Udayavni Special

Jagannath Rath Yatra: SC modifies stay order, to be held in Puri amid curfew on Tuesday


PTI, Jun 23, 2020, 8:37 AM IST

Representative image

New Delhi/Bhubaneswar:  Decks were cleared for holding the historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri on Tuesday after the Supreme Court modified its stay order and permitted the festivities without any public attendance, besides directing other precautions in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

Each of three raths or chariots would be pulled by no more than 500 people who will be tested for coronavirus, a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said on Monday after the Centre and the Odisha government-supported holding the Yatra without any mass congregation stressing 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, the Centre had contended.

“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, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and A S Bopanna, said.

The apex court also asked the state government to impose curfew in Puri city during the religious event in which lakhs of people from all over the world participate every year.

In its order, the bench, however, sounded a word of caution that it was informed that in the 18th-19th century a yatra of this kind was responsible for the spread of cholera and plague “like wild fire”.

“We say this in order to remind the authorities concerned that the situation can become dangerous if the rules of caution are ignored,” it said.

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. This year the congregations would have been held on June 23 and July 1.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that the entire country is delighted with the apex court’s decision to permit the Rath Yatra and stressed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the initiative for consultations which ensured that the “great traditions of our land are observed”.

Shah said that he had spoken to Shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, and Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb, the titular king of Puri and Chairman of Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, both of whom had publicly voiced unhappiness earlier over the stalling of the Yatra.

In Odisha, the Supreme Court order was greeted by chants of “Jai Jagannath”. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said holding of Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra in Puri amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is a big challenge, while the state government imposed a “curfew-like” shutdown in Puri district and appealed to citizens to refrain from stepping out of their homes when the chariots roll out on the Grand Road on June 23.

Asking the people to strike a balance between centuries-old traditions and public health, he said that the state can set an example for the rest of the people across the globe by performing the rituals with discipline and by adhering to social distancing and COVID guidelines.

The Odisha government also supported the Centre’s stand.

Chief Justice S A Bobde then set up a three-judge bench to hear the pleas seeking modification of its June 18 order in which it had said that this year’s Yatra cannot be allowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While hearing a PIL filed by NGO ‘Odisha Vikash Parishad’ the apex court had then said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year’s Puri Rath Yatra cannot be allowed and that “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow” it.

A day after the order was passed, some applications were filed in the top court seeking recall and modification of its order.

Justifying the circumstances in which the June 18 order was passed, the top court said on that day it had asked the authorities whether it was possible to allow the procession of chariots to go without general congregation.

“We were informed that it would be well-nigh impossible to ensure that there is no congregation. This court was, therefore, left with no option but to grant an injunction restraining the Rath Yatra itself,” the bench said.

The applications, including those filed by ‘Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Manch’ and BJP leader Sambit Patra, urged the court to allow the Rath Yatra with certain restrictions due to the pandemic.

“All entry points into the city of Puri, i.e., airports, railway stations, bus stands, etc., shall be closed during the period of Rath Yatra festival,” the bench said in its order.

“During the period of curfew no one would be allowed to come out of their houses or their places of residence, such as, hotels, lodging houses, etc. To start with, the curfew shall begin tonight at 8 PM,” the bench said.
After the apex court order, the Odisha government activated its administrative machinery on a war footing and Chief Secretary A

K Tripathy and Director General of Police (DGP) Abhay rushed to the pilgrim town.
The top court said these 500 persons who will pull the chariot will include officials and police personnel and there shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots.

“Each of those who is engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra,” the bench said.

It directed that the rituals and the Rath Yatra shall be “freely covered” by the visual media and the state shall allow TV cameras to be installed at such places as may be found necessary by the TV crew.

The primary responsibility for conducting the Rath Yatra in accordance with the conditions and other norms shall be that of the committee in-charge of Puri Jagannath Temple Administration, the court said.

“The officers designated by the State Government for the conduct of the Rath Yatra shall be responsible likewise,” the bench said.

“We take a note of the fact that the state of Orissa has a good record of having controlled the pandemic with a very little loss of life. We see no reason why the same attitude of care and caution should not be applied to the Rath Yatra,” the bench said, adding that the state may take necessary help from the Centre.

The bench noted in its order that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has assured that the Centre shall offer all assistance and help to the state in this endeavour.

“The state government shall maintain a record containing details of all those who have been allowed to participate in the Rath Yatra or the rituals connected therewith along with details of their medical conditions after testing,” the bench said.

CJI Bobde presided over the hearing through video conferencing from his Nagpur residence.

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