Anil Gochhikar, the popular bodybuilder from Odisha whose photo during Rathayatra had gone viral some years back has been sitting in a ‘Dharna’ against the Odisha government since January first week. Gocchikar claims that his family had dwellings and land close to the Puri Jagannath temple that were demolished by the Odisha government “illegally’.
Gocchikar’s photos sitting on a protest are going viral on social media.
What is Gochhikar’s complaint?
Anil Gochhikar, who is a successful and popular bodybuilder and has won many international accolades in bodybuilding, belongs to a family of Sevayats of the Sri Jagannath Temple in Puri. Gochhikar says that their family had buildings very close to the Shri Jagannath Temple which were demolished by the government despite an ongoing legal process. He says that the family has been offered a compensation amount and an offer for an alternate site in exchange for the plot. But Gochhikar believes the compensation money is not enough and the alternate plot offered by the Odisha government is “too far away” from the Jagannath Temple.
In a Facebook post, Gochhikar claimed that 4 of his buildings have been demolished by the Puri administration without prior order by the High Court. He said that he has trimmed his hair and beard in protest and will continue his dharna on a roadside till he gest ‘justice’.
Gochhikar says that since their family had filed a court case against the government demanding adequate compensation and a “better” plot that is close to the Temple, the Odisha government should not have demolished his buildings that were near the temple and should have waited till the court case by their family had reached to a conclusion.
Speaking to Odia media portal Odisha Bhaskar on January 5, he had admitted that several families who had been staying in buildings close to the temple (most plots not legally owned but just occupied over generations), had vacated the buildings willingly and have accepted the compensation given by the government. He further says that some families were unhappy with the amount of money and the alternate plot they were getting but have not voiced protest for the fear of the government. He further asserts that his family does not like the compensation money offered and the alternate site provided to them. So they will protest till the Odisha government heeds their demands and gives them an amount they consider appropriate and provides them a plot ‘close’ to the temple.
Gochhikar also claims that his brother is being threatened by police and his family is being harassed. He also criticised the corridor project, saying that the Odisha government is turning the Temple into a ‘park’ for amusement.
Odisha government’s Jagannath Temple Parikrama project
The Odisha government under CM Naveen Pattnaik has been focused on removing illegal encroachments from around the Jagannath Temple and relocating the adjacent mathas and other religious structures to other places, so as to widen the Temple corridor for the grand Ratha Yatra and facilitate the millions of devotees the Temple sees every year.
On 24 November this year, the Gajapati Maharaj of Puri had performed the Shilanyas of the Heritage Corridor project around the Jagannath Temple. Named in Odia as ‘Parikrama Prakalpa’ the grand heritage corridor project envisions preservation of the 12th-century temple and its grand wall, called Meghanada Pacheri’ and develop the surrounding areas for beautification, safety and comfort of pilgrims and facilities of the millions of devotees who visit the famous temple every year.
CM Naveen Pattnaik has stated that he will transform the Temple town of Puri into a world-class heritage city. Previously, the areas surrounding the Jagannath Temple were cramped with shops, stalls, houses and dharmashalas, most of them encroached over the years. The cramped area posed a safety concern not only for the devotees during the crowded events of Ratha Yatra and Bahuda Yatra, but it was also endangering the 12th-century Meghanada wall, that surrounds the ancient temple.
Odisha govt wanted all structres within 75 metres of the Meghanada wall removed
In August 2019, the Odisha government had announced that all structures around a 75-metre radius of the Jagannath Temple’s Meghanada wall will be removed to ensure the safety and integrity of the 12th-century shrine. The structures identified under the clearing plan were shoe stands, government facilities like electricity supply buildings, information centres, police outposts and shops and stalls that had come up over the years.
The decision was taken to implement the first phase of the recommendations made by the justice BP Das Commission.
The Odisha government had stated that the illegal encroachments and structures built around the Meghanada wall also pose a major security threat for the temple and visiting pilgrims. “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,” the then collector of Puri had stated to the media.
Supreme Court appointed amicus curie supported the Odisha govt’s demolition drive
Multiple PILs were filed in the Supreme Court after the Naveen government’s demolition drive created outrage among many stakeholders. Several religious heads of the Mathas had also written to the SC. The Supreme Court had then appointed Ranjit Kumar as amicus curie and had sent him to inspect the demolition work. Ranjit Kumar had arrived with SG Tushar Mehta in Puri and had held meetings with heads of the Mathas, government officials and temple administration officials.
After meetings and inspections, the amicus curie had submitted his report to the SC, stating that there is no forcible evacuation going on and the Odisha government should continue the demolition work, and asserted that the heritage corridor project is necessary and justified. After the report, the SC had allowed the govt of Odisha to continue the demolition drive.
The Odisha government is also undertaking similar development work around the famous Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar under the Ekamra Kshetra project.
A lot of controversies have surrounded the Shri Jagannath Temple Parikrama Project since the Naveen Pattnaik government started the redevelopment work. While there are concerns regarding compensations to families affected by the project, it is also a truth that the areas around the temple had been under massive encroachments, mismanagement, putting the temple and devotees at risk.