CJI: Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow Rath Yatra during corona crisis
The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed this year’s Puri Rath Yatra, which is attended by lakhs of people from across the world and was to start from June 23, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and said “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow” it.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices Dineesh Maheshwari and AS Bopanna said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year’s Rath Yatra at Puri in Odisha can’t be allowed.
“Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow this year’s Rath Yatra to go on,” CJI Bobde said, adding that as such a huge gathering can’t take place during the pandemic.
While the Rath Yatra festival, held over 10-12 days with lakhs of people participating, 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
“Having regard to the danger presented by such a large gathering of people for the Rath Yatra, we consider it appropriate in the interests of public health and safety of citizens who are devotees to restrain the respondents from holding the Rath Yatra this year,” the bench said.
It said Article 25(1) of the Constitution itself confers the right to freely profess and propagate religion subject to health.
“We accordingly direct that there shall be no Rath Yatra anywhere in the temple town of Odisha or in any other part of the State this year. We further direct that there shall be no activities secular or religious associated with the Rath Yatra during this period,” it said.
During the hearing, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the petitioner, an NGO, said that if Rath Yatra is allowed huge congregation of people will take place, exposing them to higher risk of infection by coronavirus.
The bench observed that it is a serious matter. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that it needs time till Friday to file the reply. A counsel appearing for an intervenor said the Odisha Government has issued a notification that there shall be no public gathering till June 30. However, the bench said that it is restraining the respondents from holding the festival starting from June 23 and issuing notice on the plea and replies be filed in four weeks.
The Chief Justice said he came to know recently that the word juggernaut is related to Lord Jagannath which means a force that cannot be stopped. Mehta said, “But, you stopped it today”.
The top court noted in its order that it is not disputed that the number of people, likely to gather for the annual Rath Yatra scheduled to be held from June 23, 2020, is going to be about 10 to 12 lakhs and the festivities normally continue for a period of 10 to 12 days.
The top court’s order came on a PIL filed by the Odisha-based NGO seeking cancellation or postponement of this year’s Rath Yatra.
Friday, 19 June 2020 | PTI | New Delhi
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