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Issue notice returnable four weeks. It is not disputed that the number of people that are likely to gather for the annual Rath Yatra scheduled to be held from 23rd June, 2020, is going to be about 10 to 12 lakhs. The  festivities normally continue for a period of 10 to 12 days. Having regard to the danger presented by such a large gathering of people for the Rath Yatra, we consider it appropriate in the interests of public health and safety of citizens who are devotees to restrain the respondents from holding the Rath Yatra this year. Article 251 of the Constitution of India itself confers the right to freely profess and propagate religion subject to health.

We accordingly direct that there shall be no Rath Yatra anywhere in the temple town of Odisha or in any other part of the State this year. We further direct that there shall be no activities secular or religious associated with the Rath Yatra during this period.Order accordingly.

This sudden order came as a shock. This order nowhere mentions the stands taken by the Central and State Governments in the Odisha High Court. That must lead to a conclusion that Mr. Harish Salve who represented the State of Odisha either did not know of the earlier petition and the issues raised therein OR he choose not to inform the Court of all these proceedings. Similar things must have happened with the Solicitor General, but obvious responsibility was on a shoulders of Odisha State and thus on Harish Salve to explain to the Supreme Court of all developments and the view of the Odisha High Court declared hardly 10 days before.

The annoyance of the devotees was reflected by various intervention applications filed before Supreme Court to recall its order. I am particularly happy that not only the devotees from Odisha appeared in the Supreme Court but the Organizations and advocates far away from Puri such as Hindu Janajagruti Samiti also filed intervention application and was represented by Adv. Subhash Jha and Ghanashyam Upadhyay.

There must be some internal commotion as when these interventions were listed on 22.6.2020, there was a complete U turn on part of the State and Central Government. The Court after hearing the parties reversed it’s decision and allowed the Rathyatra. The order is reproduced below,

These are applications made by several parties for intervention and modification of Order dated 18th June, 2020 passed by this Court. By that Order we had restrained the respondents from holding the Rath Yatra this year in view of the danger presented by gathering of 10 to 12 lakhs devotees

for a period of 10-12 days. Clearly, any spread ofthe Coronavirus due to the Rath Yatra would be disastrous due to the large number of persons and the impossibility of tracking all the infected people after they have gone back to their respective homes. Needless to say that it is not possible to screen the medical conditions of all those who converge on the cities for the Rath Yatra.

While we do not have the official copy of the gazette itself, we are informed that in the 18th-19th century a yatra of this kind was responsible for the spread of cholera and plague “like wild fire”. We say this in order to remind the authorities concerned that the situation can become dangerous

if the rules of caution are ignored. Before we passed our earlier Order we had suggested to the parties that the procession of chariots, i.e., the Rath Yatra itself, could be allowed to proceed, however, without the general congregation which participates in this Yatra. We were informed that it would be well nigh impossible to ensure that there is no congregation. This Court was, therefore, left with no option but to grant an injunction restraining the Rath Yatra itself.

However, we find, in one of the present applications, an affidavit filed on behalf of the State of Orissa statingthat it might be possible to conduct the Rath Yatra at Puri “in a limited way without public attendance”. This has been proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, who is the Chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple Administration. Indeed, if it is possible to ensure that there is no public attendance, we see no reason why the Rath Yatra cannot be conducted safely along its usual route from temple to temple.

Having given serious consideration to the matter and having heard the parties, we are of the view that the Rath Yatra at Puri may be held subject to following conditions:

(1) All entry points into the City of Puri, i.e., airports, railway stations, bus stands, etc., shall be closed during the period of Rath Yatra festival.

(2) The State Government shall impose a curfew in the City of Puri on all the days and during all the time when Rath Yatra chariots are taken in procession. The State Government may also impose curfew in the city of Puri on such other days and during such time as deemed necessary. During the

period of curfew no one would be allowed to come out of their houses or their places of residence, such as, hotels, lodging houses, etc. To start with, the curfew shall begin tonight at 8 P.M.

(3) Each Rath, i.e.., Chariot, shall be pulled by not more than 500 persons. Each of those 500 persons shall be tested for the Coronavirus. They shall

be permitted to pull the chariot only if they have been found negative. The number 500 shall include officials and police personnel.

(4) There shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots.

(5) Each of those who is engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra.

(6) We are informed that certain rituals are associated with the Rath Yatra. We direct that only such persons shall be associated with the rituals who have been found to have tested negative and shall maintain social distancing.

(7) The primary responsibility for conducting the Rath Yatra in accordance with the conditions and other norms shall be that of the Committee in-charge of Puri Jagannath Temple Administration. Each member of the Committee shall be responsible for due compliance with the conditions imposed by this

Court and the general directions which govern ensuring of public health issued by the Union Government. In addition, the officers designated

by the State Government for conduct of the Rath Yatra shall be responsible likewise.

(8) The rituals and the Rath Yatra shall be freely covered by the visual media. The State Government shall allow TV cameras to be installed at such places as may be found necessary by the TV crew.

(9) The bare minimum number of people shall be allowed

by the Committee to participate in the rituals and in the Rath Yatra. We take a note of the fact that the State of Orissa has a good record of having controlled the pandemic with a very little loss of life. We see no reason why the same

attitude of care and caution should not be applied to the Rath Yatra.

(10) The State Government may take such help as may be found necessary from the Union Government. Shri Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General, has assured the Court that the Union Government shall offer all assistance and help to the State Government in this endeavour.

(11) The State Government shall maintain a record containing details of all those who have been allowed to participate in the Rath Yatra or the rituals connected therewith along with details of their medical conditions after testing.

All the applications for intervention and modification of Order dated 18th June, 2020 passed by this Court are disposed of. 

The underlined portion is important, a clear indicator that the Supreme Court was not informed of the earlier developments.  The letter of Chairman of the Temple Board is nothing new, he also was aware of the proceedings before High Court and was also a party before Supreme Court.

WHO PLAYED THE FRAUD ?

Thus, what was told on 9th June 2020 before the Chief Justice of Odisha High Court on affidavit, was thrown into dustbin and was not placed, argued, debated and requested before the Supreme Court on 18.6.2020. Again on 22.6.2020, those very facts of 9th June were placed ? Why this happened ?

The four days from 18th to 22nd was pa period of pain, anguish for the devotees, halted the preparations on a standstill, created a state of confusion and wasted everyone’s valuable time not only of the Supreme Court but of the common person as well, not to speak of the large sums to be paid to Harish Salve from the taxpayers pockets.

Why this happened ? Why the Suprme Court was misled, first by the petitioner and later by the legal luminories ? Who is guilty ? Carelessness or deliberate act to disturb a Hindu Ritual ? Questions must be asked ! Answers must be called for and guilty must be punished, not in secrecy but in public.

An inquiry must be conducted on the issue and persons responsible for chaos must be punished, be it Harish Salve, Tushar Mehta  or some official of the Odisha Government or anyone else.  Its for Lord Jagannath and it’s devotees.

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