Orissa High Court: In a public interest litigation petition regarding the management of the Ratna Bhandar of Shri Jagannath Temple, Puri, the division Bench of S. Talapatra, CJ.* and Savitri Ratho, J. directed the State Government to constitute a High-Level Committee for supervising the conduct of inventory of the valuables including jewelleries stored in the Ratna Bhandar.
The petitioner had questioned the apathy in preparing the inventory of the ornaments and valuables of Shri Jagannath Temple kept in the Ratna Bhandar. The petitioner was also aggrieved by the pending repair work of the Ratna Bhandar, which was emergent in nature for safety of the old structure and the Shri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee (‘the Committee’) was not taking that up. The petitioner alleged the Committee of not discharging their duties ‘to ensure the safe custody of the funds, valuable securities and Jewelleries and for the preservation and management of the properties vested in the Temple” and “to do all such things as may be incidental and conducive to the efficient management of the affairs of the Temple and its endowments or to the convenience of the pilgrims’, as postulated under Section 15 of the Shri Jagannath Temple Act, 1955 (‘1955 Act’).
The Court noted that the Committee had requested the State Government to constitute a High-Level Committee under the Chairmanship of a retired Judge either of the High Court or of the Supreme Court to supervise the conduct of the inventory of the ornaments or valuables stored in the Ratna Bhandar as well as to determine its modus operandi. The Court also perused the minutes of the meeting, where Superintending Archaeologist, Archeological Survey of India (‘ASI’) suggested that the status of the inner portion of the Ratna Bhandar could also be assessed through laser scanning from outside of the Ratna Bhandar and the repair could be taken up by opening of the Inner Bhandar during Rath Yatra next year after making assessment of the inner status. The Court also noted that the Committee had agreed with the ASI’s suggestions.
On perusal of the minutes of the meeting, the Court said that no mala fide intention of the Committee could be brought out. Therefore, the Court directed the State Government to constitute a High-Level Committee for supervising the conduct of inventory of the valuables including jewelries stored in the Ratna Bhandar, if approached by the Committee with a period of sixty days from the date of approaching. Further, the Court observed that the ASI and the Committee will collaborate actively on the conservation works of the Ratna Bhandar and that the State Government shall come forward for efficient management when their cooperation will be sought by the Committee.
[Samir Mohanty v. State of Odisha, 2023 SCC OnLine Ori 5845, Decided on 29-09-2023]
*Judgment Authored by: Chief Justice S. Talapatra
*Deeksha Dabas, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.