SC makes Jagannath Puri visit hassle-free
Paying a visit to the Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri may now become easier for devotees who have to face extreme hardship in offering prayers there. The Supreme Court on Friday directed both the Odisha Government and the Centre to set up separate committees to study the best management practices followed by shrines of national importance across the country and recommend changes to be carried out in administration of the temple by June 30.
The direction came on a PIL that highlighted poor hygiene, harassment faced by devotees, malpractices by sebayats (sevaks) who perform rituals, and misappropriation of offerings made to the temple offertory.
A Vacation Bench of Justices Adarsh K Goel and Ashok Bhushan ordered a probe by the District Judge, Puri, into these allegations and sought an interim report from him by July 5. For suggesting measures to reform the existing practices followed in the temple, the Bench directed both the Odisha Government and the Centre to set up separate committees to study the best management practices followed by shrines such as Vaishno Devi in Jammu & Kashmir, Somnath temple in Gujarat, Golden Temple in Punjab, Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh and Dharamsthala temple in Karnataka.
The elaborate orders were passed on a PIL filed by a practising lawyer Mrinalini Padhi, who is a member of the Odisha Legal Services Committee. The lawyer approached the apex court after coming across a news item about the missing keys of the Ratna Bhandar at the Lord Jagannatha Temple.
This came to light after the Orissa High Court in a PIL proceeding directed Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to inspect the temple for renovation and restoration work. The ASI team was denied inspection of the Ratna Bhandar. Later it came to light that the keys to the Bhandar housing priceless jewels, ornaments offered to the temple was missing and there is no accounting of it since 1984.
The apex court kept this issue open to be considered by the Orissa HC and focused instead to end the exploitative practices against devotees.
The temple being one of the four great ‘Char Dham’ pilgrimage sites (four divine sites) comprising of Rameswaram, Badrinath, Puri and Dwarka, considered sacred to Hindus, the Bench said, “These centres are of undoubted religious, social, historical, and architectural importance, representing cultural heritage of the country.” The petitioner alleged blatant commercialisation and exploitation of the devotees by sebayats who extract money and offerings from devotees. There is a history of stampedes having taken place due to overcrowding of the passage and slippery floors but no corrective measures have been put in place.
The Bench directed the administrator of the temple to report on installation of CCTVs and asked the District Judge to examine the footage once every month to put curbs on sebayats collecting offerings from the devotees. The Bench said this must go directly into the temple hundis kept for this purpose so that proper accounting of offerings can be done.
The court appointed senior advocate Gopal Subramanium to assist them as amicus curiae and in framing suggestions to make the Puri Temple at par with other shrines such as Tirupati, Vaishno Devi, Somnath, Golden Temple, etc.
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