion loan to repay Saudi Arabia's $1 billion loan, grants 90% of $6.8 billion railway project

CBI registers case against Rhea Chakraborty, her family and aides in Sushant Singh Rajput death case

CBI files case against Rhea Chakraborty, her father, mother, brother and 2 others in Sushant Singh Rajput's death case

‘As a CM I have no problem with any religion, but as a yogi, I will not go for a Mosque’s ground-breaking ceremony’: Yogi...

When asked whether he will attend ground-breaking ceremony for the mosque at Ayodhya, Yogi Adityanath said that he will not be invited

Complaint filed against Maulana Sajid Rashid for inciting Muslims to demolish Ram Mandir at Ayodhya

President of the All India Imam Association Sajid Rashidi had said that a mosque will be rebuilt after demolishing the Ram Mandir

15th EU-India Summit: Promising an opportunity for India in the post-COVID world

The 15th EU-India Summit was held in the virtual space, which can be called the Covid-19 era normal. Before the pandemic made its presence felt, this Summit was planned to be held in March in Brussels.

Dalit organisation lodges a complaint with MHA seeking an FIR against AIMPLB for intimidating and hurting the faith of Hindu Dalits

AIMPLB had issued a menacing threat yesterday hinting at converting the Ram temple back into a mosque

CBI starts the process of registering a case in Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case, forms SIT for the probe

CBI to probe Sushant Singh Rajput's death after the center issued the letter to CBI on Bihar Police’s request on 5th August

Is being a Hindu acceptable but having faith in Hindutva ‘dangerous’? Quite the contrary

Is being a Hindu acceptable while faith in Hindutva is not? Is it even dangerous? Many Hindus seem wary to be associated with Hindutva

Mumbai faces massive flooding and destruction due to heavy rain, rainfall in one day exceeds the season’s average

Mumbai received 2,319.7 mm rain on Wednesday, which is more than the seasonal average of 2,206.4 mm, causes heavy flooding

Muslims chose to stay back in India: An analysis of the mythical, unsubstantiated trope that is used to make Hindus feel guilty

Muslims who stayed back in India after the partition, did not primarily do so out of their innate love for mother India

Connect with us