-Pratha Waghmare

The Supreme Court on Monday modified its earlier order and allowed the annual Jagannath Rath Yatra in Odisha’s Puri to be held with the coordination of the Temple committee, state, and Central government without compromising with the health issue pertaining to COVID-19.

A Three-Judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde said that the Apex Court is only considering conducting the yatra in Puri and not anywhere else in Odisha.

The Supreme Court had earlier stayed the annual Rath Yatra at Jagannath Temple in Puri, which is slated to be held on June 23, and all activities related to the gathering in view of the coronavirus pandemic this year.

The top court on Monday pronounced the order after hearing a batch of intervention applications seeking modification of its earlier order of staying the annual Rath Yatra at Jagannath Temple in Odisha’s Puri in view of COVID-19 pandemic.

The Apex court, while disposing of the pleas filed in the matter, noted that the state can stop the yatra or festivities if they feel it is going out of hand and added that it was aware of the situation and has passed the order accordingly.

Speaking to ANI, petitioner’s lawyer Pranay Kumar Mohapatra had earlier said that the pleas sought directions to allow holding of Yatra only at Puri, subject to some restrictions. According to Mohapatra, the plea said that Rath Yatra should be allowed to be held in Puri on its scheduled time and the entire district should be shut down completely.

  • “We find, in one of the present applications, an affidavit filed on behalf of the State of Orissa stating that it might be possible to conduct the Rath Yatra at Puri “in a limited way without public attendance”. This has been proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, who is the Chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple Administration.

“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 court said in its written order Monday.

  • “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 State government shall impose a curfew in the City of Puri on all the days and during all the time when Rath Yatra chariots are taken in procession.

The State Government may also impose curfew in the city of Puri on such other days and during such time as deemed necessary. 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 p.m.

“People should not be allowed to participate in the Rath Yatra and the temple area should be barricaded around 3 kilometers. Odisha government has already conducted COVID-19 tests on 1,172 sevayats, which have come negative,” he added.

Mohapatra said that if the Rath Yatra is conducted by sevayats, there are fewer chances of coronavirus spread during the religious program.

  • Each Rath, i.e, Chariot, shall be pulled by not more than 500 persons. Each of those 500 persons shall be tested for the Coronavirus. They shall be permitted to pull the chariot only if they have been found negative.
  • The number 500 shall include officials and police personnel. There shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots.
  • Each of those who are engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during, and after the Rath Yatra.
  • We are informed that certain rituals are associated with the Rath Yatra. We direct that only such persons shall be associated with the rituals, who have been found to have tested negative and shall maintain social distancing.
  • 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. Each member of the Committee shall be responsible for due compliance with the conditions imposed by this Court and the general directions which govern ensuring public health issued by the Union Government. In addition, the officers designated by the state government for the conduct of the Rath Yatra shall be responsible likewise.
  • The rituals and the Rath Yatra shall be freely covered by the visual media.
  • We take note of the fact that the State of Odisha has a good record of having controlled the pandemic with 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 state government may take such help as may be found necessary from the union government.
  • 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.

CM Patnaik said that ministers will be in Puri for a smooth Rath Yatra.

“Holding Rath Yatra during the times of COVID-19 is extremely challenging. Three ministers will be in Puri for the smooth conduct of Rath Yatra. We have to be extremely careful during Rath Yatra till Niladri Bije (religious leaders carrying the idol of the Jagannath Temple deity on a procession around the temple). I hope all participants who are part of the yatra obey the COVID-19 guidelines,” he said.

“The world will be looking at us. We need to maintain discipline and social distancing and set an example for the world,” he added.

Meanwhile, the complete shutdown has been imposed in Puri district from 9 pm today till 2 pm Wednesday, said Odisha DGP Abhay.




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