In a damning observation, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) informed the Orissa High Court that there was every possibility of the ongoing excavation near 12th century Jagannath Temple in Puri causing destruction of archaeological remains at the heritage site.

The Orissa HC had directed the ASI to submit a report while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) on construction activities going on within the prohibited area of the temple as part of the ₹800 crore Shree Mandir Parikrama Project

The Naveen Patnaik government had come under severe criticism for undertaking new construction without seeking the ASI’s permission beforehand, which is mandatory under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act, 1958.

Dillip Kumar Ramhari, Regional Director (East), ASI, Kolkata, in the joint inspection report observed:“During the joint inspection followed by onsite discussions with officials of Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA), District Magistrate, Puri and Odisha Bridge Construction Corporation (OBCC), it is found that the ongoing construction work of the Shree Mandira Parikrama Project has no valid permission or no objection certificate issued by the competent authority.”

The OBCC is the designated agency for implementing the project. “There is every possibility that the agency OBCC during the excavation or soil removal might have destroyed the archaeological remains of the heritage site,” the ASI said in the report.

“At several locations as seen from the cuttings, it is evident that removal of about 15 to 20 feet stratified deposit have taken place, which has caused irreparable damage to the heritage site. During the discussion, OBCC officials were clueless about the method of soil removal and cultural findings from the digging,” it mentioned.

Moreover, the apex conservation agency said: “It was informed during the discussion that no heritage impact assessment studies have been conducted before commencement of the project. No Ground Penetrating Radar Survey (GPRS) have been conducted to ascertain the archaeological and historical importance lying buried in the subsoil of 75m radius (Construction Zone) of Centrally Protected Monuments.”

“The construction work of the SMPP is in progress, which falls, in parts within both the prohibited and regulated areas of the centrally protected monument Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri,” the ASI pointed out.

It remarked: “The drawings and structural designs included in the revised detail project report [DPR] are different from the one presented to National Monument Authority. Frequent changes have been noticed.”

The DPR was silent about redevelopment and renovation of Mathas (which is an item in the DPR) located around the Centrally protected monument, the ASI submitted.

The Advocate General refuted the ASI’s report. Orissa HC’s Division Bench comprising Chief Justice S. Muralidhar and Judge R. K. Pattnaik directed the State to file an affidavit by June 20, and fixed June 22 as next date of hearing.

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