Just 10 days before the world famous Rath Yatra in Puri in Odisha, a PIL in the Supreme Court said it could lead to “catastrophic” spread of Covid-19 and sought deferment of the annual chariot festival, which attracts an estimated 10 lakh people from across the country and abroad and is as much a sentimental event as a religious one for 34 million Odias.
The PIL by Bhubaneswar-based NGO ‘Odisha Vikas Parishad’ through advocate Ranjeeta Rohatgi argued that holding the Rath Yatra would be an open invitation to infect lakhs of devotees given the spiralling number of Covid-19 patients in India, including Odisha. The state government on June 7 had passed an order to keep all religious places closed till June 30 and holding Rath Yatra on June 23 would be violative of this order, it said.
The NGO said when the SC could stop bursting of crackers during Diwali citing public health, it could also ask the state and temple authorities to postpone the annual event, which could be staged at later.
Religious heads would find it difficult to hold the yatra later, as demanded by the petitioner, as the date for the event is fixed as per the lunar calendar to coincide with a particular celestial occurrence. The NGO said holding Rath Yatra at this point of time was fraught as Puri district now had 108 cases and the government had declared the district as a ‘high risk zone’.
“Looking at the severity of the situation that the state is facing, on June 5, the Odisha chief minister has said that the month of June is very critical for Odisha and advised the people to strictly follow the Covid-19 guidelines and practice social distancing in order to contain the spread of the infections which is increasing significantly,” the petition said.