The Gujarat government on Thursday gave permission for the Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra to be taken out in Ahmedabad city on July 12, without any fanfare, in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The state government has announced a seven-hour-long curfew in parts of Ahmedabad during the yatra, asking devotees to watch its live telecast on Television.
Traditionally, 2-3 lakh devotees form part of the yearly Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra which is taken out on the occasion of ‘Ashadhi Beej Diwas’ of Gujarati calendar, from Lord Jagannath temple near Jamalpur Darwaza in old city, Ahmedabad to Saraspur and returning to the temple, covering a distance of 19 kilometres.
In 2020, the Gujarat High Court had, in view of the pandemic, cancelled the Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad — for the first time in 143 years.
On Thursday, state Home Minister Pradipsinh Jadeja said the decision to take out the Yatra was taken in a core committee meeting headed by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani after considering current “high Covid-19 recovery rate” and “low number of new cases” in Gujarat, especially Ahmedabad.
“The historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra is connected with the faith of the people and recently a number of written and oral applications were sent to the state government recently regarding how the rath yatra should be taken out. In that regard, the additional chief secretary (ACS) Home and Gujarat Director General of Police (DGP) after due study had presented all aspects and issues associated with the Yatra to the core committee headed by CM Vijay Rupani,” Jadeja said.
“Last year, due to a decision by the Gujarat High Court, the rath yatra was cancelled. However this year, post the second wave, due to working of the health department and state government, the recovery rate in Gujarat is 98.54% and the positivity rate is mere 0.1%. In the past 24 hours, only 65 Covid cases have been registered across the state with not a single death… In Ahmedabad, only 13 cases had come in the past 24 hours and the recovery rate of the city is 98.5 %. After studying all aspects of the situation, the state government has decided that the Rath Yatra will be taken out in Ahmedabad by following all guidelines of Covid protocol to ensure that people’s faith is maintained but their health is not compromised,” he added.
Jadeja announced that Union Home Minister Amit Shah will be visiting the Lord Jagannath temple on July 11 evening to perform ‘Mangal Aarti’ ceremony as per a tradition in Gujarat and later on July 12 morning, the Yatra will be commenced from the temple in the presence of CM Vijay Rupani and Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel.
Jadeja informed that a maximum of five vehicles including three chariots (rath) will be part of the Rath Yatra procession and there will be a ban on any procession of elephants, akharas, trucks, bhajan mandali and band systems in the procession. In 2019, a total of 18 elephants, 101 trucks, 30 Akhara groups and 20 Bhajan Mandalis were part of the Rath Yatra while a total of 20,000 personnel of Gujarat police kept a watch on the 2-3 lakh devotees as attendees.
There will also be a ban on the ritual of “prasad distribution” from the chariots in order to avoid crowding of people and only those associated with the temple will be allowed to be onboard the five vehicles. The entire ceremony is expected to be four to five hours long, covering a distance of 19 kilometres from Jamalpur Darwaza to Saraspur and 19 kilometres back to Jamalpur Darwaza, as per Jadeja.
A curfew from 7 am to 2 pm will be put in order in the area jurisdiction of seven police stations in Ahmedabad on the day of Yatra and movement on bridges connecting West Ahmedabad to East Ahmedabad will be curtailed, as per Jadeja.
Jadeja further added for Rath Yatra processions to be taken out in rest of the cities of Gujarat, a maximum of five vehicles including the main chariot for the priest and temple trustees can be taken out.
“The “khalasees” who are appointed to push the chariot of Lord Jagannath, priests, temple trustees, and devotees part of the procession will have to undergo RT-PCR test 48 hours before the Yatra and must have also taken first dose of vaccine. All attendees will have to wear face masks. Akharas, Elephants, Bhajan Mandalis and Band systems will not be allowed in the processions. ”
A notification order was also released by Pankaj Dave, deputy secretary, law and order, home department, on Thursday stating in regard of the Rath Yatra processions across Gujarat, a maximum of 60 attendees can be part of the procession.