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Puri in flames over temple queue system

The administration has agreed to allow residents to enter the temple by any gate, but they have to carry identity cards

By Subhashish Mohanty in Bhubaneshwar

  • Published 4.10.18, 2:32 AM
  • Updated 4.10.18, 2:32 AM
Protesters burn tyres to block roads during the daylong bandh in Puri on Wednesday.
Protesters burn tyres to block roads during the daylong bandh in Puri on Wednesday. Picture by Sarat Kumar Patra

Pilgrim town Puri turned into a battlefield on Wednesday after servitors of the Jagannath temple, members of the voluntary outfit Jagannath Sena and local people fought police for nearly six hours during a daylong bandh called to protest a queue system for devotees.

Nearly 35 people, including 12 cops, were injured in the clash.

By evening, the violence had its desired effect, with the administration agreeing to allow residents to enter the temple using any gate. But they have to carry identity cards to enter the premises.

The Grand Road leading to the temple turned into a battlefield on Wednesday morning as the demonstrators removed barricades set up outside the shrine to regulate pilgrims and set on fire the traffic police outpost at Medical Square.

The mob then ransacked the Singhdwar police outpost and the temple administration office, threw stones at the residence of the district superintendent of police Sarthak Sarangi and resorted to violence at the house of Puri MLA and revenue minister Maheshwar Mohanty. The demonstrators alleged that Mohanty had failed to ventilate the feelings of the local people on the temple reform issue.

Life was crippled in Puri as shops, business establishments and educational institution were shut, while traffic came to a halt with protesters picketing and blocking roads at several places, the police said.

As dawn broke, the police picked up Jagannath Sena chief Priyadarshan Patnaik from his house. The news of Patnaik’s detention added to the anger of his followers, who helped by a section of the servitors and local residents, went on the rampage.

“While people defied the queue system and entered the temple premises, the servitors allegedly uprooted the barricades installed inside the temple. The detention of Patnaik fomented the violence. People also uprooted the barricades set up outside the temple and ransacked the temple office,” said an eyewitness.

Police chase protesters on Grand Road in Puri
Police chase protesters on Grand Road in Puri Picture by Sarat Kumar Patra

To control the mob, the police resorted to lathicharge, lobbed tear gas shells and used water cannons. Later, the police staged a flag march on the Grand Road. The eyewitness said: “Initially, the protestors outnumbered the police, who were not ready for such a violent protest.”

The mob also damaged several vehicles parked along the Grand Road. It took the arrival of IG Soumendra Priyadarshi to marshal the police force and take command of the situation.

“Police have been deployed at strategic places to avoid any untoward situation,” said director general of police R.P. Sharma.

He claimed that normalcy had been restored in the town and in the evening devotees could get “darshan” of the deities. The police also released Patnaik in the evening.

The sena had called the bandh to press for a slew of demands but in the end it turned out to be a battle over the queue system that the temple administration had enforce from October 1 following suggestions of the Supreme Court.

The apex court appointed amicus curiae Gopal Subramaniam, who had visited the shrine last month, asked the temple administration to submit a report on Wednesday’s incident.

District collector Jyoti Prakash Das assured the people that the authorities would re-examine the queue system.

“We are seriously thinking how the local people don’t face any problem while entering the temple.”

Under the queue system, devotees have to enter the temple through the Singhadwar and leave through the three other gates.

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