BHUBANESWAR: The Odisha government on Monday imposed a "curfew-like" shutdown in Puri district ahead of the historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra and appealed to citizens to refrain from stepping out of their homes when the chariots roll out on the Grand Road on June 23 in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The "curfew-like" shutdown will be in force across the district from 9 pm of Monday till 2 pm on Wednesday, said Director General of Police (DGP) Abhay and appealed to the people to abide by the Supreme Court's directives while celebrating the historic Rath Yatra amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
The DGP also said that more than 50 platoons (one platoon has 30 personnel) of police force are being deployed for the security management of the nine-day festival.
"We have already started deployment of force since Sunday evening expecting to hold the Rath Yatra," Abhay said.
As holding of the Rath Yatra is permitted only in Puri this time, force deployment will be a difficult task and the whole focus of the police will be on the pilgrim town, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Soumendra Priyadarshi said.
While the residents of Puri should refrain from moving out to watch the Lord's journey, people from other parts of the state have been urged not to proceed to the seaside pilgrim town, the DGP said.
"All the devotees, both in Puri and outside, can watch the proceedings on television," he said.
Meanwhile, all the entry points to Puri have been sealed and no vehicle other than those for the purpose of the Rath Yatra preparation is allowed into the temple town, a senior official said.
Apart from Chief Secretary A K Tripathy and DGP Abhay, all senior officials of the state government of different line departments have rushed to the pilgrim town for preparation for the festival, which is barely a few hours away.
The chief secretary said, "All the related departments are fully prepared. The Rath Yatra will be devotee and visitor less on Badadanda. All directions of the Supreme Court will be fully followed."
The apex court, while allowing the festival in Puri, said that it cannot micro-manage the rituals and left it to the wisdom of the state, the Centre and the temple management to deal with that issue.
The Centre has informed the court that the Rath Yatra can be conducted without compromising on the health of the citizens.
The Supreme Court's nod for the annual festival was granted on the basis of the state governments assurance that the Rath Yatra will be conducted by a limited number of servitors without any public participation in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Supreme Court Monday allowed holding of historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri, which starts tomorrow, with certain conditions including that there would be no public attendance.
Modifying its June 18 order in which it had said that this year's Yatra cannot be allowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the apex court permitted holding of the Yatra after taking note of Odisha government's stand that it can be held in a limited way without public attendance.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde directed the state government to impose curfew in the Puri City during the time when the chariots are taken out in the procession -- and event in which lakhs of people from the world over participate every year.
The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and A S Bopanna, said that each Rath or chariot would to be pulled by no more than 500 people and all of them have to be tested for coronavirus.
It also directed that those engaged in pulling chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra.
"Indeed, if it is possible to ensure that there is no public attendance, we see no reason why the Rath Yatra cannot be conducted safely along its usual route from temple to temple," the bench said in its order.
While hearing a PIL filed by NGO 'Odisha Vikash Parishad' the apex court on June 18 had said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year's Puri Rath Yatra cannot be allowed and that "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.
These applications, including those filed by 'Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Manch' and BJP leader Sambit Patra, urged the court to allow the Rath Yatra with certain restrictions due to the pandemic.
The bench was informed by the Centre that Rath Yatra can be conducted without compromising on citizen's health and with co-operation of state and the temple trust.