Dinesh Maheshwari, CJI SA Bobde, and AS Bopanna
Dinesh Maheshwari, CJI SA Bobde, and AS Bopanna
Litigation News

Entry points to Puri to be closed, curfew to be imposed: The Supreme Court's conditions for allowing the Jagannath Rath Yatra

Debayan Roy

As reported earlier, the Supreme Court has given the go-ahead for the annual Rath Yatra to be held at Puri, Odisha.

In its order passed today, the Court has imposed a number of conditions for carrying out the event, including the imposition of a curfew in Puri starting at 8 PM today.

On June 18, the three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and Dinesh Maheshwari had stayed this year's Rath Yatra in view of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state.

In its order passed today, the same Bench has noted that even on June 18, it had suggested that the annual Rath Yatra be allowed, subject to limited participation. However, the order notes that the Bench was informed then that it was "impossible" to ensure there would be no congregation of devotees at the event.

After the Court's June 18 order, the Centre as well as the State of Odisha approached the Supreme Court today in support of carrying out the Rath Yatra, albeit with some restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

After hearing the parties, the Bench allowed the Rath Yatra to be conducted with coordination between the state and the Centre, along with the Jagannath Temple administration.

In light of assurances made by the state government and the Centre, the Court has now held,

"Indeed, 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."

Supreme Court

While passing the order, the Court took note that in the 18th-19th century, a Yatra of this kind was responsible for the spread of cholera and plague “like wild fire”. This led the Bench to forewarn the authorities,

"We say this in order to remind the authorities concerned that the situation can become dangerous if the rules of caution are ignored."

While allowing the Rath Yatra in Puri to be conducted from June 23, the Court has subjected the order to the following conditions:

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

2. Imposition of Curfew: The Odisha government shall impose a curfew in the City of Puri on all the days and during all the time when Rath Yatra chariots are taken in procession. The curfew can be extended if necessary. 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. The curfew shall begin tonight (June 22) at 8 P.M.

3. Only those who test COVID-19 negative to pull chariots: Each Rath or Chariot shall be pulled by not more than 500 persons. 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. The number 500 shall include officials and police personnel.

4. Interval in Chariot pulling: There shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots.

5. Social Distancing: Each person engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra.

6. Ritual performers to be COVID-19 negative: Only such persons shall be associated with the rituals who have been found to have tested negative and shall maintain social distancing.

7. Officers in-charge: 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 the Puri Jagannath Temple administration. Each member of the Committee shall be responsible for due compliance with the conditions imposed by this Court and the general directions which govern ensuring of public health issued by the Centre. In addition, the officers designated by the state government for conduct of the Rath Yatra shall be responsible likewise.

8. Telecast of Rath Yatra: The rituals and the Rath Yatra shall be freely covered by the visual media. The state government shall allow TV cameras to be installed at such places as may be found necessary by the TV crew.

9. Minimum participation: Bare minimum number of people shall be allowed by the Committee to participate in the rituals and in the Rath Yatra.

10. State-Centre coordination: The state government may take such help as may be found necessary from the Union government. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has assured the Court that the Centre shall offer all assistance and help to the in this endeavour.

11. Maintain record of participants: The state government shall maintain a record containing details of all those who have been allowed to participate in the Rath Yatra or the rituals connected therewith along with details of their medical conditions after testing.

[Read the order]

Puri Rath Yatra Order.pdf
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