BHUBANESWAR: Tourists and commuters had a harrowing time on Sunday with the approach roads to Puri and Konark blocked by people, protesting the state government's move to settle their land in favour of Jagannath Temple Administration.
Sources said bulk of Puri residents, who had earlier purchased land from mutts, received a jolt in 1992 when the revenue department ordered to settle all land having lineage to Lord Jagannath in favour of the temple administration.
"The revenue department's circular is illegal and arbitrary. Land titles of around 80% people of Puri have been transferred in the name of Jagannath, though they had been paying taxes regularly and possess valid documents," Bhu Sampati Surakshya Parishad (BSSP) convener Surendra Dash told mediapersons. The social outfit has been fighting for the land titles for over a decade now.
BSSP campaign committee chairman and former Puri MLA Uma Ballav Rath said the residents had purchased land from mutts after obtaining permission from the commissioner of endowment. "The government and temple administration have no rights to ask the registrar to stop sale and transfer of the land, the finance institutions not to extend loans and the development authority not to sanction plans on the land," Rath said.
The BSSP activists had staged several demonstrations in the past and once stopped chief minister Naveen Patnaik from visiting Puri, demanding that the circular be scraped. The chief minister had constituted a five-member body to redress grievances related to land holdings, but to no avail.
The temple administration said it would look into the matter. "No one can occupy Jagannath's land illegally. We will consider if they submit applications with valid documents, claiming ownership over the land. They will have to pay a premium to get the land registered in their name," said a temple officer.
Harassed tourists, including foreigners, expressed displeasure and said the protesters spoiled their holiday plans. "They could have held peaceful demonstrations without tormenting commuters," said Jayesh Mukherjee, a tourist.