Rath Yatra devotees flout social distancing norms; disciple tests positive ahead of procession

"During the 18th-19th century, a yatra of this kind was responsible for the spread of cholera and plague like wildfire," the bench said earlier.

Puri: One of the servitors of Shree Jagannath Temple tested positive for COVID-19 during mandatory testing of priests and police personnel ahead of the annual Rath Yatra on Tuesday, a senior official said.

Procession congested with devotees amid virus fears

The servitor will not be part of any ritual related to the Rath Yatra, he said.

Samples of 1,143 servitors were tested on Monday night, as per directives of the Supreme Court.

“Except one, reports of all the others came out negative. The servitor who tested positive has been shifted to a COVID-19 hospital,” the official said, adding that contact tracing has been initiated.

Modifying its earlier order, the apex court on Monday gave the go-ahead for the Rath Yatra after taking note of the Odisha government’s assurance that it “can be held in a limited way without public attendance”.

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Home Ministry, Supreme Court give nod

Earlier, Amit Shah tweeted:

The Supreme Court’s vacation bench of the Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and A.S. Bopanna on Monday lifted the stay on Puri’s annual Rath Yatra festival.

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Despite agreeing to lift its stay on the Rath Yatra, the bench appeared concerned about the impossibility of tracking any and all infected people after the festival.

The bench also referred to the submission that during the 18th-19th century, a yatra of this kind was responsible for the spread of cholera and plague “like wildfire”. “We say this in order to remind the authorities concerned that the situation can become dangerous if the rules of caution are ignored,” the bench emphasised in its order.

Restrictions imposed

Each chariot would be pulled by not more than 500 people and all of them have to test negative for coronavirus, the top court said.

SC also directed that those engaged in pulling the chariots shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra.

“All entry points into Puri — airports, railway stations, bus stands — shall be closed during the period of Rath Yatra festival,” the Supreme Court had said in its order.

The rituals involve three chariots — Lord Jagannath’s Nandighosh, Lord Balabhadra’s Taladwaja and Devi Subhadra’s Darpadalan.

‘Pahandi’ (procession where the deities are carried from the temple to the chariots) was carried out in the morning by servitors who tested negative for COVID-19, a temple official said.

Rules violated

Despite, regulations instructed by Supreme Court, visuals of the ceremony do not show the servitors and priests following social distancing norms.

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