The Orissa High Court ruled that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the managing committee of the Jagannath Temple in Puri will collaborate on the conservation work of the Ratna Bhandar, the treasury inside the 12th-century shrine. In a petition filed by BJP leader Samir Mohanty, the Court refused to interfere in the matter, citing the Supreme Court's 2019 observation that the Shri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee (SJTMC) is the sole repository of faith.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Talapatra and Justice Savitri Ratho said, “Even the apex Court has observed that the SJTMC has to take steps as it is the sole repository of faith. As no mala fide has been attributed in respect of any action of the SJTMC, in our considered view, they should be allowed to function in accordance to their resolution taken in the meeting held on 4th August, 2023.”

Senior Advocate Pitambar Acharya appeared for the Petitioner and Senior Advocate Budhadev Routray appeared for the opposite parties.

The Court noted that the petitioner had raised two important issues viz. (I) safety of the Ratna Bhandar and (II) transparency in respect of the valuable articles stored in the Ratna Bhandar. The Court added, “Even if we dismiss the writ petition on the question of locus standi, that dismissal may not refrain the court from delving deeper into these questions as Shri Jagannath Temple is the beacon of ultimate faith of millions of people.”

The Court thus directed, “the State Government to constitute a High Level Committee, if they are approached by the SJTMC for supervising the process of inventorisation of the valuables including jewelleries stored in the Ratna Bhandar. Such Committee be constituted by the State Government within a period of sixty days from the date when the SJTMC will approach them. The said Committee shall assist the SJTMC in carrying out inventorisation as aforenoted.”

The Court said that if the SJTMC seeks cooperation from the state government, the government should come forward for efficient management. The Court referred to a meeting held in August between ASI and SJTMC, where detailed discussions on Ratna Bhandar's conservation and repair, as well as a fresh inventory of valuables, took place. It was decided in the meeting that Ratna Bhandar would be opened and repaired during the next Rath Yatra.

While dismissing the petitioner's request for immediate intervention the Court said, a high-level committee with a retired high court or Supreme Court judge as its head would supervise the inventory process if the SJTMC approaches the state government.

Cause Title: Samir Mohanty v. State of Odisha & Ors.

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