Days after the Supreme Court of India stayed Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the top court on Monday, 22 June, reversed its previous order and allowed it to be held in Puri with some restrictions and without public participation.
The top court has asked the state government, Centre and the temple committee to coordinate, and ensure that the health of people involved is not compromised. It has also maintained that the Rath Yatra should not be allowed anywhere else in Odisha, reported Bar & Bench.
The apex court said on Monday that it doesn’t want to do any ‘micromanagement’ of the Rath Yatra but the state should use its best wisdom.
'Curfew to Be Imposed': SC's Restriction
The apex court has imposed some guidelines and restrictions in its final order. It has asked the government to ensure that the airport, railway stations, and bus stands are closed during Rath Yatra, and curfew is imposed in Puri city during the time when the Rath Yatra chariots are taken in procession.
It has further said that each rath shall not be pulled by more than 500 people and there has to be an interval of one hour between two chariots.
The Rath Yatra, which is usually attended by lakhs of devotees, is scheduled for 23 June. Complete shutdown in Puri district of Odisha has been announced from 9 pm on Monday till 2 pm on Wednesday, PTI reported.
"The world will be looking at us. We need to maintain discipline and social distancing and set an example for the world," ANI quoted Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik as saying after the order.
"Holding Rath Yatra during the times of COVID-19 is extremely challenging. Three ministers will be in Puri for a smooth Ratha Yatra," he added.
Earlier today, Home Minister Amit Shah had said, "Considering the urgency and importance of the matter, it was placed in front of a vacation bench of the Supreme Court and the hearing took place this afternoon, which paved the way for the important decision by the SC. Congratulations to the people of Odisha," ANI reported.
Shah also lauded PM Modi, saying it makes him and India happy that the PM not only understood the sentiment of the devotees, but also initiated consultations which ensured that the “great traditions of our land” are observed.
SC's Departure From Earlier Order
In its earlier order on 18 June, the court had said, “Lord Jagannath will forgive us if we stay the Rath Yatra this year... In the interest of public health and safety of citizens, Rath Yatra can’t be allowed this year.”
According to reports, applications seeking a modification of the 18 June order were initially mentioned before the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, but the matter was then placed before a bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and AS Bopanna.
Odisha Minister Arun Kr Sahoo, following the court's decision, said, "On behalf of devotees of Lord Jagannath, the government of Odisha welcomes this decision of Supreme Court. All guidelines will be followed strictly. It's our duty to look after how Rath Yatra can be conducted peacefully and safely. State government will take all measures."
If Lord Does Not Come Out Tomorrow, He Cannot Come Out for 12 Yrs: Centre Tells SC
Earlier on Monday, the Centre had told the court that the annual Rath Yatra in Puri can be allowed to be held this year without public participation in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also suggested that the entire event could be telecast live.
“The tradition of centuries may not be stopped,” the Centre had said, while seeking modification of the Supreme Court’s earlier order, reported Live Law.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, had told the court,
"“Only people tested negative (for coronavirus) and working in the Lord Jagannath temple can be part of the ritual... If Lord Jagannath does not come out tomorrow, he cannot come out for 12 years, as per traditions.”" -
The Supreme Court had earlier observed that in the interest of public health and safety, the event could not be allowed.
The usual congregation of devotees had been expected to touch 10-12 lakhs this year.
The Odisha government on Sunday had reportedly said it would take favourable action as legally permissible when the writ petition on holding of the Yatra is taken up for hearing before the court.
This came a day after Puri King Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb, who is also the chairman of the temple managing committee, wrote to Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik requesting that the Rath Yatra be held without the congregation of devotees.
(With inputs from ANI, PTI, IANS, Bar & Bench and Live Law.)
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