Bhubaneswar: The Odisha government on Sunday said it will take “favourable action” as legally permissible on a request by Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb that Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra, which was stayed by the Supreme Court this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, be allowed sans congregation of devotees.
After the Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the annual Rath Yatra, the state government had been facing tremendous pressure from different quarters to intervene in the matter.
“The State Government will take favourable action as legally permissible on the request of the Gajapati Maharaj when the writ petition W.P.(C) No. 571 of 2020 is taken up for hearing before the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” Odisha law department said in a statement.
The government’s response came a day after Gajapati Maharaja Deb requested it to move a fresh application before the Supreme Court seeking modification of its June 18 order.
The titular king of Puri had also requested the state government to request the court to allow the yatra sans any devotees and only in Puri as the festival is “sanctioned and mandated” according to the religious scriptures and legal provisions.
More than a dozen petitions have been moved before the Supreme Court seeking recall of its order staying the historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra, which was scheduled for June 23.
Some petitioners have prayed to the Supreme Court that the yatra be allowed to take place and the three chariots maybe pulled by the servitors of Jagannath temple and police officials in Puri by adhering to the social distancing norms, according to the law department.
The state government said its stand in the hearing before the Supreme Court on June 18 was primarily related to thousands of ratha yatras taking place all over Odisha, it said.
These involve lakhs of people, and happen almost in every gram panchayat, it added.
The government said, “More than 5 lakh people of Odisha have returned to the state since May. Most of them are likely to complete their quarantine period by the end of June. This along with the onset of monsoon has made the COVID pandemic likely to peak in the State in June and July.”
The pandemic has killed lakhs of people across the globe and so far Odisha has handled it in an efficient manner with lowest mortality rate in the country, it said.
“Any congregation during the probable peaking period can lead to loss of lives and serious public health hazard,” it added.
The Odisha government said the apex court, on June 18, after hearing all the parties including the three intervenors, passed an order in the interest of public health and safety of citizens who are also devotees, restraining the state government from holding the Rath Yatra this year.
“In the meanwhile, the Gajapati Maharaj of Puri who is also the Chairman of the Sri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, has written a letter dated 20th June, 2020 to the State Government, inter alia requesting that the Rath Yatra in Puri may be held without any congregation of general public and with the State Government taking appropriate steps to prevent spread of COVID-19,” it said.
Similar views were also submitted by the intervenors in the Supreme Court during the hearing on June 18, it said.