The Supreme Court overrode objections raised by some PIL activists against the construction of toilets and cloak rooms near the 800-year old Jagannath temple in Puri. These were being constructed as part of a heritage corridor project which the state government says is necessary for the city to get world heritage site status.
A top court bench, led by Justice BR Gavai, said that these were required in larger public interest, removing any last-minute legal hitches to the constructions which have raised the ire of religious conservatives in the state.
The state government had earlier shifted the construction of a reception building from the prohibited area that is within 100 metres of the temple to the regulated area near the temple to assuage public sentiments on the issue. The high court had earlier taken assurances by state advocate general Ashok Parija on this to refuse to halt the construction. The high court was acting on a PIL filed by one Dillip Kumar Baral challenging the unsanctioned and unauthorised construction activities undertaken by the state government within the prohibited area of the temple complex in contravention to the provisions of The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
Some PILs were then filed in the top court challenging the high court’s refusal to halt the constructions. These alleged that the constructions had not been cleared by the competent authority. Nor had the ASI been taken into confidence while excavating the area around the historic structure. Excavations were being carried out near the old temple which could be hazardous, Ardhendu Kumar Das’ counsel Mahalaxmi Pavani argued. Senior lawyer Vinay Navare, appearing for a second PIL petitioner, argued that the National Monuments Authority was not the competent authority. Rather the ASI was the competent authority, he argued.