An application has been filed urging the Supreme Court to recall its June 18 Order, by which the annual Jagannath Rath Yatra in Odisha was stayed on account of health and safety concerns in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moved by Jagannath Sanskriti Jana Jagaran Manch, the application contends that the petitioners in the matter, Odisha Vikas Parishad, concealed material facts and did not apprise the Court of arrangements which had been made to ensure social distancing in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.
Stating that the Odisha High Court had already decided on the issue, the applicant draws the Court's attention to the Order passed on June 9, wherein due consideration had been given to all precautionary aspects. It is pointed out that, vide this Order, the State Government had been given authority to take a decision about the Rath Yatra after ensuring all arrangements were consistent with the directives issued by the Centre, National Directives for COVID-19 management, as well as the State's own order containing guidelines, issued on June 1.
In furtherance of the High Court's Order, the applicant details the preparations undertaken to ensure all guidelines are followed to carry out the Yatra on June 23. It is submitted that:-
"The Deba Snan 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…
…372 persons (Carpenters, Black Smiths, Rupkars etc.) are engaged in the construction of the 3 Raths/Chariots for more than one and a half months and all are in isolation, tested and found COVID negative. These Persons have constructed the 3 Raths/Chariots as per the guidelines issued by the Central Government as well as State Government, maintaining social distance and sanitization. The construction of 3 Raths/Chariots have already been completed…
…there are 132 Jagannath Temple police persons who are also in isolation…
…as on today 800+ 372 + 132 = 1304 persons are in isolation for more than one and a half months."
It has also been stated that the Puri Municipality has been categorized as 'Green Zone'. Further, it is emphasised that while the occasion usually witnesses the presence of over 2 lakh devotees every year, this year the State Government and District Administration has issued guidelines to impose Section 144, thus disallowing any devotee from watching the 'darshan'.
With respect to the pulling of chariots, it is averred that not more than 500-600 people will be required to carry out the entire Yatra from Puri Jagannath Temple to Gundicha Temple, which covers 3km and can easily be carried out through adherence to social distancing norms.
The applicant thus submits that the Court deemed it fit to order that no Rath Yatra or any Yatra related activity would take place in Odisha in 2020 because the aforementioned details were not placed before it.
Attempting to address the Top Court's concern regarding public health and safety, the Applicant urges that "under the above facts and circumstances it is not impossible and impracticable for the State Government and District Administration to conduct the Rath Yatra while maintaining the social distancing and following the guidelines of the Central Government and the State Government. The Rath Yatra 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."
Appealing that the customary practices of the temple have been performed since 'time immemorial' and that the sentiments of millions are associated with the rituals, which would be disrupted by the Court Order, it is pleaded that the decision to not allow the Rath Yatra this year be reversed.
On Thursday, a Supreme Court headed by CJI SA Bobde had ordered that no Rath Yatra would be held in the Lord Jagannath Temple in Odisha this year. It was further directed that no secular or religious activity associated to the rath yatra would take place in Odisha this year either.
"We consider it appropriate that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens to restrain the Respondents from holding the Rath Yatra this year. We direct that no Rath Yatra will be held in the temple area of Odisha", Ordered the Court.
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