Pleas in SC seeking stay or deferment of Puri Rath Yatra due to COVID-19 pandemic
New Delhi, June 15: Two pleas have been moved in the Supreme Court seeking to cancel or postponement of the historic 'Rath Yatra' at Puri in Odisha, which continue for 10 to 12 days and is attended by lakhs of devotees from across the world to avoid spread of Coronavirus.
A PIL has been filed by Bhubneshwar based NGO 'Odisha Vikas Parishad’ seeking stay on holding of the annual festival and an appeal has been moved by one Surendra Panigrahi of 'Bhartiya Bikash Parishad’ against the Orissa High Court order of June 9, by which it had asked the state government to decide on holding 'Rath Yatra' festival in consistent with the COVID-19 guidelines.
The PIL by NGO said that the religious congregation of such nature which has been specifically prohibited by the State Government vide its guidelines dated June 1 and June 7 and the guidelines dated May 30 of Ministry of Home Affairs, if allowed, will lead to catastrophic results and it will be very difficult on the part of the authorities to control the spread of virus thereafter.
“Thus, keeping in mind the interests of the general public at large, it would be apposite to postpone the Rath Yatra festival which is scheduled to commence on June 23, 2020 and further continue for a period of 10-12 days thereafter,” the plea said.
It said that if the 'Rath Yatra' is allowed to happen on June 23, despite State Government's prohibition on holding religious gathering or congregations, lakhs and lakhs of devotees from all over the country are going to gather for 'darshan' of Lord Shri Jagannath.
“If such a massive gathering takes place members of the crowd will not be able to maintain adequate distance, which will make them all vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 infection,” it said.
It sought a direction to the Centre and the state government for not granting any permission for holding the 'Rath Yatra' festival.
The appeal of Panigrahi also mentioned similar grounds for deferment of Rath Yatra like to preventing the spread of COVID-19 virus and said, “This time the entire country including the state of Odisha is presently passing through a very critical situation due to outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in India as well as Puri district”.
His appeal filed on Monday said, “Now the Puri district is declared as RED ZONE since the month of May 2020. Till today, about more than 155 Corona positive cases are detected in Puri district only and every day the numbers of Corona positive cases are increasing rapidly in the state as well as in Puri district”.
It said that lakhs of people will gather if the festival is allowed as scheduled making it difficult to enforce the social distancing norms.
On June 9, the High Court on the PIL filed by Panigrahi has directed that the state government that in case it decides to hold 'Rath Yatra' festival at Puri in consistent with the Covid-19 guidelines, then it must also duly consider deploying machinery or other means like elephants to pull the chariots.
The three heavily built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled manually over a distance of three kilometre twice during the nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri. While the festival is scheduled for June 23, the 'Bahuda Yatra' (return car festival) is fixed for July 1.
The High Court had said that it is up to the state government to decide whether or not to allow the religious festival depending on the Coronavirus situation prevalent on the ground.
If, however, any such decision is eventually taken, the state government shall ensure strict adherence to the directives issued by the Centre and the State's own orders containing additional guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19 virus, the high court had said.