Supreme Court says that all entry points to the city of Puri shall be closed during the Rath Yatra festival
Centre says the Rath Yatra can be permitted without public participation in view of the pandemic
NEW DELHI :
The Supreme Court on Monday permitted authorities to conduct the traditional Rath Yatra at the Jagannath Temple in Odisha’s Puri. The temple committee, and the state and central governments have been asked to coordinate the event with necessary curbs to prevent the spread of covid-19.
An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde held an urgent hearing on a batch of pleas seeking modification of the court’s 18 June order staying this year’s Rath Yatra on Tuesday.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sambit Patra was one of the intervening applicants.
The Centre said the Rath Yatra can be permitted without public participation in view of the pandemic, saying the “tradition of centuries may not be stopped". The Odisha government supported the Centre’s stand.
In its order, the court took on record the statement of the Odisha state and Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple Administration, that it might be possible to conduct the Rath Yatra “in a limited way without public attendance".
The court observed that in “the 18th-19th century, a yatra of this kind was responsible for the spread of cholera and plague like wild fire". However, the court said that it will not “micro-manage" the rituals and left it to the wisdom of the state, the Centre and the temple management.
The court ordered that all entry points to the city of Puri shall be closed during the festival. There will be a curfew in Puri on all days and all the time when the chariots are taken in procession. The state must also keep records of participants in the Rath Yatra along with details of their medical conditions after testing.
The court has put a cap of 500 people, including officials and police personnel, to pull the chariot, and each person must be tested for coronavirus. The committee must ensure that bare minimum number of people are allowed in the rituals. Everyone involved must abide by the social distancing norms and guidelines.
The court directed full coverage of the Rath Yatra by the visual media and government has been directed to allow installation of TV cameras to assist this coverage.
The court also said that it was the responsibility of the committee in charge of Puri Jagannath temple administration and the state-appointed officers, to comply with the court order and the Centre’s public health directions.
The court on 18 June had stayed the Rath Yatra and related activities, given the surge in covid-19 cases. The order was passed on a petition filed by Odisha Vikas Parishad seeking a stay on the yatra, contending that the event attracts over 1 million people and it would be dangerous in view of the covid-19 outbreak.
“Today is a special day for all of us, particularly our Odia sisters and brothers as well as devotees of Mahaprabhu Shri Jagannath Ji. The entire nation is delighted by the decision of the Honourable Supreme Court," said Union home minister Amit Shah.
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