On Rath Yatra, SC says, "Will let Odisha government decide"
Hearing petitions against its earlier order, which stopped the famed Rath Yatra in Puri, Odisha, the Supreme Court on Monday empowered the Odisha government to take a call. Last week, SC halted the seven-day festival, which is scheduled to begin tomorrow, saying Lord Jagannath "won't forgive us" if the festival is allowed this year, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Here are more details.
As a part of the festival, the deity Lord Jagannath (Krishna) and his siblings Balaram and Subhadra, are taken out from the temple for a trip to their maternal home. A week later, they return. The festival is attended by lakhs of devotees. Courtesy the coronavirus situation, the bench, led by CJI SA Bobde, had earlier said it's better to stall it this year.
The earlier decision was taken after a non-profit organization, Odisha Vikas Parishad, said allowing the event "will be an invitation to infect lakhs of devotees". The plea reminded that Odisha government, led by BJD Chief Naveen Patnaik, hasn't let religious places to open before June 30, either. To recall, all religious places were shut in India in March, due to lockdown, and re-opened in June.
"Such gatherings can't take place at the time of the pandemic. In the interest of public health and safety of citizens, we direct that there shall be no Rath Yatra and associated activities this year," SC had said on Thursday.
Subsequently, several pleas were filed demanding a modification. One of the petitioners was Janardhan Pattajoshi Mohapatra, the hereditary chief servitor of Lord Jagannatha. BJP's Sambit Patra, who contested Lok Sabha elections from Puri and lost, suggested holding the festival without any public participation. 800 sevayats who indulge in daily rituals at the temple can be a part of the ceremony, he had proposed.
Meanwhile, the Centre supported holding the procession, reminding the top court that faiths of crores are linked with it. "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," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed SC. Blessings can be sought during live-telecast and a curfew can be imposed.
"A ritual going on for centuries cannot be interfered with. Only people who tested negative (for coronavirus) and working in the Lord Jagannath temple can be part of the ritual," Mehta said, while mentioning the matter before a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra.
Notably, the Odisha government also supported the Centre's stand, through Senior Advocate Harish Salve. A bench of CJI SA Bobde, who is in Nagpur due to summer vacation, and Justices AS Bopanna and Dinesh Maheshwari heard the matter via video-conferencing. In its order, SC said the temple committee, state, and central governments will coordinate the event without "compromising with the health issue".
Patnaik will chair a state-level Rath Yatra preparatory meeting at 5 pm. The top court said the state government can stop the festivities if it thinks the situation is getting out of hand. Notably, Odisha has 5,303 coronavirus cases and 21 have died.