On Tuesday(06/07/2021), the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the Odisha government’s decision to limit the Rath Yatra this year to the Puri Jagannath temple. The court dismissed petitions that sought permission to hold Rath Yatras at other temples as well.
"This year more people died, and last year, lesser number of people died," the three-judge bench of the Apex Court, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana observed and dismissed the batch of petitions seeking its direction to conduct the Rath Yatra, across many cities in Odisha, and not only in Puri.
On June 10 (Thursday), the state government announced that the annual festival of Rath Yatra in Puri will begin on July 12 and will take place without devotees. The government added that only fully-vaccinated temple officials or those who test negative for the coronavirus disease 48 hours before the festival will be allowed to pull the chariots for the yatra. The rath yatras were restricted by the administration as part of COVID pandemic control measures.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justices AS Bopanna, and Hrishikesh Roy was hearing a writ petition filed by Odisha Vikas Parishad and others, against High Court order dated June 23, declining to interfere with the State's decision.
The Odisha State Government had allowed and permitted to conduct the Rath Yatra only in Puri Jagannath temple with strict COVID-19 restrictions and protocols.
"Sorry, we don't want to interfere with the government of Odisha's decision," the CJI Ramana said.
"I am also feeling bad, but I can't help you. Sorry. Hope God allows Rath Yatra next year," the CJI further added and refused to pass any orders in the batch of petitions seeking a direction to conduct the Rath Yatra, across many cities, besides, Puri.
The Petitioners claimed that Covid-19 cases had declined in their districts and in fact, the situation is better than Puri.
Advocate AK Srivastava appeared for Bariprada Lord Jagannath Temple, stating "We are considered second Puri and in 445 years, the first time we are being denied Rath Yatra. We started our preparations in compliance with Covid-19 protocol. All our volunteers have been tested negative."
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta suggested that the court allow a small number of devotees to perform rituals in other places in Odisha. “This way both religious sentiments and health of people will be protected,” he said.
In 2020 also, the Jagannath Rath Yatra was drastically scaled-down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Usually, lakhs of devotees attend the festival.
The High Court had declined permission for holding Rath Yatras at other places saying that Puri "constitutes a class apart" and has been implicitly recognized by the Supreme Court in last year's decision in Odisha Bikash Parishad v. Union of India whereby specific directions were issued in relation to the holding of the Ratha Yatra in Puri last year during the first covid wave.