New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday disallowed the annual Rath Yatra in Odisha's Puri, slated to start from the Jagannath Temple on June 23. Now there will be no chariot pulling of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra and all other activities associated with the annual programme also stand cancelled.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and A.S. Bopanna, took the step amid rising cases of the coronavirus in the country which has already recorded over 3.6 lakh cases.
The Chief Justice said such gatherings cannot take place during the ongoing pandemic. "Lord Jagannath won't forgive us if we allow it."
The bench noted that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, the Rath Yatra festival cannot be allowed this year. "Article 25 of the Constitution itself confers the right to freely profess and propagate religion subject to health," said the court.
"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.
"We accordingly direct that there shall be no Rath Yatra anywhere in the temple town of Odisha or in any other part of the state this year. We further direct that there shall be no activities secular or religious associated with the Rath Yatra during this period," said the top court.
The ruling came on a plea by an NGO seeking direction to stay the holding of the Rath Yatra festival, which spans 10-12 days, and involves the gathering of lakhs of devotees from across the world.
The plea filed by NGO Odisha Vikas Praishad claimed that presently, the entire nation including Odisha is facing an unprecedented situation due to Covid-19, where the lives of the common people are at a huge risk.
The plea cited the May 7 letter issued by Ministry of Home Affairs, which granted permission to the state government to carry out the construction of chariots for the conducting of the Rath Yatra subject to the condition that no religious congregation takes place while it is constructed and adherence to stipulations provided in the guideline issued May 1.