Bhubaneswar, Jun 10 (PTI) Joining the servitors of Shree Jagannath temple in Puri, the BJP on Wednesday asked the Odisha government to clear doubts over holding the annual Rath Yatra on June 23 at the earliest.
As a few days are left for the mega event, the state government's silence has caused anxiety among the devotees and 4.5 crore people of Odisha, BJP state general secretary Prithiwiraj Harichandan told reporters.
There is no clarity from the state government on holding the Rath Yatra while chariot construction works continued with all precautions amid the coronavirus pandemic following permission by the Centre.
The BJP leader said, by this time, the preparatory meetings should have been held for the festival, but no discussion has yet taken place leading to uncertainty over holding the festival.
'The chief minister should come out with a statement and clear doubts in the minds of lakhs of people across the state and the country,' Harichandan said, alleging that the state government was in no mood to conduct the Rath Yatra this time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also alleged that the state government has sponsored a PIL in the Orissa High Court to stop the festival this time.
However, the high court on Tuesday disposed of a writ petition declining to interfere in the matter.
The state government has informed the court that it will take a decision considering the prevailing COVID-19 situation during the time of chariot festival.
The law department in an affidavit to the HC has stated that though initially Puri district was placed in the green zone, now there has been a spike in coronavirus cases. Till May 1, there was only one coronavirus case in Puri, but later the number of infections in the city rose to 108.
Keeping the situation in mind, the state government has included Puri among the 11 districts where weekend shutdown is being imposed, the law department said.
'Keeping in mind the deteriorating situation pertaining to the spread of COVID-19 virus in the state, the government is constantly monitoring the situation and any decision with regard to the holding of the Rath Yatra festival will be taken on the basis of the objective situation of the pandemic as on the relevant date and keeping in mind the interest of the public at large,' the state government told the high court.
The BJP leader, on the other hand, demanded that the Rath Yatra be conducted in Puri.
Harichandan said the state government had earlier sought the permission of the Centre on holding the chariot festival.
'The central government gave the permission for construction of chariots within 24 hours of getting a letter from the state. The Centre also made it clear that holding Rath Yatra will be decided by the state government,' he pointed out.
The BJP leader also expressed his displeasure over the state government refusing to open places of worship in Odisha even as many states opened the doors of shrines for devotees from June 8.
He said the Rath Yatra could be conducted in the manner in which the state government organised the singing of the Bande Utkal Janani song on May 30 by maintaining social distance.
Hundreds of people gathered near Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri and participated in recital of the state song to boost morale of the COVID warriors.
'The state can easily hold the Rath Yatra in the same manner,' Harichandan said.
Temple servitors also demanded that the Rath Yatra should be held and the state government should make it clear well in time.
'More than 200 servitors have already undergone coronavirus tests. Therefore, the state government should give permission for holding the Rath Yatra,' a servitor said.
Earlier, Gajapati Maharaja Divyasingha Deb as the chairperson of the Shree Jagannath Temple managing committee, had recommended the state government to hold the chariot festival without the presence of devotees in Puri.
The government should ensure that the devotees do not congregate in Puri on the Rath Yatra day, he had said.
Senior BJD MLA and former minister Amar Prasad Satpathy, however, said, 'The state government will take proper decision at the appropriate time. It will take the decision after consulting different stakeholders, including religious heads like Shankaracharya.' Meanwhile, after the first preparatory meeting on Rath Yatra with representatives of the temple managing committee, Shree Jagannath temple Administration (SJTA) chief administrator Krishna Kumar said specially designed masks will be procured for servitors to be engaged in various rituals of Lord Jagannath.
'Around 5,000 masks will be prepared in coordination with Bayonika or other SHGs and distributed to daitapati servitors and other servitors engaged inside the temple. The servitors will wear the masks while conducting rituals in the temple,' Kumar said.
He also said that the temple administration will provide a financial assistance of Rs 5,000 to servitors whose livelihood has been affected due to closure of the temple since the lockdown.
Kumar said the construction of chariots is going on smoothly and the work is well ahead of time. PTI AAM SKN SNS SNE