A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde also declined to entertain a request to allow the rituals related to the yatra to be confined to the temple without any gathering.
“We are not allowing this…Lord Jagannath will forgive us,” remarked the CJI.
“We accordingly direct that there shall be no Rath Yatra anywhere in the temple town of Odisha or in any other part of the state this year,” the bench ordered.
The court further directed that “there shall be no activities secular or religious associated with the Rath Yatra during this period”.
In its order, the top court cited Article 25 (1) of the Constitution which says that the right to freely profess and propagate religion will be subject to health.
The order came on a plea by NGO Odisha Vikas Parishad, which contended the annual yatra scheduled to begin on June 23 could lead to spread of infection as it is attended by lakhs of people.
Appearing for the petitioner, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi sought an injunction, saying preparations for the yatra had already begun. “This is a serious matter,” said the CJI.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the state of Odisha, expressed concern if a large gathering was to happen. “The moment there is a celebration, there is a congregation,” he contended.
Senior Advocate Ajith Prasad, appearing on behalf of an intervenor, requested the court, “We do not want to have any congregation but we should be allowed to have rituals.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta urged the bench to adjourn it by a day, saying he needed to take instructions given the “sensitivity” of the matter. The court did not grant his request.
Mehta submitted that the court could ask the state government to make sure there is no gathering and that only the rituals are allowed and confined to the inside of the temple. Rohatgi did not agree and added, “Imagine the gathering if any ritual is allowed”.
Taking note, the CJI said, “We have enough experience. The moment we say something is allowed, there will be a gathering.”
The bench said in its order that “having regard to the danger presented by such a large gathering of people for the Rath Yatra, we consider it appropriate in the interests of public health and safety of citizens who are devotees to restrain the respondents from holding the Rath Yatra this year”.