The BJP and the Congress separately demanded that the Biju Janata Dal government in Odisha open the ‘Ratna Bhandar’ of the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri, and make public the report of a judicial commission formed to probe into the issue of missing keys of the 12th-century shrine’s treasury.
The demands were raised on Thursday, two days after the Orissa High Court asked the state government to file its response by July 10 on a petition praying for making public the report of Justice Raghubir Das Commission of Inquiry on the missing Ratna Bhandar keys.
“The judicial panel submitted its report to the state government in November 2018, about five years ago. The government has not taken any action on it and kept it in cold storage,” BJP spokesperson Pitamber Acharya said.
If the government believes in transparency, the judicial commission report should be made public without further delay, senior Congress leader Bijay Patnaik said.
The ruling BJD in a statement said the Ratna Bhandar was not opened for 38 years since 1985 and the opposition should refrain from indulging in politics in the name of Lord Jagannath.
The Ratna Bhandar, located in the basement of the temple, has two parts. The outer chamber of the Ratna Bhandar stores ornaments used by the deities on a daily basis, while many pieces of jewellery are kept in the inner chamber of the treasury.
While the keys to the outer chamber are available, the keys to the inner chamber are missing.
Acharya said the people have serious doubts about the assertion made by the government for the last five years that it has a duplicate key.
An attempt was made to open the inner chamber of ‘Ratna Bhandar’ in April 2018 following a directive of the Orissa High Court, but it was not successful as keys were not found at that time. A team, comprising ASI officials, priests and others, then carried out an inspection from outside.
However, a few days after the inspection, the government said a duplicate key of the inner chamber has been found.
“The state government must give a clarification on the issue of missing keys and how a duplicate was found,” he said.
The BJP leader also sought to know why the government is reluctant to open the Ratna Bhandar if it has a duplicate key.
Acharya also wondered why the state government is not opening the inner chamber even after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in an affidavit to the court mentioned that there is a threat to Ratna Bhandar and urgent repair work is required.
He claimed that people across the country suspect that the valuables of the Ratna Bhandar have been looted.
“It is the responsibility of the state government to make the Commission of Inquiry report public,” Congress leader Bijay Patnaik said.
The BJD government is not maintaining its own policy of maintaining transparency, he said.
“I had seen huge quantities of gold, diamond and ornaments wrapped in clothes and kept in wooden boxes,” former temple administrator Rabindra Narayan Mishra, who was part of a team that inspected the inner chamber in 1978, said.
All the precious items have been listed and weighed properly during the last inspection, he said, adding that the valuation of the asset could not be ascertained as goldsmiths from Tamil Nadu and Gujarat were not able to calculate the actual value of the ornaments at that time.
In 1985 when the Ratna Bhandar was opened again, no fresh inventory was made.
Mishra supported the demand for a fresh inventory of the ornaments stored in the Ratna Bhandar and allow the ASI to inspect its condition.
In 2021, then law minister Pratap Jena informed the assembly that according to the 1978 inventory, the Ratna Bhandar had 12,831 ‘bharis’ of gold and 22,153 ‘bharis’ of silver (one bhari is equal to 11.66 grams).
The treasury also had 12,831 grams of gold ornaments with precious stones and other valuables, he had said.
As much as 22,153 grams of silver with expensive stones, silver utensils and other valuables were found there, Jena had mentioned, adding that due to various reasons, 14 gold and silver items could not be weighed during the inventory process.