After Supreme Court's Nod, Jagannath Rath Yatra Commences Without Devotees Amid COVID-19 Curfew

According to the order, the state government must impose curfew in Puri on all the days and during all the time when Rath Yatra chariots.

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Following several petitions for the recalling of the Supreme Court's decision to stay order on the Jagannath Rath Yatra, the top court on June 22 allowed authorities in Odisha to hold the annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath and his siblings in Puri.

In an earlier verdict on June 18, the supreme court had ruled against taking out Jagannath Rath Yatra amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, on Monday, June 22, set several conditions including the imposition of a curfew in Puri during the nine-day festivities and asked the temple administration committee and the Odisha government to strictly adhere to them.

The bench, also comprising of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice AS Bopanna, said, "If it is possible to ensure that there is no public attendance, we see no reason why the Rath Yatra cannot be conducted safely along its usual route from temple to temple. Having given serious consideration to the matter and having heard the parties, we are of the view that the Rath Yatra at Puri may be held."

Rath Yatra or the chariot journey which is set to commence on June 23 celebrates the annual visit of Lord Jagannath and his two siblings Balabhadra and Subhadra from the 12th-century Jagannath Temple to their aunt's place in Gundicha temple, 2.5km away.

Lifting the ban on the hugely popular festival, the supreme court passed some directives to be followed by the state during the festival to ensure the well being of the people.

1. The top court mandated that the state government will have to declare curfew whenever the chariots are pulled. It also has to ensure that each of the three chariots is pulled by a maximum of 500 people, which would include the police personnel and officials.

2. The court ordered all entry points to Puri, including railway stations and bus stands, to be closed during the festival.

3. The state government shall impose a curfew in Puri on all the days and during all the time when Rath Yatra chariots are taken in procession, the order said. During the curfew, no one would be allowed to come out of their houses or their places of residence, such as hotels, lodging houses.

4. The people pulling the rath must be tested for COVID-19. They shall be permitted to pull the chariot only if they have been found negative, the court said. The court said that all those pulling the chariots should maintain social distancing before, during, and after the Rath Yatra. There should be a gap of one hour between two chariots, the court added.

5. The committee in-charge of Puri Jagannath Temple Administration will have the primary responsibility for conducting the Rath Yatra in accordance with these conditions. The bare minimum number of people shall be allowed by the committee to participate in the rituals and the Rath Yatra.

Soon after the initial comments of the court, Odisha declared that a curfew-like shutdown starting from 9 pm on June 22 to 2 pm on June 24, reported Hindustan Times.

"Only people tested negative (for coronavirus) and working in the Lord Jagannath temple can be part of the ritual... If Lord Jagannath will not come out tomorrow, he cannot come out for 12 years as per tradition," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the Centre, had told the Supreme Court.

In the evening, Chief Justice SA Bobde, who heard the case through a videoconference from Nagpur, said, "The Supreme Court is only considering conducting the Rath Yatra in Puri and not anywhere else in Orissa".

After Supreme Court allowed the Odisha government to hold Puri Rath Yatra, two pleas were filed on June 22 the Gujarat High Court seeking a similar relaxation to the Ahmedabad Rath Yatra and a modification in the bench's stay order on June 20.

The application seeking modification was rejected by the bench, stating that their order was passed in line with the supreme court's order of June 18, regarding the Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra. The high court further added that the situation in Ahmedabad is much worse due to the onset of COVID-19 than that in Odisha and thus the yatra cannot be held keeping in mind the safety of its public.

Also Read: 'Lord Jagannath Won't Forgive Us If We Allow': Supreme Court Stays Annual Rath Yatra In Puri Amid Covid-19 Health Risk

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