By Bizodisha Bureau, Bhubaneswar, june 18, 2020: The annual Car Festival (Rath Yatra) will not be celebrated this year for the first time in 284 years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown after the Supreme Court on Thursday disallowed it.

The Odisha Cabinet in its emergency meeting on Thursday evening decided to abide by the Supreme Court’s order. Advocate General Ashok Parija apprised the Cabinet on the Supreme Court’s order on Rath Yatra.

The Cabinet after a detailed discussion on the Supreme Court’s order informed the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee to take steps to observe all rituals inside the temple premises following all guidelines in conformity with the Supreme Court’s order.

The colourful Car Festival roughly draws about a million people from across the world and sees frenzied devotees pull the chariots of the three deities – Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra – on the Grand Road. This year it was supposed to take place on June 23.

Acting on a petition filed by Odisha Vikash Parishad, a three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde today said; “We consider it appropriate in the interest of public health and safety of citizens to restrain the respondents from holding the Rath Yatra this year. We direct that no Rath Yatra will be held in temple areas of Odisha.”

The bench also rejected repeated pleas by intervenors, including solicitor general Tushar Mehta, for rituals associated with the Rath Yatra to be allowed in view of the religious sensitivities involved. CJI Bobde noted, “Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allow this to continue. Activities related to the Rath Yatra are injuncted.”

Earlier, the Orissa High Court had suggested the state government to consider holding the Rath Yatra with elephants or machines, instead of humans, pulling the chariots as all preparations including the making of the chariots, had been going apace in anticipation of a token Rath Yatra with the participation of only servitors and police.

The state government now faces flak for the Apex Court’s order for its handling of the case. In fact, the Naveen Patnaik government has been accused of masterminding the petition filed by Odisha Vikash Parishad in the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the Rath Yatra.

Incidentally, the state government neither offered alternative proposals before the bench to make a case for a token Rath Yatra nor did it apprise the bench of the preparations that had been going apace in anticipation of at least a token Rath Yatra.

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