The Supreme Court reserved till Friday its order on a plea alleging illegal excavation and construction work by the Odisha government at the famed Shree Jagannath temple in Puri.
A vacation bench of Justices B R Gavai and Hima Kohli said it would pronounce its order after the counsel for the parties completed their arguments.
At the outset, senior advocate Mahalakshmi Pavani, appearing for the petitioner, said there’s a clear embargo there can be no construction in the prohibited area. “They (state government) did not even take permission to construct in the regulated area,” she submitted.
The state, she said, got a no objection certificate from the National Monuments Authority (NMA) and went ahead. She said the NMA could not have granted a valid certificate and this is something only the director of archaeology in the Central or the state government can do.
Advocate General for Odisha Ashok Kumar Parija submitted that under The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, the authority is the NMA, and the competent authority has been notified to be the Odisha government’s director culture.
“Construction does not mean repair or remake existing structures or clean the sewage, drains etc. This is how it is understood and DG ASI also understands the same way. “Grant of permission was by director culture… director culture pf the government of Odisha is the competent authority. What was prohibited within 100 metres was construction. The concept plan of the state aims to provide amenities and beautify the temple,” he said.
He added that 60,000 people visit the temple everyday and there is need for more toilets.
“The amicus curiae in the case pointed out there was a necessity of more toilets and court had issued directions in that regard,” he added.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by Ardhendu Kumar Das and others alleging illegal excavation and construction work by the Odisha government at the temple.
According to the petition, state agencies have been working in gross violation of Section 20A of The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. The plea alleged that the Odisha government is carrying out unauthorised construction work. This poses a serious threat to the structure of the ancient temple, it said.