The ongoing Puri Heritage Corridor construction work might have caused damage to the 800-year-old Jagannath Temple there and the state government project was being carried out without valid permission from the competent authorities, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Monday informed the Orissa High Court.

Hearing a PIL claiming that construction work for the project has affected the health of the temple, the court had asked the ASI, the custodian of the 12th-century shrine, to undertake a joint inspection of the site with the state government and file a report to the Court.

There is every possibility that the construction agency OBCC (Odisha Bridge Construction Company) during the excavation and removal of the earth might have destroyed the archaeological remains of the heritage site, the ASI said in an affidavit.

A Division Bench headed by Chief Justice S Muralidhar, however, said the report is vague and fails to be specific as to whether any actual damage has been caused to the temple.

Asking the state government to file its reply to the ASI's affidavit, the Bench posted the matter to be heard again on May 22.

Later, the state government said in a statement that the most important fact is that the Court allowed it to continue with the work at Parikrama Site in cooperation with ASI and rejected the prayer of the petitioner to stay the construction work.

Petitioner Dilip Baral, on the other hand, claimed that his assertion that the state government has been undertaking construction work without proper permission has now been proved to be true.

We urge the Court to ensure that the law of the land is properly implemented while carrying out construction works in the sensitive heritage site like Shree Jagannath Temple, he said.

The ongoing construction work of the project being carried out by the Odisha government inside the prohibited area of the ancient monument has no valid permission or no objection certificate (NOC) from the competent authorities, it said.

The state had informed the court that correspondences were exchanged between the Odisha government and the National Monuments Authority (NMA), which functions under the Union Ministry of Culture and is responsible for grant of permission for construction-related activity in the prohibited and regulated areas.

Appearing for the state, Advocate General AK Parija submitted that the NOC was granted by the NMA on September 4, 2021. He also produced a copy of the document.

In its 70-page affidavit to the high court, the ASI said that the drawings and structural designs included in the revised detailed project report (DPR) are different from the ones presented to the NMA.

The ASI has observed that the construction work of the project is in progress within the prohibited and regulated areas of the monument.

As directed by the high court, the ASI along with officials of OBCC, Shree Jagannath Temple Administration and the Puri district collector made a joint inspection of the site last week.

The affidavit claimed that during the joint inspection, the OBCC managing director said that till date no permission or approval from the NMA or any competent authorities was available for structural activities and the design of the project.

The MD has further informed (the ASI) that there are deviations in plan and elevation as well as in the project design. In the revised proposal, the height of various structural units had been increased and more units have been added.

No heritage impact assessment studies have been conducted before commencement of the project. At several locations stratified deposits of about 15 to 20 ft have taken place, which has caused irreparable damage to the heritage site, the ASI said in its affidavit.

The petitioner has prayed that the court give an order to stop the construction activities undertaken by the state administration for a developmental project near the temple allegedly violating the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.

According to the provisions of the Act, the area within 100 meters from a monument is a prohibited' zone while that within 200 meters falls under the regulated' category, the petition said.

The state government has not taken permission from the ASI for the construction work, the petitioner submitted. Cracks have appeared in the Nata Mandap of the 12th-century shrine due to these construction activities and continued construction work will pose a threat to the structure of the temple, it said.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik along with Puri's titular king Gajapati Dibya Singha Deb had last year laid the foundation stone for the project which seeks to provide better amenities to pilgrims, including toilets and cloakrooms.

With PTI inputs