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New Delhi, June 18, 2020
The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the annual Rath Yatra in Odisha's Puri. The famous yatra was to start from the Jagannath Temple on June 23. However, now there will be no charriot pulling of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra and all other activities associated with the annual program also stand cancelled.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S. A. Bobde and comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and A. S. Bopanna took the step amid rising cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country which has already recorded over 3.6 lakh cases.
The Chief Justice said such gatherings cannot take place during the ongoing pandemic. "Lord Jagannath won't forgive us if we allow it."
The bench noted that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, the Rath Yatra festival cannot be allowed this year.
The observation from the top court came on a plea by an NGO seeking direction to stay the holding of the Rath Yatra festival, which spans for 10-12 days, and involves the gathering of lakhs of devotees from across the world.
The plea filed by NGO Odisha Vikas Praishad claimed that presently, the entire nation including Odisha is facing an unprecedented situation due to Covid-19, where the lives of the common people are at a huge risk.
The plea cited the May 7 letter issued by Ministry of Home Affairs, which granted permission to the state government to carry out the construction of chariots for the conducting of the Rath Yatra subject to the condition that no religious congregation takes place while it is constructed and adherence to stipulations provided in the guideline issued May 1.
"In the said letter, discretion was also granted to the state government with regard to the holding of the Rath Yatra keeping in mind the conditions prevailing at that relevant point of time," said the plea.
"If the Rath Yatra is allowed to happen on June 23, despite state government's prohibition on holding religious gatherings or congregations, lakhs and lakhs of devotees are going to gather for 'darshan' of Lord Shri Jagannath. If such a massive gathering takes place members of the crowd will not be able to maintain adequate distance, which will make them all vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 infection," said the plea.
The NGO had urged the apex court to issue directions to the Centre and state government to postpone the festival.
The plea claimed due to the pre-emptive measures taken by the government to tackle the spread of COVID-19, there was no spurt in positive cases in Odisha unlike in other states in the country. However, due to the recent influx of the migrants and people coming from outside the state, there has been a steep increase in the number of positive cases. Citing the recent spike in cases, the petitioner insisted that infections due to COVID-19 are increasing exponentially.
"If allowed, it will lead to catastrophic results and it will be very difficult on the part of the authorities to control the spread of the virus thereafter," contended the plea.