Friday, July 7, 2023

Orissa HC issues contempt notice to Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri on lack of accessibility and dignified access to devotees with disabiliites

Court:  High Court of Orissa at Cuttack

Bench: Hon'ble Justice Biswanath Rath

Case No: CONTC NO.3478 OF 2023 

Arising from Case:   W.P.(C).No.2697 of 2022 decided on 28.02.2022

Case Title:  Jitendra Kumar Biswal  versus Gajapati Maharaja Dibya Singh Deb, Chairman, Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri & Ors. 

Date of Order/Contempt Notice: 07.07.2023


A prominent disability right activist and a wheelchair user himself filed a second contempt petition in Orissa High Court following State government’s failure to provide accessible facilities for disabled particularly wheelchair user devotee's access to 12th century Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri, despite the court twice ordering to do so.

The issue was first raised by the present petitioner Jitendra Kumar Biswal (50), a resident of Bhubaneswar, a person with disability and also a disability rights activist, who filed a PIL seeking judicial intervention for facilitating the free movement of devotees who are wheelchair users, within the temple complex in January 2022. 

While disposing of the petition on February 28, 2022, the Hight Court had said, “In view of the urgency involved in this matter and as a decision in the matter is required to be taken by the administrative authority at the first hand, this court directs that Shree Jagannath Temple Committee and chief administrator, Puri Jagannath Temple to collectively take a lawful decision in the matter by treating the petition as a representation at the instance of the petitioner.”

However, Biswal filed a contempt petition when the order was not complied with. Acting on it, the HC on December 20 last year said, “Considering this is the first contempt petition, this court disposes of the same directing all the contemnors (chairman of temple managing committee, chief administrator, Puri Jagannath Temple and collector, Puri) to work out the February 28, 2022 direction of this court in the disposal of the petition/representation at least within a further period of one month.”.

But petitioner was forced to file a fresh (second) contempt petition. The petitioner expects authorities to make designated space within the inner sanctum of Jagannath Temple for wheelchair-using devotees to offer their prayers and to have a clear view of the three deities. He also expected the authorities to make other provisions that may be required within the temple complex for the free movement of wheelchair-using devotees. 

During March 2023, there were media reports that the Temple Administration were proposing to provide special services. According to the proposal, the PwD devotees will be carried to the sanctum sanctorum by volunteers on their back just like it is done by ‘pithoos’ at Amarnath and Vaishno Devi temples. Around 30 devotees will be taken inside the temple through the existing ramp at the north gate (Uttara Dwara) of the shrine every day.

As per the preliminary proposal, the PwD visitors will have to book their visit to the temple through a dedicated portal and produce a 100 per cent disability certificate before entry. They can be accompanied by one family member. At the Uttara Dwara, a reception centre with a bathroom has been proposed to be set up where the devotees can wait for their turn.  

It was reported that the sevayats have agreed that such devotees can be provided a special darshan from 2 pm to 4 pm after the Bhoga mandapa rituals are over and when entry of general devotees is closed.

It was proposed that from the Uttara Dwara, the PwD visitors will be carried to Jay Bijaya Dwara through Ghanti Dwara for ‘darshan’ and brought back through the same route. For this purpose, the Suara and Maha Suara servitors can be roped in as they have experience of carrying head loads of bhoga in the temple. A devotee can re-book a visit to the temple only after two months of the first visit. However, these proposals have not found favour with the usergroups since this doesn't address the accessibility of the place and engages in to practices of physically lifting devotees with disabilities as sac of patotoes compromising with their dignity, respect and equal right to worship.

The contempt petition is against the following as named contemnors:-  

1) Gajapati Maharaja Dibya Singha Deb, Chairman, Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri
2) Ranjan Kumar Dash, Chief Administrator Puri, Jagannath Temple Puri.
3) Samarth Verma, The Collector, Puri.

The petition alleges violation of this Court’s direction in disposal of W.P.(C).No.2697 of 2022 on 28.02.2022. There is serious allegation that more than one year has passed in the meanwhile and there is no compliance to the direction of this Court in the above writ petition.

"This Court hopes and trusts that by the next date of posting of the matter, there shall be arrangement for removing the inconvenience faced by the senior citizen or the handicapped people in having their visiting and observing the deities in the Lord Jagannath temple." says the order issuing contempt notice.

Below is the copy of the order:

In a tweet, the petitioner Mr. Jitendra Kumar Biswal, expressed his hope in following terms: 

Here is the Order disposing off the original writ petition W.P.(C).No.2697 of 2022 filed by same petitioner in 28 Feb 2022.

No comments:

Post a Comment