SC allows Puri Rath Yatra, but without devotees

Four days after staying the historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri, the Supreme Court indicated it would allow the event, which is scheduled to start tomorrow, saying the court cannot “micro-manage” the rituals and left it to the state government, the Centre and the temple management to deal with that issue.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde was informed by the Odisha government that it will coordinate with the temple management and the Centre to make things smooth during Rath Yatra, which is attended by lakhs to people from around the world, and ensure compliance with health guidelines in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

While hearing a PIL filed by NGO ‘Odisha Vikash Parishad’ the apex court on June18 had said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year’s Puri Rath Yatra cannot be allowed and that “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow” it.

The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and A S Bopanna, said that each Rath would be pulled by not more than 500 people and all of them have to test negative for coronavirus.

It directed that those engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra.

“All entry points into the city of Puri, i.e., airports, railway stations, bus stands, etc., shall be closed during the period of Rath Yatra festival,” the bench said in its order.

“During the period of curfew no one would be allowed to come out of their houses or their places of residence, such as, hotels, lodging houses, etc. To start with, the curfew shall begin tonight at 8 pm,” the bench said.

The top court said these 500 persons who will pull the chariot will include officials and police personnel and there shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots.

“Each of those who is engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra,” the bench said while directing that only such persons shall be associated with the rituals who have been found to tested negative for COVID-19 and shall maintain social distancing.

While the Rath Yatra festival, held over 10-12 days and attended by lakhs of people participating, is scheduled from June 23, the 'Bahuda Jatra' (return car festival) is fixed for July 1.

Three heavily-built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled by thousands of devotees over a distance of three kilometres twice during the nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri.

"Indeed, 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,” the bench said in its order.

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