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Supreme Court allows Puri’s Rath Yatra with no public attendance

The court has directed the Odisha government to maintain a record of persons allowed in Rath Yatra with details of medical conditions after testing. It also said that those engaged in pulling chariot will maintain social distancing before, during and after Rath Yatra.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 22, 2020 8:48:48 pm
Jagannath Rath Yatra, Jagannath Rath Yatra postponed, Puri Rath Yatra postponed, SC on Jagannath Rath Yatra, Puri Rath Yatra court hearing  The Puri Rath Yatra is attended by lakhs of people from across the world and is scheduled from June 23.

The Supreme Court Monday asked the Odisha government to make necessary arrangements to conduct Puri’s Rath Yatra, scheduled to start from June 23, in a restricted manner in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The apex court also said it cannot “micro-manage” the rituals and left it to the wisdom of state, the Centre and temple management to deal with that issue.

“If it is confined to Puri alone in a limited way without public attendance as proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, Chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple administration, state govt will endeavour to make necessary arrangements to conduct it accordingly,” the SC bench said.

The apex court has also directed that the govt should impose curfew in Puri during procession. The Odisha government imposed a shutdown in Puri district from 9 pm on Monday till 2 pm on Wednesday.

The SC said each rath is to be pulled by not more than 500 people and all of them would be tested for coronavirus. “Those engaged in pulling chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after Rath Yatra,” the bench said.

The court directed the Odisha government to maintain a record of persons allowed in Rath Yatra, with details of their medical conditions after testing.

The apex court had on June 18 said this year’s Puri Rath Yatra cannot be allowed n the interest of public health and safety of citizens. “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow it,” CJI Bobde had then said.

The Odisha government told a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde that it was ready to hold the procession with certain precautions. The bench also comprised of Justices Dinesh Maheswari and A S Bopanna.

In an affidavit filed before the court this morning, Odisha said its apprehension is primarily related to thousands of Rath Yatras taking place all over the state but it can only be limited to Puri alone without public attendance as proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, Chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple administration. The government said it will make the necessary arrangements to conduct it “accordingly.”

Appearing before a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, the Centre also supported the Odisha government. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the government has no objections with the yatra and suggested telecasting it on TV in order to avoid a large congregation of people.

“It is a matter of faith for crores. If Lord Jagannath will not come out tomorrow, he cannot come out for 12 years as per traditions,” Mehta said.

The court was hearing a plea filed by the chief servitor of the Jagannath Temple Pattajoshi Mohapatra, who said the annual procession, attended by lakhs, is an “essential religious practice” protected by the Constitution, and that non-observance of the same “affects the very sanctity” of the shrine. In his plea on Saturday, Mohapatra claimed that the yatra had been held even during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1919.

Meanwhile, the Odisha government has sealed all the entry points to Puri and no vehicle other than those for the purpose of the Rath Yatra preparation are being allowed into the temple town.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said holding of Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra in Puri amidst pandemic was a big challenge and called upon the people to strike a balance between centuries-old traditions and public health.

“The whole world will be watching us. By performing the rituals of the Lord with discipline and at the same time adhering to social distancing and COVID guidelines, we can set an example for rest of the people across the globe,” the chief minister said.

Home Minister Amit Shah said the entire nation was delighted by the Supreme Court decision to ensure Jagannath Rath Yatra goes on. “PM Narendra Modi not only understood sentiments of devotees but also initiated consultations,” Amit Shah tweeted.

The Puri Rath Yatra is attended by lakhs of people from across the world and is scheduled from June 23.

Welcoming the SC decision, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the apex court upheld the sentiment of 4.5 crore Odias and honoured the faith of crores of Jagannath devotees across the globe.

“I welcome the momentous decision of the Supreme Court to allow Rath Yatra celebrations in Puri without the congregation of devotees. When it comes to matters of faith, traditions and sentiments of crores of people, PM Modi’s govt has always led from the front to uphold them,” Pradhan said.

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“On behalf of devotees of Lord Jagannath, Govt 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 govt will take all measures,” ANI quoted Minister Arun Sahoo as saying.

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