SC gives nod to Rath Yatra without public participation, asks Odisha govt to impose curfew in Puri
A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde directed the state government to impose curfew in Puri during the time when the chariots are taken out in the procession — an event in which lakhs of people from the world over participate every year.
Modifying its 18 June order staying the Jagannath Rath Yatra in Puri, the Supreme Court permitted the yatra to be held with certain conditions, including no public participation and imposition of curfew in the city.
A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde directed the state government to impose curfew in Puri during the time when the chariots are taken out in the procession — an event in which lakhs of people from the world over participate every year. It asked the state government to impose curfew from 8 pm on Monday as the yatra begins on Tuesday.
Supreme Court order in the #JagannathYatra .
— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) June 22, 2020
The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and AS Bopanna, said that all entry points like airports, bus stands and railway station should be closed for the duration of the yatra.
In its order, the bench said that each Rath or chariot would have to be pulled by no more than 500 people and all of them have to be tested for coronavirus. Additionally, it directed that those engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra.
“Indeed, if it is possible to ensure that there is no public attendance, we see no reason why the Rath Yatra cannot be conducted safely along its usual route from temple to temple,” the bench said in its order.
The state government had filed an affidavit and said that it might be possible to conduct the Rath Yatra in a limited way without public attendance, the bench noted in the order and added that this has been proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, who is the Chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple Administration.
The bench also directed the state to ensure the participation of bare minimum people in the rituals and the yatra and to maintain a record of such people. It also said that TV crews be allowed to cover the event.
Earlier in the day, the court had indicated that it would allow the yatra to be held, but had left the micro-management to the wisdom of the state government, Centre and the Temple Committee.
The Odisha government had said that it will coordinate with temple management and the Centre to make things smooth during Rath Yatra.
According to PTI, the Odisha government has imposed "curfew-like" shutdown in Puri district from 9 pm on Monday till 2 pm tomorrow and appealed to citizens to refrain from stepping out of their homes when the chariots roll out on the Grand Road in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
Additional police forces have also been deployed and people have been instructed to watch the yatra on television, said officials.
The bench was hearing petitions , including those filed by 'Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Manch' and BJP leader Sambit Patra, seeking modification in its 18 June order, which had stayed the this year's Rath Yatra at Puri, saying that it cannot be allowed in the interest of health and safety of citizens, considering the spike in coronavirus cases.
The Chief Justice had said in the 18 June order on an appeal filed by said, “Lord Jagannath won't forgive us if we allow this year's Rath Yatra.” The bench had also told the Odisha government to not allow any such chariot procession or pilgrimage anywhere in the state to avoid the spread of coronavirus.
While the Odisha government had earlier said it would go by the Supreme Court's decision, it supported the Centre's stand on Monday which stated that the yatra in Puri can be allowed to be held this year without public participation and in accordance with all guidelines, while arguing that the "tradition of centuries may not be stopped".
"It is a matter of faith for crores. If Lord Jagannath will not come out tomorrow, he cannot come out for 12 years as per traditions," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, adding that the state government could take precautions and impose curfew if needed.
"All 'sebayats' and 'pandas' who have tested negative (for COVID-19) can participate in rituals as may be decided by HH Shri Shankaracharya. People may not congregate and seek blessings on TV during a live telecast. Raja of Puri and the temple committee may supervise arrangements of these rituals," Mehta told the bench.
The court made it clear that it was hearing applications to allow the Rath Yatra at Puri alone, and not in the rest of the state. According to ANI, the court said the state government could stop the yatra in case the situation gets out of hand.
The Rath Yatra festival is held over 10-12 days with lakhs of people participating and the 'Bahuda Jatra' (return car festival) is fixed for 1 July.
Three heavily-built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled by thousands of devotees over a distance of three kilometres twice during the nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri.
Odisha has so far 5,160 COVID-19 cases and 14 deaths, according to the Union health ministry.
With inputs from agencies
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