BJD, BJP Spar Over New Panel For Jagannath Temple’s Ratna Bhandar Opening

Bhubaneswar: The official date for opening of Ratna Bhandar of Shree Jagannath Temple is likely to be announced on Saturday following a meeting of the new committee, reconstituted by dissolving the Justice Arijit Pasayat-led panel set up during the previous BJD regime in March.

Addressing a presser on Thursday, Law Minister Prithviraj Harichandan informed about the 16-member high level committee under the chairmanship of Justice Biswanath Rath, former Judge of Orissa High Court. “The wait and mystery surrounding the Ratna Bhandar for the last 46 years is going to end soon. The committee will hold its first meeting on Saturday at the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) office at Puri to draw modalities for Ratna Bhandar’s inventory,” he said, adding that the audit would start a few days after Rath Yatra.

The decision a day ahead of Justice Pasayat-led panel’s scheduled meeting on Friday, which was to be followed by inventorisation-related exercise over the next three weeks, has triggered a war of words between the ruling BJP and Opposition BJD.

New 16-Member Committee

The new high-level committee to supervise the reopening of Ratna Bhandar for repair and inventory of valuables stored inside the treasury also include retired IAS officer Jagdish Mohanty, former DGP Prakash Mishra, former DMET CBK Mohanty, renowned sand artist Sudarsan Patnaik, Chartered Accountant Rajib Sahu and Swami Pragyananda. It also has representatives of ASI and Gajapati Maharaj and Puri Collector with SJTA chief administrator as the member convenor.

Also Read: Odisha Govt Forms Fresh Panel For Inventory Of Ratna Bhandar Valuables

Politics Over Panel Change

On March 2, 2024, the BJD government had formed a 12-member committee, led by Justice Arijit Pasayat, on the direction of Orissa High Court to supervise Ratna Bhandar inventorisation and conservation work. Justice Pasayat had held two meetings and arrived in Bhubaneswar on Thursday.

BJD MLA and opposition whip Pramila Mallik has questioned the government’s intention behind dissolving this committee headed by a former judge of Supreme court. “There is no consistency in the statements being issued by the government. They have been going back and forth on opening of Ratna Bhandar. People of the state are being taken for a ride. Had their intentions been good, they would have not dissolved the panel led by a jurist like Justice Arijit Pasayat,” she told reporters.

The Law Minister termed these allegations as unfortunate and shameful. “The BJD government could not open the treasury despite being in power for 24 years. They could not take up the inventorisation work. Within 20-25 days of assuming office, we have formed a panel to decide the date for opening of Ratna Bhandar. The inventory will be matched and digital photograph of each item will preserved and a catalogue will be prepared, which will become a reference document for the temple administration for the next 50 years,” he said.

An Election Issue 

The BJP raked up issue of “missing keys” of Ratna Bhandar, the treasury of the 12th-century shrine containing gold and jewelleries offered by devotees across the world through years, and it took centre stage of poll discourse in Odisha.

While launching the election manifesto for assembly polls, BJP national president J P Nadda said an investigation into the missing key of Ratna Bhandar will be initiated after the party comes to power in Odisha and also promised inventory of the jewelleries kept there. Union Home Minister Amit Shah told a public meeting in Cuttack that the new BJP government would make public the report of the judicial commission set up to probe the missing keys of Ratna Bhandar.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was even criticised for driving wedge between states for his remarks at a campaign in Odisha that “the keys of Ratna Bhandar, the inner chamber of the Shri Jagannath Temple in Puri, had been taken to Tamil Nadu”.

However, Ratna Bhandar along with ‘Odia Asmita’ plank turned the tide in favour of BJP, which grabbed 78 of 147 seats in the Assembly. The party also swept the Lok Sabha polls, winning 20 of 21 seats.

First Meeting

After winning the elections, the BJP government has shown an urgency to open the treasury. The chairman of the new committee Justice Biswanath Rath also emphasised on the opening of Ratna Bhandar and inspection of the inner chamber by a team of experts in coordination with the ASI. “We can take a decision on the inventory of the valuables after getting an idea of the condition of the inner chamber. Steps will be taken for safe keeping of the jewelleries and valuables stored in both inner and outer chambers of Ratna Bhandar. We also have to pick the right people, who can examine the quality of the valuables stored in the treasury. The first meeting will focus on the opening procedure and safeguarding valuables,” he told a local channel.

Notably, the inner chamber of Ratna Bhandar, also called Bhitara Bhandar, has not been opened since 1985. The last inventory, conducted in 1978, was completed in 70 days from May 13-July 23. In 2018, a 17-member team had entered the Bahara Ratna Bhandar but could not step inside the Bhitara Bhandar in absence of its keys.




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