Will the Jagannath Rath Yatra be held this year?

The Supreme Court disallowed the yatra on June 18 but further developments in the case point at probable modification of the order

Jagannath Rath Yatra

The Centre and State of Odisha have approached the Supreme Court today, urging it to reconsider its decision disallowing the Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra scheduled to begin on June 23. Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, for the Centre mentioned the matter 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.” He further submitted that the Centre has come up with specific conditions to ensure that festival can be held without congregation of people while only permitting those priests who have tested negative for COVID19 to perform the rituals. Senior Advocate Harish Salve for the state, has concurred with this submission, despite of 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.

The bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra will hear the matter in the second half today.

The Case Developments

The Supreme Court on June 18, passed on order disallowing the Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra that takes place in Odisha every year. The Bench comprising CJI SA Bobde and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and AS Bopanna directed that there will be no Rath Yatra this year anywhere in the temple town of Odisha or in any other part of the state and that no activities secular or religious associated with the Rath Yatra during this period.

The bench cited Article 25 of the Indian Constitution that gives an individual the right to propagate religion but subject to health. Section 25(1) states, “Subject to public order morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.” The bench noted that the annual Rath Yatra usually attracts a crowd of 10 to 12 lakh people and the festivities continue for 10-12 days and opined, “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 order was passed in a petition filed by Odisha Vikas Parishad seeking a stay on the Rath Yatra. The CJI 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.” Some of the intervenors had pleaded that rituals related to the Yatra should be permitted but the bench did not allow the same. The petitioner had also stated that if the Yatra is allowed, it will lead to catastrophic results and will be difficult for officials to control the spread of coronavirus thereafter. Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Odisha also suggested that it would be better to stop the festivities.

On the following day, 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 application also states that the matter had been decided by the Odisha High Court whereby the court had given the state government the authority to take decision with respect to the Raty Yatra after ensuring that all arrangements were consistent with the COVID19 guidelines. The application also stated that the Puri Municipality is in ‘Green Zone’. The Applicant further states that the Rath Yatra can be performed with the help of 500-600 servitors, who have been in isolation for about a month. the applicant appeals the court to recall its order in the view that the religious practices of the temple have been performed since time immemorial and that sentiments of millions are associated with the rituals and the same should not be disrupted, as they will be carried out while maintaining social distancing.

On June 20, in an urgent hearing, Gujarat High Court followed the footsteps of the apex court and disallowed Rath Yatra and related activities across the state of Gujarat.

The Supreme Court order dated June 18 can be read here.



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