In modification of its earlier June 18 order imposing a complete ban on the Rath Yatra at Puri, the Supreme Court has allowed intervention applications seeking holding of the Chariot festival tomorrow with stipulated directions.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices Dinesh Maheshwari & AS Bopanna have allowed the Rath Yatra to proceed without the general congregation of participants subject to the following conditions:
(1) 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;
(2) The State Government shall impose a curfew in the City of Puri on all the days and during all the time when Rath Yatra chariots are taken in procession. The State Government may also impose curfew in the city of Puri on such other days and during such time as deemed necessary. 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 P.M;
(3) Each Rath, i.e.., Chariot, shall be pulled by not more than 500 persons. Each of those 500 persons shall be tested for the Coronavirus. They shall be permitted to pull the chariot only if they have been found negative. The number 500 shall include officials and police personnel;
(4) There shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots;
(5) Each of those who is engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra;
(6) We are informed that certain rituals are associated with the Rath Yatra. We direct that only such persons shall be associated with the rituals who have been found to have tested negative and shall maintain social distancing;
(7) The primary responsibility for conducting the Rath Yatra in accordance with the conditions and other norms shall be that of the Committee in-charge of Puri Jagannath Temple Administration. Each member of the Committee shall be responsible for due compliance with the conditions imposed by this Court and the general directions which govern ensuring of public health issued by the Union Government. In addition, the officers designated by the State Government for conduct of the Rath Yatra shall be responsible likewise;
(8) The rituals and the Rath Yatra shall be freely covered by the visual media. The State Government shall allow TV cameras to be installed at such places as may be found necessary by the TV crew;
(9) The bare minimum number of people shall be allowed by the Committee to participate in the rituals and in the Rath Yatra. We take a note of the fact that the State of Orissa has a good record of having controlled the pandemic with a very little loss of life. We see no reason why the same attitude of care and caution should not be applied to the Rath Yatra.
(10) The State Government may take such help as may be found necessary from the Union Government. Shri Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General, has assured the Court that the Union Government shall offer all assistance and help to the State Government in this endeavour;
(11) The State Government shall maintain a record containing details of all those who have been allowed to participate in the Rath Yatra or the rituals connected therewith along with details of their medical conditions after testing.
Further to this, the court noted that even though it did not an official copy of the gazette itself, "a yatra of this kind on the 18-19th century was responsible for spread of cholera and plague like wild fire". Therefore, court cautioned the authorities that if appropriate precautions are not taken, it can become a dangerous situation.
Court also observed that the June 18 order was passed in light of submissions made according to which it was told that the Rath Yatra would be "highly impossible" without congregation and therefore, it was left with no option but to grant an injunction restraining the Rath Yatra.
However, since it was proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri (Chairman of Puri Jagannath Temple Administration) that the it was in fact, possible to ensure no public attendance, Court observed that it saw "no reason why the Rath Yatra cannot be conducted safely along its usual route from temple to temple"
Earlier today, Supreme Court had allowed the Rath Yatra at Puri and had ordered that the Centre and State should "work in tandem", Detailed instructions of which were to be released and stated in the signed copy of the order "soon to be released".
The Central Government supported the modification of the stay order to allow the Rath Yatra after taking necessary precautions.
Solicitor General submitted that there are guidelines of the Central Government, as per which the Rath Yatra can be carried out without compromising health and safety.
He asserted that no compromise shall be made while carrying out the Puri Rath Yatra in terms of health and safety.
"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 SG had submitted in the morning.
The application for modification was moved by Jagannath Sanskriti Jana Jagaran Manch challenging stay imposed on the annual Rath Yatra on the ground that Odisha Vikas Parishad - the original petitioner - had concealed material facts and had not apprised the court of requisite arrangements ensuring social distancing.
Though the petition was originally listed before a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, it was later considered by a bench comprising CJI S A Bobde (who was at his Nagpur residence), Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and AS Bopanna. The shift happened after the Solicitor General made a mention before Justice Arun Mishra in the morning, seeking the conduct of the Rath Yatra on conditions.
Click Here To Download Order