Supreme Court stays this year’s Puri Rath Yatra due to COVID-19 pandemic


New Delhi, June 18: The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the annual Jagannath Rath Yatra in Puri scheduled on June 23.

“We 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. We further direct that there shall be no activities secular or religious associated with the rath yatra during this period”, the court ordered, as reported by The Hindu.

“Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow the yatra,” Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde observed orally. Chief Justice Bobde, leading a Bench, said the restraining order arose out of the court’s concern for public health and safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Do you know the word ‘juggernaut’ comes from ‘Jagannath’? ‘Juggernaut’ means something that cannot be stopped,” Chief Justice Bobde said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta quipped “Your Lordships have stopped it today”.

The court’s order was vehemently objected to by several parties, who said the rituals at least should be allowed to be conducted.

The Centre, represented by the Solicitor General, first sought a day or two to file a reply, before leaving it to the State government to decide, even as it said a blanket injunction would be an “extreme position”. Finally, Mr. Mehta suggested allowing certain rituals without any room for a gathering. But the court was firm.

“We have experience in these matters… The moment something is allowed, it will create a gathering,” Chief Justice Bobde reacted.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the Odisha government, agreed with the court, saying, “The moment there is any celebration, people will congregate on the streets”.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for petitioner Odisha Vikas Parishad, which sought an injunction on the ‘rath yatra’, submitted that “the religious fervour is usually so much that people will throng the streets”. He said, “Even the Olympics have been postponed this year”.

In the court order, the CJI observed that the ‘rath yatra’ normally drew a crowd of 10-13 lakh and continued for a period of 10-15 days. The court said such a large gathering raised public health and safety concerns during a pandemic.

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