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Will OBCC protect or damage our cultural heritage?

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Will OBCC protect or damage our cultural heritage?

After ruling Odisha for over two decades, the Biju Janata Dal government has given importance to the development of temples and other religious institutions to make its grip over the state’s politics stronger. The state government has been making plans for the infrastructural development of temples, mutts, and other cultural heritages in the last few years and is spending hundreds of crores of rupees for it.

The state-owned Odisha Bridge and Construction Corporation (OBCC) has been entrusted with implementing the development plans. However, as the OBCC has neither expertise nor interest to implement the projects, it has been reduced to being a commission agent. This may have an adverse effect on the heritage sites.

OBCC, an autonomous agency of the Odisha government, was formed in 1983 with the aim to construct public buildings and bridges in the state. Till now, the bylaw of the OBCC indicates that its main jobs are the construction and maintenance of bridges, and the collection of tolls. This is clear if we look at the work taken up by the OBCC till August 2022.

According to information provided by OBCC under the Right to Information Act, it is taking care of the construction, maintenance, and development of 45 projects and for that purpose, it has agreements with several other companies. It has paid those companies over Rs.2,000 crore out of the fund it has got from the state government.  

The “Jagannath Temple Parikrama” is the main project among such projects. The Parikrama project itself has over a dozen projects including the renovation of the historic ponds and mutts and the development of Atharanala and Badadanda.

Besides, the government has been announcing other projects for the development of temples and religious institutions one by one over the years to create a “Hindu façade” for the ruling party to keep pace with the use of religion for political gains in contemporary politics. Such projects include the development of Kendrapara’s Baladev Jiu Temple, Cuttack Chandi Temple. Jagatsinghpur’s Sarala Temple and Mayurbhanj’s Hariballabh Jiu Temple.

Though the projects involve restoration and protection of cultural heritage dating back to hundreds, even thousands, of years, they don’t include archaeologists and related experts in their human resources. On the other hand, the OBCC has engineer Jaya Krishna Das, who has been able to extend his tenure thrice even after his retirement, as its managing director.

It has been witnessed earlier how lack of expertise has erased several mutts, which were a part of Puri’s cultural heritage, from the face of the earth and how the iconic Raghunandan Library was destroyed. Similarly, in the absence of proper expertise, other temples, mutts, and cultural and religious centers may meet the same fate; the projects may reduce to just construction business only.

The state’s ruling party may extract short-term electoral benefits by exploiting the religious sentiments of people, but in the process, there is a danger of permanent damage done to our cultural heritage of thousands of years. 

After renovation view of north gate of Sreemandir

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