Why the Lingaraj Temple Ordinance in Orissa has become a bone of contention

Orissa seems to be facing a political confrontation as the Biju Janata Dal-led government has blamed the Center for opposing the state ordinance aimed at changing the peripherals at the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar in the interest of devotees. The Congress has also blamed the Center for opposing the ordinance while the BJP says development activities should be in accordance with the law.

So what is it that the Center is opposing the ordinance of the state government?

The Orissa government has proposed in an ordinance to bring the 11th century Lingaraj temple and eight other temples under the control of a 15-member committee with a Hindu IAS officer as an administration like the Jagannath temple.

The Union Home Ministry, in a letter to Chief Secretary Suresh Chandra Mohapatra, sought clarification on the ordinance to cover 12 centrally protected monuments, including the Lingaraj Temple and three tanks. The Center is of the view that it may be outside the “legislative powers” of the State Legislature and may conflict with the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (AMASR Act). The center further said that the AMASR Act prohibits new construction within 100 meters of a protected monument. At present, the Lingaraj Temple is governed by the Odisha Hindu Religious Endowment Act, 1951.

The ruling BJD has questioned the motives of the BJP-led central government. While issuing the letter, the state government led by Naveen Patnaik said that they have undertaken development work in the interest of the fans.

Ekmara MLA and Minister Ashok Chandra Panda justified the state government’s move, and asked if development work could be done at Kashi Bishwanath, Somnath and Kedarnath temples, why not Lingaraj temple? The state government has already clarified the ordinance to the Center, and will “clarify it once more” if necessary, Panda said.

Meanwhile, Congress MLA Suresh Kumar Rautre said the central government should discuss the issue and resolve it “as soon as possible” as the work would not jeopardize the interests of the fans.

In response, BJP Orissa president Sameer Mohanty said his party was not against development but the country’s laws should not be violated. “The state government should do everything within the provisions of the constitution,” Mohanty said.

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