No public to be allowed: SC gives green signal to Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra

No public to be allowed: SC gives green signal to Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra

The Supreme Court on Monday gave a green signal to Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee to organise the annual Rath Yatra despite a coronavirus outbreak. As per the SC order, the temple committee will organise the yatra in coordination with state and central governments, without compromising the safety and health of the participants. No public participation will be allowed in the yatra.

The verdict was delivered by a three-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra.

Earlier on June 18, the SC had stayed this year’s Puri Rath Yatra due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But on Centre and Odisha government's appeal, Chief Justice SA Bobde had agreed to set up a three-judge bench which heard the matter on Monday.

During Monday's hearing, the Centre told the apex court that Rath Yatra in Puri can be allowed without public participation in view of the coronavirus pandemic and said the "tradition of centuries may not be stopped". The Odisha government also supported the Centre’s stand in the apex court.

"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," said Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

Tushar Mehta said that besides maintaining precautions, the state government can impose curfew for a day.

"All 'sebayats' and 'pandas' who have tested negative (for COVID-19) can participate in rituals as may be decided by HH Shri Shankaracharya. People may not congregate and seek blessings on TV during live telecast. Raja of Puri and the temple committee may supervise arrangements of these rituals," Mehta told the bench.

The Puri Rath Yatra, which is attended by lakhs of people from across the world, is scheduled from June 23.

The apex court had on June 18 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.

While the Rath Yatra festival, held over 10-12 days, was scheduled for June 23, the 'Bahuda Jatra' (return car festival) was 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. Even as the yatra has received green signal, the devotees will not be allowed to participate.