Nod for Puri Rath Yatra with conditions

The newly-made wooden horses line up set into the chariots for deities — Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra — ahead of the Rath Yatra festival in Puri, Odisha.   | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

The Supreme Court on Monday lifted its June 18 ban on the conduct of Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra after ensuring a complete lack of public attendance for the festival to avoid spread of infection amid a pandemic.

A virtual court Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde ordered “strict curfew” in the city of Puri from Monday night (June 22) onwards till the entire duration of the festival. All entry points to the city would also remain closed during this period. The festival is scheduled to begin from June 23.

Also read: Puri Shankaracharya wants review of Supreme Court order on Rath Yatra

“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.,” the Supreme Court ordered.

The court said the Jagannath Puri temple administration and the State government, in consultation with the Centre, were entirely responsible for the safe conduct of the festival in line with COVID-19 guidelines.

Also read: COVID-19: Gujarat High Court stays Jagannath Rath Yatra procession in Ahmedabad

“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,” the court said. 

Short notice

The court had stopped the yatra for this year to avoid public gathering and risk of infection. The Bench was assembled in short notice during court vacation on Monday after the Centre made an urgent mentioning along with over a dozen other applicants seeking a recall of the injunction order.

“We are informed that in the 18th-19th century a yatra of this kind was responsible for the spread of cholera and plague ‘like wild fire’. We say this in order to remind the authorities concerned that the situation can become dangerous if the rules of caution are ignored,” the court cautioned the applicants. 

Also read: Construction of Rath Yatra chariots allowed: Home Ministry

The Bench explained it opted for an injunction on June 18 when informed that a festival without public attendance was “well-nigh impossible”. The court indicated that an application by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, the chairman of the Puri Jagannath temple administration, proposing to hold the festival “in a limited way without public attendance” has now changed its mind.

“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 court said.

Also read: Coronavirus lockdown | Rationalists criticise preparations for Puri Rath Yatra

The 11 conditions include that only those who have been tested COVID-19 negative would be allowed to pull the chariots and participate in the rituals associated with the festival. It said only “bare minimum number of people” would be allowed to participate in the rituals and Yatra.

The court directed that 500 people who have cleared the COVID-19 test would be allowed to pull each chariot. Chariot-pullers should maintain physical distancing. There should be a one-hour gap between two chariots.

Visual media would be allowed to install cameras at vantage points and cover the festival extensively for the benefit of viewers.

The “primary responsibility” to conduct the festival in line with public health safety norms lies with the committee in-charge of the Puri Jagannath temple administration. Each member of the committee is responsible for the safe conduct of the festival. In addition, State government officials designated for the Yatra are also responsible. Both the temple management and the State should consult the Centre on the safety norms.

The Union Government should help the State in the endeavour, the court said.

The State should maintain a record containing details of participants along with their medical test results. 

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 4:30:17 PM |

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