Govt failure to control crowd near Jagannath Temple draws flak

Govt failure to control crowd near Jagannath Temple draws flak

Bhubaneswar, Nov 21 (PTI) The Odisha government has come in for flak from opposition parties for allegedly failing to manage huge crowds of devotees in front of the Puri Shree Jagannath Temple and the elderly fainting while waiting in long queues. The opposition BJP and Congress Tuesday held the state government responsible for the alleged mismanagement at the 12th century shrine during the holy month of Kartik and announced that they will raise the issue in the Assembly.

“The present situation is simply the outcome of the administration’s decision to close three of the four gates of the temple. Though we have been demanding that all the temple gates be opened in view of the rush during Kartik month, the administration has remained silent. People are facing a lot of miseries,” said senior Congress leader Prasad Harichandan, who hails from Puri district.

Of the four gates to the temple only the Lion's Gate, which is the main gate, is open for devotees.

Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief administrator Ranjan Kumar Das’s appeal to elderly devotees to refrain from entering the temple with a crowd has added fuel to the ongoing debate.

“Keeping in view the heavy rush, we appeal to devotees not to join the crowd. The aged who are sick or are physically weak and cannot stand for long hours can pray to the Lord at any place they like,” Das said on Monday.

The Congress hit out at the Odisha government on Tuesday and termed the SJTA chief’s appeal as “illegal”.

“Indian Constitution guarantees people to practice their religious beliefs. Restricting people from visiting Jagannath Dham is against the Constitution and illegal. The government has gone against the law by seeking to restrict elderly and sick people from visiting the temple. It has also put a barrier between the devotees and the deities.

He said a large number of old and sick people visit the temple during this time of the year to offer prayers at the shrine and seek the blessings of the Lord. It is therefore unfair to ask them to refrain from visiting the shrine during Kartik month.

BJP chief whip Mohan Majhi criticising the state government said that his party will raise the issue in the Assembly. “It is unfortunate that the SJTA appealed to the elderly people not to visit the temple. It is not acceptable,” he said.

Das later said his statement was misinterpreted. 'We welcome devotees of all sections, including elderly persons. Warwe, shed and other arrangements are made for the smooth darshan of the deities,' he said.

BJD leader Sudhir Samal said that the state government will open all the gates of the temple at the 'proper time'.

“It is natural that the number of devotees increases during the month of Kartik. For this some problems are created,” Samal said.

Another BJD leader said that three temple gates barring the Lion's Gate (Singhadwara) are closed due to the ongoing heritage project work.

Meanwhile, the SJTA chief said that a public address system has been arranged from Tuesday to inform devotees at regular intervals about the situation of the crowd from the Singhadwara to Marichi Kotta chhak, about 500 m away. The Grand Road will be barricaded between the two points.

He said devotees may also come to the information center at the Lion’s Gate and assess the situation before entering the temple.

Puri district collector Samarth Verma said the administration has engaged more volunteers since Tuesday to help the elderly devotees. Temporary toilets have been set up for devotees on both sides of the Grand Road, which leads to the temple, he said.

It was also decided that makeshift shops on the road will be closed for five days during ‘Panchuka’ ( the last five days of Kartik) in view of the heavy rush of devotees visiting the Jagannath Temple.

A total of 40 platoons of the police will be deployed during 'Panchuka' and vehicular movement will not be allowed on the Grand Road towards the temple, Verma said.

DIG (Central Range) Ashish Singh said necessary measures are being taken to ensure the safety and security of the devotees during the five days. PTI AAM AAM KK

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