This is the historic first where, the Puri’s famous Rath Yatra began without the devotees, as a large number of priests and temple attendants gather at the Jagannath Temple. The festival commenced a day after the Supreme Court allowed Odisha to hold the seven-day chariot festival with certain restrictions whilst India fights against the pandemic.
The Rath Yatra, uninterrupted for 284 years, is a landmark event which is broadcasted on national as well as international television channels.
The Apex court, modifying the absolute stay on the conduct of Jagannath Rath Yatra in Odisha, allowed the Yatra at Puri with strict restrictions and regulations. While the order dated 18th June, 2020 restrained from holding the Rath Yatra this year considering the threat and danger persisting due to coronavirus. The gathering of 10 to 12 lakh devotees for a period of 8-10 days can be disastrous due to large gathering and little to no social distancing. It would be impossible to track the infected people as well as conducting the screen tests of all the devotees arrived for the Yatra procession.
Appearing on behalf of the Centre, Solicitor General for India Tushar Mehta mentioned before the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, “It is a matter of faith for crores. If Lord Jagannath will not come out tomorrow, he cannot come out for 12 years as per traditions.”
But citing the concerns over the public safety and health, the Bench had disallowed to carry on the festival this year.
However as proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, Chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple Administration, an affidavit on behalf of State of Odisha was filed, stating that the Rath Yatra can be conducted at Puri ‘in a limited way without public attendance’.
The matter was, later, heard by the three-Judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde. The Bench allowed the event to be conducted by adhering to the rules and stated that the Centre, State and the Temple administration should work in concert.
The Centre has allowed the Rath Yatra by imposing certain conditions. Firstly, the chariot cannot be pulled by more than 500 persons and they shall be allowed to pull the chariot only if they have tested negative for the Covid-19 test. The number 500 is inclusive of officials and police personnel.
Secondly, all the entry points i.e, airports, bus stands, railway stations, etc shall be closed during the period of the festival.
Additionally, the curfew has to be imposed in the city on all the days and during the time when chariots are taken in procession. The people of Puri has to maintain the curfew and no one shall be allowed to come out of their place of residence.
Furthermore, the one-hour interval has to be there between two chariots and social distancing shall be practised, by the people engaged in pulling the chariot, before, during and after the Rath Yatra.
All the devotees can be part of the festival by watching the live broadcasting captured by the media.
On the contrary, Gujrat High Court has dismissed the petition seeking permission to conduct Jagannath Rath Yatra at Ahemdabad considering the outbreak of the pandemic. The order was passed by a division bench during an urgent meeting held on 23rd June, 2020 at 2:00 A.M.
Dismissing the petitions, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala held that “here may not be denied about the order passed by the Supreme Court today, but the situation in Ahmedabad on account of the pandemic of COVID-19 cannot be compared with the situation in Puri or in the State of Orissa. Despite the fact that assurance being given by the State and all other applicants we still do not find any good ground to recall or modify our order dated 20.06.2020. All the Civil Applications are accordingly rejected. We make it clear that on account of paucity of time and the urgency of the order being made available to the parties, we have not dealt with the reasons in detail.”
Thus, it can be said that the religious sentiments prevailed over the pandemic outbreak, although with several guidelines to be adhered.