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Plea in SC seeks recall of order staying Puri Rath Yatra due to COVID-19

Plea in SC seeks recall of order staying Puri Rath Yatra due to COVID-19
New Delhi, Jun 19 () A plea was Friday filed in the Supreme Court seeking recall of its order staying this year's historic Puri Rath Yatra, which is attended by lakhs of people from across the world and was to start from June 23, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde had Thursday said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year's Rath Yatra at Puri in Odisha can't be allowed and "Lord Jagannath won't forgive us if we allow" it.

The plea filed in the top court has sought recall and modification of its June 18 order saying the festival is deeply associated to the religious beliefs of millions of devotees of Lord Jagannath and it is "not impossible and impracticable" for the state and district administration to conduct Rath Yatra by maintaining social distancing and following the Centre's guidelines.

"Under the above facts and circumstances the applicant most humbly prayed that the order dated June 18, 2020 as passed by this court may be recalled and modified to the extent that the Rath Yatra ritual may be performed with the help of 500-600 servitors by following the guidelines, maintaining the social distance and with certain impositions and conditions," said the plea filed by 'Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Manch'.

The plea, filed through advocate Hitendra Nath Rath, said that as per earlier direction of the Orissa High Court as well as decision of the state government, 372 persons were engaged in the construction of three Raths/chariots for more than one and half months and all were isolated, tested and found COVID-19 negative.

It said these persons have constructed the Raths by following the guidelines of Central government and maintained social distancing and proper sanitization.

While the Rath Yatra festival, held over 10-12 days with lakhs of people participating, was scheduled for June 23, the 'Bahuda Jatra' (return car festival) was fixed for July 1.

Three heavily built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled by thousands of devotees over a distance of three kilometres twice during the nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri.

The plea seeking recall of the order has further said that 'Deba Snana Purnima' ritual was performed on June 5 with the help of 800 servitors, who all were tested and found COVID-19 negative.

"The distance of the Puri Jagannath Temple to Gundicha Temple is three Km distance and social distancing can be maintained by 500-600 persons in the three Km distance," the plea said, adding that a total of 500 to 600 persons are required for pulling the Raths.

The plea, which said that Puri municipality is categorised as 'Green zone', claimed that these facts were not placed before the court during the hearing on Thursday.

"Under the above facts and circumstances, it is not impossible and impracticable for the state government and the district administration to conduct the Rath Yatra by maintaining the social distancing and following the guidelines of the Central government and the state government," it said.

"The Rath Yatra can be performed with the help of 500-600 servitors by maintaining social distance on the road of three km stretch and by imposing the restrictions as well as imposing section 144 of the CrPC," it said.

The plea said that the Rath Yatra has been performed since time immemorial and the sentiments of millions of devotees are attached to the same.

The top court's June 18 order had came on a PIL filed by an Odisha-based NGO seeking cancellation or postponement of this year's Rath Yatra. Two pleas have been moved in the apex court seeking to cancel or postponement of the historic 'Rath Yatra'.

Besides the PIL filed by the NGO, 'Odisha Vikas Parishad', seeking stay on holding of the annual festival, an appeal has been moved by one Surendra Panigrahi of 'Bhartiya Bikash Parishad' against the Orissa High Court order of June 9 which had asked the state government to decide on holding the 'Rath Yatra' festival in line with the COVID-19 guidelines. ABA MNL SJK ABA RKS RKS

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