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Salvage Lord’s Land

Bhubaneswar: With COVID-19 Pandemic having impacted the donations in the 12th Century Lord Vishnu shrine in Odisha’s Puri, Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) has been contemplating installing Hundis (donation boxes) in major airports and railway stations across the country. The purpose is very simple: to raise the funds for the temple, which requires at least Rs 200 crore a year for its daily expenses. Some people have welcomed the move while a section of servitors is in doubt whether this would be fruitful, as possibilities of embezzlement of funds cannot be ruled out. Who will collect the funds from the Hundis and how to manage affairs in other states and cities?

It is, however, a welcome step to attempt to raise the volume of donations. The SJTA can open kiosks in important airports and railway stations and collect donations through digital mode. But, physical donation and their management may be a problem for the SJTA. No one can guarantee that the funds will not be spirited away from the Hundis. Of course, there are several ways to streamline the system.

However, is it the only way to raise funds for the temple? Lord Jagannath is called the ‘Patitapaban’ or the God who is a dedicated form of the downtrodden and weaker section of the society. There is no mandatory fee for any devotee to have darshan of the Trinity – Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath in Puri. Even a penniless beggar can enter the temple and pay respect to the Lords. This is not possible in many major temples across India. There is no mandatory fee collection from devotees; no one is required to pay anything to receive the blessings of the deities of Jagannath Temple.

It should be kept in mind that Lord Jagannath is not poor. He is one of the biggest landlords in the Globe. Lord Jagannath temple owns more than 60,000 acres of land which is about 15 times the size of Puri town. Despite huge landed property inside and outside the state, the Temple Administration is facing a funds crunch to meet the deficiency and to make it self-sufficient administration has planned to enhance the corpus fund of the holy temple to Rs.1000 Crore.

As per the official sources, Shree Jagannath Temple has 60,418 acres of land which is about 244.5 Sq. Kilometre. The mind-boggling landed property of Shree Jagannath Temple is left uncared for. As per records Puri town is situated over 16.33 sq. Km. land.

Though the Shree Jagannath Temple has huge landed property, it is yet to ascertain Record of Rights (RoR) of about 25,000 acres of land. A large chunk of the temple property is under encroachment, the administration is earning less than Rs 1 crore per annum from temple’s landed property. At least 350 encroachment cases are lingering in different revenue courts for years. During the last 20 years, the SJTA has been able to sale more than 300 acres of landed property at the cost of about Rs.10 crore.

Landed properties of Lord Jagannath Temple are said to spread over at least 23 districts of the state. That apart in the states of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh the Temple Administration has about 400 acres of landed property.

In the recent past, the Supreme Court of the country took a serious view on the status of the landed property of Lord Jagannath Temple which includes agricultural land, quarries and mines. Though claiming to be ardent devotees of the Lord of the Universe, most of the encroachers and licensees are not paying their dues adequately to the temple.

The Apex Court has specifically directed State Government and SJTA to take note of the vast immovable properties of Shree Jagannath Temple and to ensure that the RoR of the said landed property to be prepared at the earliest. There is a specific provision in the SJTA Act for timely accounting of such valuable properties which is yet to be properly ascertained.

This apart, the temple also owns huge movable properties such as diamond, gold, silver and others. But, ironically, there has been no inventory of Lord’s valuable properties since 1978. The government appears to have no concerns for the Lord’s lands and gold, diamond ornaments even as the entire administration is busy beautifying the outer ambience of the temple. It is good that the government has made several arrangements for the security, beautification and amenities. But, all such measures need the wherewithal which should come from the temple earnings rather than from the Government Exchequer.

SJTA has set a target to enhance the corpus funds to Rs 1000 crore by 2023. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has also made an emotional appeal to the devotees across the globe to donate generously to Shree Jagannath Temple. Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, BJP State President Samir Mohanty, BJP Lawmakers –Lalitendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra and Jayant Mishra, have responded to such appeals and have donated Rs.50,000 each for the temple. Governing BJD Ministers, MPs, MLA and Congress MLAs and leaders are yet to make such a move.

Naveen has thanked the people who sacrificed land for the Lord’s Heritage Corridor. However, what has surprised all is that the State Government’s ‘Lack of Political Will’ to take actions against the persons who continue to encroach the Lord’s lands for generations. The State Government has not been able to retrieve the Lord’s land from these land grabbers, sadly.

Surprisingly, there is no such thinking in the State Administration on this line even as a large number of ministers and mandarins are ardent devotees of the Lord. Even Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are among the prominent devotees. It is high time that the State Government should accord priority to make the Lord’s land encroachment-free and upkeep properties so that the temple can be “Atmanirvar,” without depending on the State Government doles.  

It is also contradictory that on the one hand people in general and merchants in particular, are worshipping Goddess Mahalaxmi for wealth and on the other hand Shree Jagannath Temple which is also the Abode of Mahalaxmi is facing a resource crunch. Let Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik take a call in this regard, who is known for his devotion for Lord Jagannath.