Jagannath temple treasury keys go missing, Naveen Patnaik orders probe as Opposition lashes out at government

Bhubaneswar: Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday ordered a judicial probe into the disappearance of the keys of the 12th-century Jagannath temple's treasury, an official statement said.

Patnaik, after discussions with law minister Pratap Jena and Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief PK Jena, asserted that a judicial commission would be entrusted with the responsibility of looking into the matter, the statement issued by the chief minister's office said.

"The inquiry will be conducted by a retired Orissa High Court judge with a focus on the circumstances that led to the disappearance of Ratna Bhandar (temple treasury) keys." it said.

As Lord Jagannath's annual Rath Yatra is scheduled to be held on 14 July, the one-man inquiry commission will submit its report after the festival, it added.

At a meeting of the Sri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee on 4 April, it was recorded for the first time that the keys of the inner chambers of the Ratna Bhandar had gone missing, Ramchandra Das Mahapatra, a member of the committee, said on Sunday.

File image of Jagannath Rath Yatra. Reuters

File image of Jagannath Rath Yatra. Reuters

The matter came up for discussion again during a committee meeting last week, he had said, adding that it was noted that neither the temple administration nor the Puri district treasury has the key to the inner chambers of the treasury.

As per norms, a panel is formed each time before opening the Ratna Bhandar. The members of the panel are supposed to hand over the keys to Puri collector after work, a source in the temple administration said.

"The inner chambers of the Ratna Bhandar were last opened in 1984. Puri collector Arabinda Agarwal, during the committee meeting last week, said there was no report of key submission after that instance," he added.

A 16-member team that entered the 'Ratna Bhandar' on 4 April for a scrutiny of its physical conditions, in line with the high court order, had to inspect its inner chambers from outside an iron grill with search lights.

It now appears that the team members were told to carry out inspection from outside as the keys were not available.

The episode had triggered a statewide outcry with political parties, including the BJP, seeking a clarification from the chief minister.

Slamming the government over the issue, Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee chief Niranjan Patnaik on Monday questioned the chief minister's intention in constituting a judicial commission.

"Announcing a judicial inquiry into this sensitive issue is a tactic of the chief minister to divert public attention. He had ordered several judicial commissions over the past 18 years. What has been the result?" the OPCC president asked.

The BJP, too, sought the chief minister's statement on the matter.

"If the keys went missing two months ago, why did the state officials remain silent on the matter? This order (judicial inquiry) is simply an eyewash," BJP state vice president Samir Mohanty said, alleging that the administration knew about it even on 4 April when the inspection team surveyed the Ratna Bhandar. The government should register a criminal case in the matter instead of ordering a judicial probe, he opined.

Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati had criticised the state government on Sunday over the episode. "It shows that the state government and the temple administration have failed to discharge their responsibilities," the Shankaracharya had said.

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Updated Date: Jun 04, 2018 18:19:16 IST

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