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PTI | New Delhi & Bhubaneswar | June 19, 2020:: A plea was Friday filed in the Supreme Court seeking recall of its order staying this year’s historic Puri Rath Yatra, which is attended by lakhs of people from across the world and was to start from June 23, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde had Thursday said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year’s Rath Yatra at Puri in Odisha can’t be allowed and “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow” it.
The plea filed in the top court has sought recall and modification of its June 18 order saying the festival is deeply associated to the religious beliefs of millions of devotees of Lord Jagannath and it is “not impossible and impracticable” for the state and district administration to conduct Rath Yatra by maintaining social distancing and following the Centre’s guidelines.
“Under the above facts and circumstances the applicant most humbly prayed that the order dated June 18, 2020 as passed by this court may be recalled and modified to the extent that the Rath Yatra ritual may be performed with the help of 500-600 servitors by following the guidelines, maintaining the social distance and with certain impositions and conditions,” said the plea filed by “Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Manch”.
The plea, filed through advocate Hitendra Nath Rath, said that as per earlier direction of the Orissa High Court as well as decision of the state government, 372 persons were engaged in the construction of three Raths/chariots for more than one and half months and all were isolated, tested and found COVID-19 negative.
It said these persons have constructed the Raths by following the guidelines of Central government and maintained social distancing and proper sanitization.
From Bhubaneswar PTI Correspondent reports, Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, along with priests of the Jagannath temple, on Friday insisted that the Supreme Court should “reconsider” its decision to stay the Rath Yatra, and allow servitors to observe the festival with precautions in place. Maintaining that the apex court had rightly halted the ‘Mage Parab’, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the decision to stall the Rath Yatra, however, could be re-evaluated, “allowing only a handful of servitors to conduct the ceremony”.
“Devotees, this year, can witness the rituals on television,” he stated.
The nine-day festival is usually marked by a procession of chariots, in which three deities — Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra — emabark on an annual journey to Gundicha temple
The Shankaracharya of Govardhan Peeth in Puri is the religious head, whose views and opinions on disputes are accepted by one and all in the 12th century shrine.
Chattisa Nijog, the apex body of servitors of the Shree Jagannath Temple, has also urged the state government to approach the Supreme Court for reassessment of the verdict.
“It seems that the Supreme Court was not properly apprised of the preparations made by temple administration and the Odisha government for the June 23 Rath Yatra,” Chattisa Nijog said in a letter to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
The cancellation of the annual car festival will adversely affect all future rituals, offerings and festivals, the servitors claimed.
“The Centre had allowed chariot construction for the festival, and accordingly all arrangements were made, with carpenters and servitors made to undergo health screening from time to time. With just four days to go before the festival, the state government should immediately move the apex court seeking a modification of its order,” the Nijog added.
The apex court had on Thursday stayed Rath Yatra, which was scheduled to begin on June 23, and all activities related to the festival, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after, the Odisha cabinet, during an emergency meeting, passed a resolution, asking Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee (SJTMC) to carry out rituals inside the Puri shrine, in accordance with the direction of the court.
A crucial meeting of the Jagannath temple management committee is set to be held here on Friday to discuss the possibility of performing all Rath Yatra rituals on the premises of the 12th century shrine, after carefully studying the decision of the state cabinet, and the apex court directions, SJTMC member Ramachandra Dasmohapatra said.
After the meeting, a delegation is expected to meet Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalanand Saraswati to seek a final advice on the matter, he said.
Meanwhile, two organisations — Srijagannath Sena and Srikshetra Suraksha Bahini – have called for a dawn-to-dusk shutdown in Puri on Friday in protest against the cancellation of this year’s Rath Yatra.
Members of the two outfits also staged protests in the town, claiming that the state government did nothing to facilitate the annual car festival.
The apex court had issued its order on Thursday, based on a PIL filed by an Odisha-based NGO seeking cancellation or postponement of this year’s Ratha yatra, which is attended by millions of devotees from across the world.
Three heavily built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled by thousands of devotees over a distance of three kilometres twice during the nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri.
The plea seeking recall of the order has further said that “Deba Snana Purnima” ritual was performed on June 5 with the help of 800 servitors, who all were tested and found COVID-19 negative.
“The distance of the Puri Jagannath Temple to Gundicha Temple is three Km distance and social distancing can be maintained by 500-600 persons in the three Km distance,” the plea said, adding that a total of 500 to 600 persons are required for pulling the Raths.
The plea, which said that Puri municipality is categorised as “Green zone”, claimed that these facts were not placed before the court during the hearing on Thursday.
“Under the above facts and circumstances, it is not impossible and impracticable for the state government and the district administration to conduct the Rath Yatra by maintaining the social distancing and following the guidelines of the Central government and the state government,” it said.
“The Rath Yatra can be performed with the help of 500-600 servitors by maintaining social distance on the road of three km stretch and by imposing the restrictions as well as imposing section 144 of the CrPC,” it said.
The plea said that the Rath Yatra has been performed since time immemorial and the sentiments of millions of devotees are attached to the same.
The top court’s June 18 order had came on a PIL filed by an Odisha-based NGO seeking cancellation or postponement of this year”s Rath Yatra.
Two pleas have been moved in the top court seeking to cancel or postponement of the historic “Rath Yatra”.
Besides the PIL filed by the NGO, “Odisha Vikas Parishad”, seeking stay on holding of the annual festival, an appeal has been moved by one Surendra Panigrahi of ‘Bhartiya Bikash Parishad” against the Orissa High Court order of June 9 which had asked the state government to decide on holding the “Rath Yatra” festival in line with the COVID-19 guidelines.