Revisiting the absolute stay on JagannathRathYatra in Odisha, the Supreme Court today allowed the Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri, observing strict restrictions and regulations to be devised by Centre and the State Government.
A bench comprising of CJI SA Bobde and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and AS Bopanna ordered that the Centre and State must “work in tandem”. Detailed instructions shall be released soon.
The bench also clarified that it is up to thestate government to stop the festival in the event of any public health emergency.
The Central Government also supported the modification of the stay order to allow the Jagannath Rath Yatra after taking necessary precautions.
Solicitor General submitted that Jagannath Rath Yatra could be carried out while keeping in place safety measures by following guidelines of the Central Government.
While asserting that no compromise shall be made in terms of health and safety while carrying out the Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra, he added,
“Traditions of centuries cannot be stopped. 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.”
The original petitioner Odisha Vikas Parishad through senior advocate Ranjit Kumarhad expressed concerns about the rise of COVID-19 cases in the statepointing out that the RathYatrawent on for “10 to 12 days”.
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The application for modification was moved by JagannathSanskriti Jana JagaranManch challenging stay imposed on the annual RathYatra on the ground that the original petitioner had concealed material facts and had not apprised the court about the requisite arrangements ensuring social distancing.
Though the petition was originally listed to be heard by a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, it was later considered by a bench comprising of CJI S ABobde (who was at his Nagpur residence), Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and AS Bopanna. The shift happened after the Solicitor Generalsought the conduct of the RathYatra on conditions in the morning.
The applicant drew court’s attention to the order passed by Orissa HC on June 9, wherein due consideration had been given to all precautionary aspects.
Via this order, the State Government has now been given authority to take a decision about the Jagannath Rath Yatra after ensuring all arrangements were consistent with the Centre and State guidelines
Highlighting the detailed the precautions undertaken the applicants stated,
“The DebaSnan Purnima ritual was performed on 05.06.2020 with the help of 800 servitors. Before performing the ritual all the 800 servitors had undergone the COVID Test and all are found negative. The 800 servitors are in isolation for more than 1 month as on today…”
Further, it was emphasised that while the occasion usually witnessed the presence of over 2 lakh devotees every year, this year, the State Government and District Administration had issued guidelines to impose Section 144, thus restricting any devotee from watching the ‘darshan’.
Addressing the concern regarding public health and safety, the Applicant urged,
“The Jagannath RathYatra can be performed with the help of 500-600 servitors by maintaining the social distance on the road of 3km stretch and by imposing restrictions as well as imposing Section 144 of CR.P.C.”
The applicant had averred that since the customary practice of the temple has been carried out from times immemorial, the stay order be reversed, especially when such rituals enunciate a million sentiments.
On June 18, Top Court had ordered that no RathYatra should be held, in the background of the pandemic.
Agreeing to petitioner’s counsel, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi’s submissions that allowing such a Yatra like Jagannath Rath Yatra would lead to a “catastrophic” situation, a bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde had ordered that this festival which attracted a congregation of nearly 10 lakh people in Bhubaneswar shall not be allowed in the interest of public health and safety of citizens.
CJI Bobde had observed,
“We are not allowing this. Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allow this to continue. Activities related to the Jagannath Rath Yatra are injuncted”
The Court had thus concluded that no secular or religious activity associated to the Jagannath Rath Yatra would take place this year in Odisha.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve, who represented the State of Odisha, in turn too suggested that it would be better to stop the festivities.