The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mishap cover for devotees

Bhubaneswar, April 14: Taking a lesson from the last year’s stampede in the Jagannath temple, the state government has decided to provide accident cover of Rs 5 lakh to all the devotees visiting the temple town this June for Rath Yatra.

The insurance cover would be provided to the devotees for a period of 15 days between the Naba Yauban Darshan — a day before the Rath Yatra starts and the auspicious Niladri Vijaya — four days after the three chariots return to the main temple after the sojourn. Around 4 million devotees throng Puri during this period of time every year.

According to the scheme, any devotee passing away in a stampede or any such accident or is rendered permanently disabled under the jurisdiction of Puri municipality during this period would receive Rs 5 lakh each. The insurance company is yet to be decided, though.

Boasting of the noble scheme, Puri temple chief administrator Suresh Mohapatra claimed: “Such an insurance is first of its kind in the eastern India.”

Last year, the Kumbh Mela organisers in Allahabad had introduced an insurance scheme for devotees.

Mohapatra said a group health insurance plan for the poor sevayats (temple priests) is also on the cards. “The plan will cover up to five family members of a sevayat, including spouse. The sevayats can avail a cover ranging from Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000 annually according to their medical needs,” said Mohapatra.

The premium for both the schemes would be paid by the Puri district administration. “Being a group insurance product, we are looking for cheaper annual premium charges. Quotations from different financial agencies have already been invited,” said Mohapatra.

Significantly, a stampede at the 12th century temple in November last year left four persons, including three women, dead and around 20 others injured. The stampede occurred when a huge crowd of pilgrims surged forward after a door to the sanctum sanctorum in the shrine was opened. Several people had died in a similar incident during “Nagarjuna Besa” of the deities in 1993.

Conversion wish

Nearly 300 Dalits on Saturday expressed their intention to embrace Buddhism at Keradagada in Kendrapara district, as they were not allowed “unfettered” entry into the Hindu temples. Several Dalits expressed their intention to change religion at a public meeting at Keradagada this afternoon organised by a pro-Dalit outfit even as the district administration refused to confirm any such gathering.

“The district administration has no information about any such event at Keradagada,” said collector Kashinath Sahu. He said people intending to change religion under the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act have to file affidavits, but we have received nothing as such. The Dalits of Keradagada were allowed to have a glimpse of the deity at the local Jagannath temple through holes. They have to offer prayers from outside the temple, too. In November last year, upper caste villagers allegedly penalised several Dalit women for trying to enter the temple.

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