Odisha govt urges Centre to withdraw NMA bylaws for Ekamra Kshetra temples

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(Eds: Adds more inputs) Bhubaneswar, Feb 15 (PTI) The Odisha government on Monday urged the Centre to withdraw the National Monuments Authority (NMA) draft bylaws for Ananta Basudev and Brahmeswar temples in Ekamra Kshetra here.

The plea comes a week after the Centre rolled back the draft regulations for Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri.

In a letter, Odisha Chief Secretary Suresh Chandra Mohapatra requested Union Culture Ministry's Secretary Raghvendra Singh to remove the bylaws for the two temples here, citing apprehension of widespread agitation if immediate action was not taken.

Mentioning that the NMA had in January published a draft heritage bylaws for Shree Jagannath temple at Puri, and Ananta Basudev and Brahmeswar temples of Ekamra Kshetra, Mohapatra pointed out that 'it had generated discontentment among servitors, devotees and people as these temples host living deities'.

He claimed the draft was done without any consultation with stakeholders.

'In view of this, the heritage bylaws relating to Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri have been withdrawn by NMA,' the chief secretary wrote in the letter.

However, the rules for the Ekamra Kshetra temples here have not been rolled back yet, causing distress to the 'sevayats', people at large and devotees, Mohapatra said.

The Ekamra Kshetra in Bhubaneswar has a series of sandstone temples dating back to 3rd century BC and 15th century AD.

The bylaws prohibit and regulate constructions within 100 to 300 metre radius of the monuments that are protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 2010.

In 2020, the state government had planned a beautification project around the Ekamra Kshetra area to develop it as a major tourist attraction.

The chief secretary also said there have been frequent agitations as the draft notification was not withdrawn.

'There is serious apprehension that this will lead to widespread agitation and disturb the daily rituals in the temples.

'This kind of atmosphere in temples is bound to hurt the religious sentiments of lakhs of devotees. The largest congregation of devotees in Ekamra Kshetra will happen on March 11 on the occasion of Maha Shivratri festival,' Mohapatra said.

It is important to have a peaceful atmosphere and full cooperation of servitors for conducting the festival in which lakhs of devotees participate, the chief secretary said.

The top official also urged the NMA to consult with stakeholders, temple administration and the state government on the sensitive religious issue.

'The state government is committed to constructive cooperation,' Mohapatra said.

BJP MP from Bhubaneswar Aparajita Sarangi, who had faced criticism for being silent over the NMA's draft bylaws for Ananta Basudev and Brahmeswar temples in her constituency, on Monday lashed out at the state government, saying that its demand was 'politically motivated'.

'The draft bylaws for five monuments have been issued to invite objections or suggestions. If there is any issue, the state government should file it. What is the meaning of demanding the withdrawal of the draft bylaws?,' the bureaucrat-turned politician told reporters here.

Claiming that the heritage bylaws are intended to help people and preserve the monuments, she said there is no point in demanding the withdrawal of the draft bylaws.

Though there is a restriction relating to any new construction within 100 metres of the prohibited area of an ASI notified monument, Sarangi said there are instances where certain categories of public amenities have been allowed to be built, keeping the heritage character of the place intact.

The BJP MP also rejected the state government's allegation that the local agencies were not taken into consideration before making the draft bylaws.

She claimed the director of the state culture department was aware of the fact.

Sarangi also alleged that the state agencies did not take the Archaeological Survey of India into confidence while taking up the demolition activities for Ekamra Kshetra beautification drive.

She expressed concern over the 'whimsical demolition' of the Sanskrit College near Suka-Sari temple in Bhubaneswar and said the subsequent discovery of heritage structures is a typical example of how central agencies have not been involved in the exercise.

She also alleged that the Odisha government has not shared any architectural plan or detailed project report with the ASI despite requests from the central authorities on the Ekamra Kshetra Heritage initiative.

Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who hails from the state, had on Saturday last week requested the chief secretary to examine every point of the draft bylaws and write a letter to the Secretary of Culture Ministry, listing the objections.