When PK Jena was appointed the chief administrator of the Shree Jagannath Temple administration, Puri in April 2017, he evoked a groundswell of expectations from the people and devotees alike. Jena replaced his senior colleague- the 1986 batch IAS officer Suresh Chandra Mohapatra and his role was crucial not just for conducting the yearly Rath Yatra but for overhauling the entire reforms apparatus of the sacred temple.
After 10 months into the onerous assignment, Jena has shown the results on the ground. The hard working mandarin who delivers more than what he promises, has not disappointed. His first big step was launching a probe into the Rs 100-crore fraud in the temple corpus fund. The investigation was to be conducted by a finance sub-panel. As the chief administrator, Jena also took this historic decision to allow the Puri Shankaracharya to offer prayers on the bathing altar of the trinity of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra during Snana Yatra. The religious seer would also be allowed on chariots during the Rath Yatra. But, Jena was strict enough to debar those servitors who were not on duty or the kin of servitors to touch the deities as per the Orissa High Court order.
Under Jena’s leadership, the temple’s managing body approved the revised time schedule of the deities’ rituals to facilitate repair of Jagamohan and construction of Bhandar and Changada, the two rooms that were earlier demolished to carry out Jagamohan works. A plan outlay of Rs 55 crore was finalised for development of Jagannath Ballav Mutt, which spreads over an area of 45 acres of land located alongside the Badadanda (Grand Road). A school for children of the servitors would be constructed at a land belonging to Jagannath temple in Samang area soon.
It was also decided that ‘Skandha Puran’, a religious scripture which describes about Sri Jagannath and Srikshetra in one of its chapters, would be translated from Sanskrit to English and other Indian languages. A three-member panel of scholars, headed by Tirupati Sanskrit University Vice- Chancellor Dr Harekrushna Satpathy, has been formed for the purpose.
Jena’s test of character came when a peeved High Court in November 2017 took suo moto cognisance of media reports about photographs of repair work at Jagannath Temple. The pictures had gone viral on popular social media outlet Facebook. The top court issued notices to the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) to explain the anomaly. Jena was quick to spring to action. He showcaused the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), asking for a report within three days. In his letter to the ASI Superintending Archaeologist, Bhubaneswar Circle, SJTA chief administrator PK Jena said one of the scientists engaged by ASI to advise on improving the ventilation system inside the temple’s sanctum sanctorum had posted photographs of the ‘Jagamohan’ on FB. Terming it a serious issue impacting the security of the temple, Jena said, “Only the ASI is authorised to take photographs inside temple premises if required for conservation. No other entity is allowed to take photos without the permission of the SJTA.” Any photograph taken must be used only for documentation of the conservation, he asserted.
More recently, the SJTA under Jena imposed a ban on cracking of coconuts at Srimandir Jagamohan and Bhitarakatha as part of an offering to the presiding deities. The temple administration issued a notice in this regard to all servitors’ groups of the 12th century shrine. “The SJTA will hold up the remunerations of servitors if they are found cracking coconuts at Jagamohan and Bhitarakatha in violation of the ban order,”. The SJTA has planned to install a few landline phones at Srimandir for use by servitors and shrine employees. The temple administration had earlier banned smartphones and camera phones at Srimandir. But it had permitted servitors and temple employees to use feature phones inside the shrine. Jena said the temple administration has displayed signage and banners around the Srimandir to inform devotees about the ban on mobile phones at the shrine.
“We will impose fines and seize the mobile phones of devotees in case of violation of the ban. Officials and security personnel have been directed to enforce the ban on mobile phones strictly from January 3,” he added. Earlier, several people had managed to take smartphones into the shrine and had taken photographs on Srimandir premises. They had also posted the photos in their social media accounts. The SJTA had drawn flak from several quarters over the issue.