Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jul 15:
With just two days left for the mega Nabakalebara Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath, everything is in a complete mess in Odisha’s holy town Puri.
Heaps of garbage clog the main drain and several small drains with no slabs to cover the open drains. Construction of roads to shelters remains incomplete while construction of toilets is only halfway through. The condition of the Puri bus stand is better left unsaid.
Despite five ministers, chairman of the Nabakalebara Infrastructure Supervision Committee (NISC) and a whole army of IAS and IPS officers camping in the town to oversee infrastructural preparedness for the grand event, this is the grim scenario at ground zero.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik though could not care less. Apart from holding a lackadaisical review of the situation (the last of which he left in a huff after persistent questioning on the gross under preparedness), he appears completely oblivious of the disaster looming large over this grand festival that is taking place 19 years after the last.
With less than 48 hours left for the great rush of devotees to begin, not a single work has been completed fully. All that the officials responsible offer by way of answer is ‘it will be completed in the next few hours’, ‘by tomorrow’ or at least before Rath Yatra.
The situation is so grave that ministers vested with responsibilities to oversee the completion of infrastructural projects are troubled over the prospects of ceratin failure. Sources said ministers have asked officers to somehow manage things.
Construction of the road from Harekrushnapur to Mangalaghat remains to be completed. Similarly, construction of the five-km stretch of road from Mangalaghat to the beach has been patchy. In the event of rain, commuting on this section of the road will not be possible while movement of heavy vehicles have been restricted on this stretch.
To add to the woes, the weatherman has forecast heavy rains on the day of the Rath Yatra – July 18.
The short spell of low pressure induced rains last week provided a reality check on the state of preparedness. With just 29 mm of rain, water remained stagnant at the Bada Danda (Grand Road) and several other places in the town for hours creating a feel of floods and exposing the chinks in the infrastructure preparedness. But no one seems overly bothered.
The sewerage system in Puri town remains to be completed. The Housing & Urban Development department had said that it will be completed by May; it’s now the middle of July and yet it remains to be completed. The department is yet to make provision of safe drinking water for the devotees.
It was decided to rebuild 54 roads inside Puri town. Those are yet to be completed. Everywhere, the place is littered with piles of earth. The H& UD department has claimed that out of 27 toilet projects, 24 are complete. But it’s under construction near the temporary shelters at the Nabakalebara Village. Though its being claimed that 22 km of drains have been constructed, those are yet to be covered with concrete slabs. The prospects of rains and discharge of rain water is giving sleepless nights to the devotees, but not the officials.
Puri has 448 acres of area where sweet water aquifers are located. Even the British were aware of these aquifers but had not allowed them to be tapped ad have kept this land reserved in 1931. Later in a case pertaining to safeguarding of the area, the High Court had clearly directed that no projects can be undertaken in that area. Based on the High Court’s directions the collector had informed the executive officer of the Puri Municipality on November 17, 2007 on this account. However, vehicle parking lot and toilets have been constructed on this place where the sweet water aquifers are located. Locals and environmentalists have expressed concern over this.
Moreover, temporary shelters and parking lots have been constructed in farmlands where knee-deep water accumulates with just a little rain. Carpets have been laid out on sand where devotees will take rest. Constructions of roads to the temporary shelters are yet to be completed. An amount of Rs 16.5 crore has been spent on this account. No street lights have been put up on the roads leading to these temporary shelters for devotees.