New twist to Puri crematorium row

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By SUBRAT DAS
  • Published 23.11.11
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Bhubaneswar, Nov. 22: A harried Odisha government today asserted that the one-acre land acquired for the Swargadwar crematorium was still under the possession of the Puri municipality.

This announcement comes amidst controversy over the sale and leasing out of the crematorium land to private commercial establishments.

The clarification by the government came following a complaint to the local police by Jagannath Sena, a voluntary organisation, against panchayati raj minister Maheswar Mohanty for his alleged involvement in the land transfer during his tenure as the chairman of the Puri municipality from 1985 to 1995. The convenor of Jagannath Sena, Priyadarshan Patnaik, said: “The entire patch of government land at the cremation ground was sold and leased out to private parties at the behest of Mohanty. People have even managed to get pattas (ownership rights) for the land.

Following allegations, the state government had sought a report from the Puri district administration.

Quoting a preliminary report from the district collector, state revenue secretary R.K. Sharma told reporters today that 900 decimals of land recorded in the name of Lord Jagannath was handed over to the Puri municipality for expansion of the crematorium land. Later, another 100 decimals of land was acquired by the administration in 1988 for the same purpose.

“The entire one acre land is still under the possession of Puri municipality and not encroached by private individuals, as alleged,” said Sharma.

The revenue secretary, however, admitted that the said land was not recorded in the name of Puri municipality in the record of rights.

“The land settlement was conducted after a year (during 1989-90) and the acquired land could not be recorded in favour of the municipality in the settlement record,” he said, adding that the civic body was, however, in rightful possession of the said land.

However, complainant Priyadarshan Patnaik did not accept the government claim. “One acre of land had been acquired for public purpose like the expansion of Swargadwar cremation ground. But now, only 452 decimals is left with the cremation ground and the rest of the land has either been leased or rented out to hotels, market complexes and even liquor shops,” Patnaik told The Telegraph.

Earlier, there were 16 acres and 400 decimals of land along the Puri beach at Swargadwar. However, the state government kept mum on the present status of the remaining 15 acres of land.

“I can let you know the land status after receiving the final report from the Puri collector,” said revenue secretary Sharma.

Clarifying details about another land scam in Sipasarubali village on the outskirts of Puri, the revenue secretary said on receipt of allegations that around 2800 acres of land had been grabbed illegally by various individuals, the Puri collector had filed 537 objection cases in consolidation court in 1996. The consolidation officer has finally disposed cases involving 1,306 acres in favour of the state government.

“Steps will be taken to retrieve the land following the due process of law,” said Sharma, adding that 27 writ petitions and 21 second appeal cases involving the remaining 1,517.53 acres were pending before the high court.

“We have engaged a senior counsel to plead our cases in the high court,” he said.