The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed this year’s Ratha Yatra due to the coronavirus pandemic. The yatra, which was scheduled to be held on June 23, would have violated social distancing norms as the pulling of chariot requires close contact between the people. Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde said in his order, “In the interest of public health and safety of citizens, we restrain the state from holding the Ratha Yatra and associated activities. We direct that there shall be no Ratha Yatra and associated activities this year”.

An NGO Odisha Vikas Parishad had claimed in its plea that the celebration would draw around 10 lakh people outside the temple premises and put their health at risk.

“Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allowed the Ratha yatra,” Bobde said while hearing Odisha Vikas Parishad’s petition, adding “such gatherings can’t take place at the time of the pandemic”.

Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb, King of Puri and the “Aadyasevak” of Lord Jagannath, said everyone should abide by the Apex Court’s verdict. “Mahaprabhu’s devotees across the world will feel sad. But everyone has to obey the SC verdict. It’s mandatory to obey,” Gajapati Maharaj said in a statement.

“A meeting of the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee will be held soon. As the cart festival cannot be conducted outside, we will seek suggestion of Shankaracharya on feasibility of conducting rituals inside Srimandir premises,” Gajapati Maharaj added.

Puri’s Jagannath Temple and many others across the state are closed for devotees since March 22, when the nation went into lockdown to contain the spread of the COVID-19.