Puri Rath Yatra: SC imposes curfew, strict conditions for conduct of festivities

The apex court allows only those who test negative for Covid-19 to take part in Rath Yatra. Meanwhile, Gujarat HC has taken a contrasting stand

rath ytara

The Supreme Court, on June 22 modified its June 18 order which had disallowed the Jagannath Rath Yatra to take place this year citing the threat of spread of Covid-19. The Rath Yatra was scheduled to begin on June 23 and this last minute modified order has allowed the Rath Yatra to take place subject to certain conditions. The bench received several intervention and modification applications urging the court to allow the Rath Yatra.

While the matter was mentioned before a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, the same was transferred to the bench led by CJI SA Bobde presumably since the original order was passed by that bench. Before ordering the conditions, the bench reminded the concerned authorities that in the 18th-19th century a yatra of this kind was responsible for the spread of infectious diseases cholera. The bench said, “We say this in order to remind the authorities concerned that the situation can become dangerous if the rules of caution are ignored.”

The bench relied upon the affidavit submitted by the state of Odisha which states that it might be possible to conduct the Rath Yatra at Puri “in a limited way without public attendance”. This was proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, who is the Chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple Administration. The bench observed, “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 bench issued the following conditions to be followed while allowing the Rath Yatra at Puri:

1.      All entry points into the City of Puri, i.e., airports, railway stations, bus stands, etc., shall be closed during the period of Rath Yatra festival.

2.      Curfew to be imposed in Puri for the duration of the Rath Yatra beginning 8 pm June 22.

3.      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.

4.      Each Rath, i.e.., Chariot, shall be pulled by not more than 500 persons (including officials and police personnel). Each of those 500 persons shall be tested for the Coronavirus. They shall be permitted to pull the chariot only if they have been found negative.  

5.      There shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots.

6.      Each of those who is engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra.  

7.      Person performing rituals related to the Rath Yatra should be ones who have tested negative for COVID-19

8.      The primary responsibility for conducting the Rath Yatra in accordance with the conditions and other norms shall be that of the Committee in-charge of Puri Jagannath Temple Administration; the officers designated by the State Government for conduct of the Rath Yatra shall be responsible likewise.

9.      The rituals and the Rath Yatra shall be freely covered by the visual media.

10.   Given the  good record of controlling the pandemic in the state, the same attitude of care and caution to be applied during the Rath Yatra. Bare minimum people to be allowed to participate in the rituals.

11.   State government may seek Centre’s help in furtherance of the same.

12.   State government shall maintain a record of all persons participating in the Rat Yatra or the rituals and their medical conditions after testing.


Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, for the Centre had mentioned the matter on June 22 before a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra and submitted, “Tradition of centuries may not be stopped. 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.” Senior Advocate Harish Salve for the state, concurred with this submission, despite having taken an opposite view when the Supreme Court passed its order on June 18, by saying that it is better if the festivities are stopped.

While injuncting the carrying out of the Rath Yatra, the court had cited Article 25 of the Indian Constitution which gives an individual the right to propagate religion but subject to health priorities. The Bench comprising CJI SA Bobde and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and AS Bopanna had opined on June 18, “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.” This order was passed in a petition filed by Odisha Vikas Parishad seeking a stay on the Rath Yatra whereby the CJI also observed, “We are not allowing this. Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allow this to continue. Activities related to the Rath Yatra are injuncted.”

On June 23,  Jagannath Sanskriti Jana Jagran Manch moved an application urging the apex court to recall its June 18 order stating that the petitioners had concealed material facts about the arrangements made for ensuring social distancing in compliance with COVID19 guidelines issued by the Centre and state.

The complete order can be read here.

Gujarat HC

On the other hand, the Gujarat High Court, in the wee hours on June 23, dismissed a batch of petitions seeking permissions to conduct the Rath yatra in Ahmedabad. The procession is the second-biggest in India after Puri, as per the Mahant of Jagannathji Temple in Ahmedabad. On June 20, the court had denied permission for conducting the Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad and across the state citing threat of spread of Covid-19 as well as the June 18 Supreme Court order.

In an urgent hearing that concluded at 2 A.M, a bench comprising Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala held, “There may not be denial about the order passed by the Supreme Court today, but the situation in Ahmedabad on account of pandemic of Covid-19 cannot be compared with the situation in Puri or in the State of Orissa. Despite the fact that assurance being given by the State and all other applicants we still do not find any good ground to recall or modify our order dated 20.06.2020.”

The Gujarat High Court order can be read here.


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