The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on Monday the pleas seeking recall of its order staying this year's historic Lord Jagannath's Rath Yatra, attended by lakhs of people from across the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The apex court had on June 18 said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year's Rath Yatra, which was scheduled for June 23, at Puri in Odisha cannot be allowed and "Lord Jagannath won't forgive us if we allow" it.
A day after the order was passed, some applications were filed in the top court seeking recall and modification of its order.
A single-judge bench of Justice S Ravindra Bhat is scheduled to hear on Monday these applications, including the one filed by 'Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Manch', which have urged the court to allow the Rath Yatra.
The Shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, on Sunday alleged that there was a 'well-orchestrated plan' to stall the Rath Yatra this year.
The Puri seer's statement comes after Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb and servitors sought Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's intervention for rushing an application for modification of the apex court order putting a stay on the Rath Yatra.
While the Rath Yatra festival, held over 10-12 days with lakhs of people participating, was scheduled for June 23, the 'Bahuda Jatra' (return car festival) was fixed for July 1.
Three heavily built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled by thousands of devotees over a distance of three kilometres twice during the nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri.
The application filed by 'Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Manch' has sought recall and modification of the June 18 order, saying the festival is deeply associated to the religious beliefs of millions of devotees of Lord Jagannath and it is "not impossible and impracticable" for the state and district administration to conduct the Rath Yatra by maintaining social distancing and following the Centre's guidelines.
Besides this, a separate application seeking modification of the June 18 order has been filed by one Aftab Hossen, who has said that "as per the ritual of Lord Jagannath, the Rath Yatra is performed in every year and if one year it is not performed, same cannot be performed for the next 12 years".
Hossen, while urging the apex court to modify its order and allow the Rath Yatra, has said in his application that restraining the Rath Yatra this year would practically mean restraining it for the next 12 years and this could create "great repercussion and chaos" in the Lord Jagannath culture and rituals.
In its separate application, the 'Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Manch' has said that as per the earlier direction of the Orissa High Court as well as decision of the state government, 372 people were engaged in the construction of three raths/chariots for more than one-and-half months and all were isolated, tested and found COVID-19 negative.
"Under the above facts and circumstances the applicant most humbly prayed that the order dated June 18, 2020 as passed by this court may be recalled and modified to the extent that the Rath Yatra ritual may be performed with the help of 500-600 servitors by following the guidelines, maintaining social distancing and with certain impositions and conditions," said the application, filed through advocate Hitendra Nath Rath.
The application has further said that Puri municipality is categorised as a 'green zone' and these facts were not placed before the apex court during the hearing on June 18.
"Under the above facts and circumstances, it is not impossible and impracticable for the state government and the district administration to conduct the Rath Yatra by maintaining social distancing and following the guidelines of the central government and the state government," it said.
"The Rath Yatra can be performed with the help of 500-600 servitors by maintaining social distance on the road of three km stretch and by imposing the restrictions as well as imposing section 144 of the CrPC," it said.
The top court's June 18 order had came on a PIL filed by an Odisha-based NGO seeking cancellation or postponement of this year's Rath Yatra. Two pleas were filed in the apex court seeking cancellation or postponement of the historic 'Rath Yatra'.
Besides the PIL filed by NGO 'Odisha Vikas Parishad', seeking stay on holding of the annual festival, an appeal has been filed by one Surendra Panigrahi of 'Bhartiya Bikash Parishad' against the Orissa High Court order of June 9, which had asked the state government to decide on holding the 'Rath Yatra' festival in line with the COVID-19 guidelines.