On Tuesday, the Supreme Court dismissed all petitions filed by various persons and organizations, challenging a decision of the Odisha government to disallow the Ratha Yatra festivals in various temples across the state in the light of the Covid-19 situation with an exception granted to Puri Jagannath Ratha Yatra, reports Bar and Bench.
Hearing a batch of petitioners seeking the Supreme Court’s intervention in the Odisha government’s order, the apex court said it would not interfere with an Odisha government order limiting this year’s Rath Yatra to the Puri Jagannath Temple only.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana said though the government felt bad about the government order, it is a policy decision by the state, and the judiciary cannot interfere as it lacks expertise on such issues. Earlier, the Orissa High Court had passed an order on June 23, 2021, declining to interfere with the state government’s decision.
“You and I are not the people who can predict the Covid-19 situation. Don’t poke your knowledge into this matter. Let the government decide,” the CJI said.
CJI: you and I are not the people who can predict the covid19 situation. don’t poke your knowledge into this matter. Let the government decide.— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) July 6, 2021
The Odisha government had earlier permitted Rath Yatra only at Puri under strict Covid protocols and allowed rituals within the temple premises of all other Jagannath temples across the state. In light of this order, several other temple trusts, organizations, and individuals had filed petitions requesting the court to allow them to organize similar Rath Yatras.
The petitioners had said denying permission to them would be a “clear case of discrimination and as such violative of Article 14 read with Article 25”.
Another application by Bhanja Sena states that if first Shrikshetra Puri temple is allowed to observe #RathYatra then not allowing the Dwitiya Shrikshetra, Baripada Lord Jagannath temple “is a clear case of discrimination and as such violative of Article 14 read with Article 25”— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) July 6, 2021
In response to the petition, the Odisha government informed the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana, saying it would be impossible for them to ensure observance of strict Covid protocol in thousands of Jagannath temples across the state.
Impossible to maintain Covid protocols in other cities with Jagannath temples: Odisha govt
Odisha government’s representative submitted before the court that the Puri Jagannath Temple Ratha Yatra was held last year by placing Puri city under curfew. This year too, the chariots will be pulled by 500 people who have tested negative in RT-PCR, and all entry points to Puri city will be closed.
Advocate General Ashok Parija also stated that it is impossible for the state government to maintain similar conditions in all the other Jagannath temples across the state.
Hearing the arguments, CJI Ramana said that he too is a devotee of Lord Jagannath and has been visiting the Puri temple every year, till the Covid pandemic started.
Want to pray God, do it from home, watch Ratha Yatra on TV: CJI
The Chief Justice also remarked, “You want to pray to God. You can do it from home. I also wanted to go to Puri but I couldn’t in the last one and half years. This isn’t the time”.
“But the situation is such that I have to pray from a distance. If Rath Yatra is permitted, it will be the devotees who could suffer, and we don’t want to take the risk,” he said.
CJI: I also go to puri every year but haven’t gone since the last 1.5 years. I do puja at home. If you want to go to Haridwar, you can pray at home too. Govt has taken a considered decision. #supremecourt #rathyatra— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) July 6, 2021
Dismissing the petitions, Chief Justice NV Ramana observed, “Last year few people died, this year many people died due to Covid. I also feel bad, but we cannot do anything. We hope and trust god will allow next Ratha Yatra at least”.
The Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath in Puri is an annual festival which usually gathers lakhs of devotees from across the world. Last year, it was held under strict Covid protocols and this year, the state government has permitted Ratha Yatra only in Puri Jagannath temple under similar restrictions.
Odisha has hundreds of Jagannath temples where annual Ratha Yatra is celebrated with much fervour and enthusiasm usually. Covid restrictions have curbed most religious celebrations since 2020.