Puts onus on State, Centre, temple trust to ‘micro-manage’ Puri event safely
Days after Supreme Court stayed the annual Rath Yatra at Puri’s Jagannath Temple on June 23 due to coronavirus pandemic, saying “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive the court if they allow it”, the same court took a U-turn and allowed the same after the both the Odisha Government and the Centre appealed to the court to review its order.
The Odisha Government has placed Puri under a complete shutdown from 9 pm on Monday till 2 pm on Wednesday with curfew-like restrictions for smooth conduct of the Rath Yatra. “All entry points to be closed,” said Odisha Chief Secretary, Asit Kumar Tripathy.
The bench, whose order is yet to be uploaded on the apex court website, amply indicated during the hearing that it will allow the Rath Yatra by leaving the micro-management to the wisdom of the Centre, the State and the temple trust.
The SC asked the Odisha Government to make necessary arrangements for the Rath Yatra. “If it is confined to Puri alone in a limited way without public attendance as proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, Chairman of the Jagannath Temple administration, State Govt will endeavour to make necessary arrangements to conduct it,” the SC said.
The Odisha Government told a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde that it will coordinate with the temple management and the Centre to make things smooth during Rath Yatra, which is attended by lakhs of people from around the world, and ensure compliance with health guidelines in view of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Centre also backed the Odisha Government’s stand with Solicitor General Tushar Mehta claiming that the Central Government has no objections with the yatra. He suggested telecasting it on TV in order to avoid a large congregation of people.
“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,” Mehta said.
While hearing a PIL filed by NGO ‘Odisha Vikash Parishad’ the apex court on June 18 had said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year’s Puri Rath Yatra cannot be allowed and that “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow” it.
A day after the order was passed, some applications were filed in the top court seeking recall and modification of its order. These applications, including those filed by ‘Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Manch’ and BJP leader Sambit Patra, urged the court to allow the Rath Yatra with certain restrictions due to the pandemic.
The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheswari and A S Bopanna, was informed by the Centre that Rath Yatra can be conducted without compromising on citizen’s health and with co-operation of State and temple trust.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the entire nation is delighted by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow Puri’s iconic Rath Yatra and leave the management of the festival to the Odisha Government.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi not only understood the sentiments of devotees but also initiated consultations. The entire nation is delighted by the Supreme Court’s decision to ensure the Rath Yatra goes on,” Shah said after the top court’s judgment permitting the festival to take place.
Earlier, the home minister also spoke to Gajapati Maharaj and the Shankaracharya of Puri to know their views on the Rath Yatra.
Considering the urgency and importance of the matter, it was placed in front of a vacation bench of the Supreme Court and the hearing took place this afternoon, which paved the way for the important decision by the SC. “Congratulations to the people of Odisha,” Shah tweeted soon after the hearing on the issue.
CJI Bobde, who presided over the hearing through video conferencing from his Nagpur residence, said that the order will be made public after some time.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the Odisha government said that the Yatra or the procession will not be conducted in the entire state. The bench said that it is only considering holding of the Yatra in Puri and not anywhere else in Odisha.
The top court said the when temple committee and the trust are responsible for conducting the Rath Yatra, then why Shankaracharya is involved.
Mehta said that it is done only for the consultation purpose.
Salve said the chariot can be pulled by ‘Shebaits’ or police personnel who have tested negative for COVID-19.
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for Odisha-based NGO, which filed the PIL for the cancellation and deferment of the annual festival, said that if the Rath Yatra is permitted by the court then minimum number of people of the temple should be allowed to participate in the ritual.
The bench said the court is not going to micro-manage the Rath Yatra and it will leave it to the wisdom of the Centre, the state and the temple trust for conducting the rituals.
Salve added that they would coordinate between the Centre and the temple committee and ensure that the health guidelines are followed and things go smoothly.
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 nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri.
Tuesday, 23 June 2020 | PNS | New Delhi
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