Puri's famous rath yatra can be conducted this year but in a restricted fashion -- with curfew and closed city entries, the Supreme Court said today, after petitions asking it to recall its earlier order, banning the hugely popular festival. The state government will have to declare curfew whenever the chariots are pulled. It also has to ensure that each of the three chariots is pulled by a maximum of 500 people, which would include the police personnel and officials, the court said.
"There shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots. Each of those engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra." The court said as part of the detailed guidelines.
The seven-day festival, attended by lakhs of people, is slated to begin tomorrow and the temple administration has been tasked with ensuring that all restrictions are being followed.
Soon after the initial comments of the court, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik tweeted saying "Jai Jagannath", and hashtag #RathYatra became a top twitter trend. Odisha has already declared a curfew-like shutdown that would begin at 9 pm and continue till 2 pm tomorrow.
The Rath Yatra from the Jagannath temple – the biggest temple of the Lord Jagannath in the coastal district of Puri -- is attended by lakhs of people from across the world. But in view of the highly contagious coronavirus outbreak, the court had ordered a ban on the festival this year, saying "Such gatherings can't take place at the time of the pandemic".
Earlier today, offering to impose curfew for a day to ensure that the virus does not spread, the Centre had said Rath Yatra is a "matter of faith for crores" and a ritual "going on for centuries cannot be interfered with".
"Only people tested negative (for coronavirus) and working in the Lord Jagannath temple can be part of the ritual... If Lord Jagannath will not come out tomorrow, he cannot come out for 12 years as per tradition," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the Centre, had told the Supreme Court.
In the evening, Chief Justice SA Bobde, who heard the case through vidoconference from Nagpur, said, "The Supreme Court is only considering conducting the Rath Yatra in Puri and not anywhere else in Orissa".