Puri Rath Yatra: What Are The Options Before Odisha Govt?

Bhubaneswar: With the Odisha government on Sunday evening indicating its willingness to take “favourable action” pertaining to the stalled Puri Rath Yatra before the Supreme Court, legal eagles have started mulling over the options that could provide relief to crores of devotees of Lord Jagannath worldwide.

Odisha Bytes deliberated on the legal possibilities available in the light of the apex court’s June 18 order restraining the state government from holding the Rath Yatra on June 23 in Odisha in view of possible spread of COVID pandemic and safety of citizens. The SC, it may be noted, has not restrained conduct of Rath Yatras outside Odisha. Going by lawyers, there are two possible options before the state government:

  • Pray for modification of SC order: Considering that the state government had through its counsel Harish Salve on June 18 favoured stopping of Rath Yatras all over Odisha apprehending spread of coronavirus due to large congregations, it can move the apex court to review its decision, said legal experts. This can be done as several intervenor applications would come up before a single judge bench of SC on Monday. But the single judge bench cannot take a decision on this and the matter, in view of propriety, shall have to be referred either to the three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India S C Bobde, or a bench of higher composition. In view of the “extremely urgent” nature of the case, a prayer can be made to the CJI to look into the matter, according to lawyers. If the court wishes it can set aside its June 18 order for the Puri Rath Yatra, provided the state government can convince it about its plans to conduct the event without participation of the general public and by adhering to the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines on COVID prevention and management, noted a senior Supreme Court lawyer, preferring anonymity.
  • Promulgation of an ordinance: Though it might be in contravention of its June 18 stand in the top court, the state government can consider taking the ordinance route to permit Rath Yatra in Puri without allowing public participation and maintaining social distancing norms, legal experts said and pointed out that Tamil Nadu’s January 2017 ordinance pertaining to allowing of ‘Jallikattu’ bull-taming tradition could be cited as a precedent. Tamil Nadu amended the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, “so as to preserve its cultural heritage and to ensure the survival and wellbeing of the native breeds of bulls”. This came after the SC banned Jallikatu, a traditional sport in which a bull is released into a crowd and human participants try to tame it. However, a large number of people in Tamil Nadu came out in support of this tradition, forcing the government to change the law to the extent that The Prevention of Cruelty To Animals Act was no more applicable to Jallikatu.

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