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The Lords and the Gods- Rath Yatra Order by Supreme Court

Introduction


Rath-Yatra is one of the most significant Hindu festivals and is celebrated in the Indian state of Odisha. It is recognized to be the largest and oldest chariot festival in the world & its history can be traced back to the late Puranic times. It's a 10-12 days celebration, witnessing an annual gathering of approx. 10-12 lakh people. The Rath-Yatra is celebrated according to the Hindu calendar and this year, the Rath-Yatra was scheduled to commence from 23rd June. Unfortunately due to the Pandemic, the festival proceedings remained uncertain.



The decision of the Odisha High Court


The issue regarding the conducting of Rath-Yatra proceedings was brought before the Odisha High Court on 9th June 2020. The Odisha HC, after giving the power to the state government, asked them to prioritize the public health security amidst the COVID-19 outbreak in their mind before deciding whether to celebrate the Rath-Yatra festival or not, on 23rd June. The Court thus disposed of both the petitions. (Surendra Panigrahi V. State Of Odisha).


The Supreme Court Decision


On 18th June 2020, when the aforementioned matter was brought before the Supreme Court by Odisha Vikash Parishad, the Supreme Court overruled the Odisha HC’s judgment there-by prohibiting the state from conducting Rath-Yatra anywhere in the temple town of Puri district, further stating that if they allowed the state to conduct Rath-Yatra during the pandemic, then “…lord Jagannath won’t forgive them”. (Odisha Vikash Parishad v. the State of Odisha)


Post the SC judgment in the case of Odisha Vikash Parishad v. the State of Odisha, the general public of Odisha and India, who associated themselves with this festival were very much affected by that decision. Hence, several applications were filed by the Center, State, and the general public before the honorable SC to review its earlier decision and thereby to make the modifications regarding the same. The SC, succumbing to all the applications finally decided to review its earlier decision on Rath-Yatra by 22nd June 2020.

In the course of the review, the SC tried to clarify the reasoning behind its earlier decision; the court said that there were 3 moving factors for the 18th June decisions:

  1. The failure of the respondent to ensure the court, that the festival can be conducted without public gathering and with social distancing.

  2. The incident of the 18th century, where conduct similar to that of the Rath-Yatra, resulted in the spread of diseases like cholera and plague, and

  3. The seriousness of the current situations concerning the corona pandemic.

Additionally, the court while delivering the judgment in the present case, relied upon the assurance made by Gajapati Maharaj in his affidavit, where they ensured the court for conducting the Rath-Yatra with limited public attendance and social distancing, overruling its earlier decision the court stated that “…if no public attendance is possible to ensure, we see no rationale as to why the Rath-Yatra cannot be conducted safely…”

But, the court forwarded certain guidelines which the state government was expected to follow :

  1. All the entry points to the temple town of Puri shall be sealed, till the completion of the Rath-Yatra procession.

  2. Curfew shall be imposed by the state government in the city, till the completion of the Rath-Yatra procession. Further, no person shall be allowed to move out of their houses or residence during that period of curfew, which shall begin from the night 8 pm of 22nd June 2020.

  3. Not more than 500 people (including officials and police personnel), shall be allowed to pull one chariot with a condition that all of those must be tested corona negative.

  4. A one hour time interval must be maintained between each rath.

  5. Social distancing among the attendees shall be maintained.

  6. Each member of the Puri Jagannath temple administration and the officers appointed by the state government to conduct this festival shall be held responsible for making sure that the guidelines of the SC and the central government are in due compliance.

  7. The state shall allow the media house to forecast all the rituals and celebrations of the Rath-Yatra.

  8. If necessary, the state shall take the assistance of the central government to enforce the aforementioned guidelines.

  9. The state government is required to make records of all the attendees who were allowed to participate in the Rath-Yatra celebration.

Conclusion


The SC, after delivering the aforementioned guidelines, dismissed all the applications that were filed before the SC concerning the order dated 18th June 2020. (Odisha Vikash Parishad v. UOI)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Simran Pradhan is currently pursuing Law at Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad.

You can contact them at www.linkedin.com/in/simran-pradhan-4bb425197

Edited by: Swathi Ashok Nair

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