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Approach:

  1. Introduction of the proposed project.
  2. Explain the issues of controversy.
  3. Conclusion.

Conceived in 2016, the Puri Heritage Corridor Project was unveiled in December 2019 to transform the town into an international place of heritage. The project includes redeveloping major portions of the town and in the vicinity of the temple for visitors and tourists. A resolution for the project was passed in the state assembly to begin the first phase estimated at a cost of Rs 800 crore. Following this, the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) approved the architectural design plan of the project at an estimated cost of Rs 3,200 crore.

A total of 22 different projects will be executed in a phased manner. After the initial funds of Rs 800 crore from the state government’s Augmentation of Basic Amenities and Development of Heritage and Architecture at Puri (ABADHA) scheme, another Rs 265 crore will be provided in the first phase.

The project includes Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) building redevelopment, a 600-capacity Srimandir reception centre, Jagannath cultural centre including Raghu Nandan library, integrated command, and control centre, Badadanda heritage streetscape, Srimandir amenities improvement, Sri Setu, Jagannath Ballav pilgrim centre, multilevel car parking, municipal market development, Swargadwar development, Pramod Udyan, Gurukulam, Mahodadhi market, beachfront development, Puri lake, Musa river revival plan, Atharnala and housing for sevayats.

The rage of controversy : Multiple independent bodies like the lawyers association in Puri, locals, civil societies have raised concerns around the structural stability of the 12th-century monument. A recent affidavit filed by the Archaeological Survey of India in the Orissa High Court has further intensified the debate around the project. In its affidavit submitted in the high court, the ASI stated that the state government has been undertaking the project’s construction work within the prohibited and regulated areas of the monument without valid permission.

The 12th century shrine is a centrally protected monument, with the ASI as its custodian. As per rules laid down under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and validation) Act, construction activities within a 100 metre around such a monument’s perimeter are restricted. Constructions can only be carried out with approval from the National Monuments Authority (NMA).

The NMA, a body under the Union Ministry of Culture was set up under the provisions of AMSAR Act for the protection and preservation of monuments and sites. One amongst these responsibilities of NMA is also to consider grant of permissions to applicants for construction related activity in the prohibited and regulated areas. NMA guidelines suggest that a heritage impact assessment study is a must for developmental work around any monument of archaeological importance with a built-up area of over 5,000 square metre. The Jagannath temple is spread over 43,301.36 sq metre.

For the heritage project, the NMA had issued a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to the state government in 2021 for the construction of public amenities within the prohibited 75-metre zone. The NOC issued by NMA is with regard to the fact that the public amenities do not come under the definition of construction as per the AMASR Act and that NMA has no objection if the project is carried out under ASI’s supervision. However, no such NOC has been issued by the ASI.

After a visit by the ASI to review the developmental works of the project, it wrote a letter to the state government, asking officials concerned to submit a revised proposal for the development around the Puri Srimandir, adding that moving the building beyond 100 metres would be good in the interest of security of the temple.

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