BHUBANESWAR: Odisha government may have been pushing forward the ambitious Jagannath Heritage Corridor Project but it is mum on impact the ongoing works will have on structural stability of the Shri Jagannath temple. The much-hyped project, if sources are to be believed, is being executed without the State government even generating an impact assessment report which is a pre-requisite for ancient and religiously critical monuments.
The Srimandir Parikrama Project is being carried out under the supervision of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and National Monuments Authority (NMA), a body under the Ministry of Culture. As part of it, amenities and infrastructure for devotees in the 75-metres radius of the 12th century temple are being developed.
JCB machines are being used by Tata Projects, which is implementing the project, to dig up the area within the prohibited zone (100 mt) of the Centrally-protected shrine to set up public amenities. Work is being carried out beyond 7 metres from the Meghnad Prachir which is the buffer zone of the temple. This has raised concern among locals who apprehend that vibrations may have impact on structural stability of the monument. Digging in such close proximity should have been preceded by a proper assessment which both the Central agencies claim to have no knowledge about.
9 public amenities to come up
After Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation stone for the project, Tata Projects kicked off the work on January 20. Nine structures (public amenities) will come up within 75 metre radius of the temple including cloak room, mini cloak room, shelter pavilion, three toilet complexes of men, women and sevayats, electrical room and pavement area. Tata Projects has already laid footings for five of these structures.
Currently, digging of earth using JCB machines is underway near western gate and south eastern corner of the temple.The Odisha Bridge & Construction Corporation (OBCC) under Works department claims to have obtained a no objection certificate (NOC) for the project from NMA in September last year but it has not yet submitted Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and heritage impact assessment reports to ASI which is custodian of the temple.
According to NMA norms, heritage impact assessment is mandatory before taking up development works for any monument of archaeological importance with a built up area (existing and proposed) of over 5,000 square metre (sq m). The Srimandir temple complex spreads over 10.7 acres which is around 43,301.36 sqm. The assessment, among other things, seeks information on evaluation of overall impact of the proposed changes/development and mitigation measures for each activity to be undertaken during construction.
The New Indian Express reached out to Member Secretary of NMA Bhaskar Verma and he said as per the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMASR Act), construction in the prohibited area has to be done in consultation with ASI and heritage impact assessment report should be furnished.
“We do not issue NOC for setting up of public amenities in prohibited areas. NMA’s role is to give recommendations and the final NOC is issued by the competent authority who is the Director of Culture department, Odisha government,” Sharma said. Public amenities can come up within the prohibited zone but the work has to be carried out under ASI supervision, he added.
“In fact, public amenities do not come under the definition of construction as per the AMASR Act and hence, the project authority need not have come to us for NOC. It is the ASI which would give the permission. Since we received an application from OBCC, we disposed of it with a note that NMA has no objection to the work if carried under ASI supervision and strict compliance to AMASR Act, 1958, section 2(dc),” he added.
ASI awaiting reports
ASI Odisha head Arun Malik said his office is yet to get the heritage impact assessment report for the Parikrama Project from the State government. A day after DG ASI V Vidyavathi visited Puri to review the Parikrama project work on February 21, sources said, Malik wrote to Works department seeking GPR and heritage assessment reports. He is yet to received the documents, he told when contacted.
On the other hand, Puri Collector Samarth Verma claimed that work is being carried out in the 100 mt area with permission of ASI and NOC from NMA but Malik said ASI is yet to give an NOC to the work in the prohibited area. “The only documents that we need to take forward the work are NOCs from NMA and ASI. We have received NMA’s NOC and held discussions with all stakeholders of the project taking into account the heritage and safety of the temple,” Verma told this paper. The DG ASI, he claimed, had expressed satisfaction over the work during her recent visit. Officials of OBCC said GPR has been carried out on the site twice. They, however, had no information on heritage impact assessment.
Tata Projects officials clarified that digging is being done within 1.5 metre to 3 metre depth depending on height of the public amenity to come up. “Work is being carried out beyond 7 metres from the Meghnad Prachir which is the buffer zone of the temple and in a manner that it will have no impact on the ancient monument. Except the SJTA office and Shri Jagannath Reception Centre which will be G+2 (ground+two floors) structures in the regulated zone, all other amenities in the prohibited zone will be smaller facilities at the ground level,” he added.