New Delhi, June 22: 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 the 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, as reported by The Indian Express.
The apex court has also directed that the government should impose curfew in Puri during the 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.