THE Supreme Court of India on Thursday ordered that the Jagannath Rath Yatra will not be organized anywhere in Puri, the temple town of Odisha, or in any other part of the State this year. It also directed that there should not be any activities secular or religious associated with the Rath Yatra during this period. The Rath Yatra was scheduled to begin on June 23.
A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice S A Bobde observed:
“It is not disputed that the number of people that are likely to gather for the annual Rath Yatra scheduled to be held from 23rd June, 2020, is going to be about 10 to 12 lakhs. The festivities normally continue for a period of 10 to 12 days. 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. Article 25 of the Constitution of India itself confers the right to freely profess and propagate religion subject to health”.
This followed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a Bhubaneswar based NGO ‘Odisha Vikas Parishad’ seeking directions to defer the Rath Yatra. The plea said if the Rath Yatra was allowed then it could lead to a ‘catastrophic’ spread of Covid19 as lakhs of devotees would assemble to be part of it.
The plea also said that the State Government on June 7 had passed an order to keep all religious places closed till June 30 and holding Rath Yatra on June 23 would be in violation of this order.
On May 7, the Central Government had permitted the State Government to allow construction activities for Rath Yatra. At the same time, the Centre had said that the State Government, keeping in view of the condition prevailing at that point of time, would take the decision regarding the holding of Rath Yatra.