A day after the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) submitted before the Orissa High Court that it did not accord permission to the state government to undertake the heritage corridor project close to Jagannath Temple in Puri, the opposition BJP and Congress came down heavily on the ruling BJD, accusing it of carrying out “illegal” activities. The ASI, in an affidavit on Monday, told the High Court that it found out Srimandir Parikrama (corridor) project had no valid permission or no-objection certificate issued by its competent authorities, during joint inspection and onsite discussions with officials of Odisha Bridge and Construction Corporation Limited (OBCC) and Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA).

The organisation also noted that there was every possibility that OBCC during excavation or soil removal might have destroyed archaeological remains of the heritage site. BJP’s Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi, who first raised the issue in Parliament, in a series of tweets said, “The joint inspection note filed by ASI, as part of its affidavit, in Orissa High Court, is worth reading. Very meticulously prepared. It says all; the wrongdoings of state govt are crystal clear.

She attached the joint inspection report with the tweet. Sarangi also said that public money was being spent on creating infrastructure adjoining the temple, something that could have been done at least 100 m away.

She said, “If the structures are declared illegal tomorrow, who will be responsible for wastage of hundreds of crore of rupees, which is the hard-earned money of Odisha (people)? After the ASI filed an affidavit before the honourable High Court, I am convinced that Lord Jagannath is trying to save himself and his temple from an elected state government which is hell bent upon brazenly defying the law,” she wrote. Echoing her, BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra hit out at the BJD government, accusing Puri MP Pinaki Mishra of “misleading” Parliament with his statement that only four toilets were being constructed near the 12th century temple.

The ASI affidavit says that the state government carried out construction work without approval from competent authority. Isn’t this illegal? Who is answerable? Patra tweeted adding, “ASI mentioned about frequent changes in detailed project report (DPR). Why was DPR revised so many times?” Senior BJP leader Bijay Mohapatra claimed that ASI’s affidavit shows that the construction being carried out under the project is “illegal”. “The ASI is also to be blamed for not inspecting the construction. But why did it not seek a stay order? Why did it not file a case against the Odisha government if the work is illegal,” Mohapatra asked.

BJP leader and Puri MLA Jayant Sarangi sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention. “Whatever has been damaged cannot be brought back to its original form. The government must ensure there’s no further damage to the structures. Locals, mutt mahants or servitors, no one is happy. Courts cannot resolve this, the PM should intervene and save the temple,” the local lawmaker said.

The opposition Congress also attacked the BJD government over the issue. “The ASI said it has not given any approval for construction. The High Court should have issued stay order after the ASI submitted its report. The House Committee formed to inspect the site is yet to visit the spot. I’ll write to the speaker in this regard,” Congress Legislature Party leader Narasingha Mishra said.

Rejecting opposition allegations, Puri MP Pinaki Mishra asserted that there was nothing illegal about the project. “Work is underway with no-objection certificate from National Monuments Authority (NMA). We have never said anything about ASI’s approval. Whatever is happening is within the purview of the law. Where is it written that DPR cannot be revised?” Mishra asked.

Lashing out at Patra, Mishra said, “Neither he nor I can decide how much area should be dug. Digging activities are carried out as per the suggestion of the civil engineers. If anyone has any issue, he or she may approach the high court or Supreme Court.

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