Plea in SC against Odisha govt order restricting Ratha Yatra in state

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New Delhi, Jul 2 (PTI) A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court against the Orissa High Court order dismissing a batch of petitions challenging the state government's directive to restrict observing of Rath Yatra in temples due to Covid, and it has said a total ban on the ritual will be “against the right to religion”.

The Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath in Puri is an annual ritual and this time, it is schedule for July 12.

The plea stated that the Odisha government had passed an order on June 10 in exercise of powers under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, under which it has allowed the Rath Yatra to take place observing conditions laid down in an order passed by the top court last year.

The government order has said that this year, the Ratha Yatra will be held on July 12 at Puri only and other temples in the state can perform rituals of the yatra within its premises.

It said that any person violating the order will be liable for penal action under the Disaster Management Act and COVID-19 Regulations, 2020, besides legal action under the Indian Penal Code.

The petitioners said the Orissa High Court by its order, dated June 23, has failed to appreciate that a 'total ban of the Rath Yatra will be against the right to religion of citizens guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of India'.

The petition filed by NGOs Biswo Go Surakhya Bahinee and Dharma Rakhya Sena, through advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain, said that the ritual of Rath Yatra has been observed in temples in a traditional manner across the state for centuries.

'It is worth to mention here that the temple of Lord Baldev Jew Kendrapada is an ancestral temple in the state of Odisha having more importance after the temple of Lord Jagannath Bije Puri and due to this Kendrapada is called as Tulasi Kshetra,' it said.

The petitioners have sought a stay of the June 23 order of the High Court.

The plea said that the state government has allowed several business activities, including wine shops to operate, but has taken a different view misusing the powers conferred under provisions of Disaster Management Act and the Odisha Disaster Management Rules, 2010, so far as the observance of traditional rituals of taking out the Jagannath Yatra.

'It is submitted that citizens have a fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution of India to profess and practice their religion subject to any reasonable restriction which may be imposed by the state in the interest of public order, morality or health,' the plea said.

It added that in exercise of powers under the Disaster Management Act, the state government 'cannot impose complete restriction on the observance of religious rituals and functions as sub clause (j) of Section 24(1) of the Act provides that the state Executive Committee may ensure that non-government organization carry out the activities in an equitable and non-discriminatory manner'.

The plea said that the state government while passing impugned order “failed to make balance between the right of citizens guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution and the restriction to be imposed under the provisions Disaster Management Act, 2005”.

It said that the top court while allowing Rath Yatra last year had imposed some conditions keeping in view the Covid situation.

'It is further submitted that so far as the yatra of the temple of Shree Baldev Jew at Kendrapada is concerned, the same can be performed in the same manner with the same restrictions as was provided by this court,' it said.

The petitioners said that the high court has not given any reason for not applying the order passed by this court last year, under which the rituals can be performed while observing the conditions laid down.

'The high court without considering various aspects of the case has been pleased to dismiss the writ petition only on the ground that Covid situation is continuing,” the plea said.

On June 23 last year, the top court had allowed the historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri with certain conditions, including no public attendance.

The apex court had allowed the holding of the yatra after taking note of the Odisha government's assurance that it 'can be held in a limited way without public attendance'.

The top court had also directed the Odisha government to impose curfew in Puri city during the time when chariots are taken in procession. PTI MNL ABA SJK MNL ANB ANB

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