SC Finally Allows Jagannath Rath Yatra At Puri On Conditions.

It is heartening to see that the Supreme Court in a latest, landmark and laudable judgment titled Odisha Vikas Parishad vs Union Of India & Ors in Writ Petition(s) (Civil) No(s). 5721/2020 dated June 22, 2020 has while modifying the absolute stay on conducting the Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri has allowed it observing the strict restrictions and regulations of the Centre and the State Government. These strict restrictions and regulations are considered imperative also considering the increasing spread of the Corona pandemic! So there is no reason to oppose them!

To start with, this noteworthy judgment that was delivered by Chief Justice of India (CJI) – Sharad Arvind Bobde, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice AS Bopanna first and foremost sets the ball rolling by observing right at the outset that, “These are applications made by several parties for intervention and modification of Order dated 18th June, 2020 passed by this Court. By that Order, we had restrained the respondents from holding the Rath Yatra this year in view of the danger presented by gathering of 10 to 12 lakhs devotees for a period of 10-12 days. Clearly any spread of the Coronavirus due to the Rath Yatra would be disastrous due to the large number of persons and the impossibility of tracking all the infected people after they have gone back to their respective homes. Needless to say that it is not possible to screen the medical conditions of all those who converge on the cities for the Rath Yatra.”

It is a no-brainer that considering the huge presence of devotees at this Rath Yatra that we witness every year, there was a dire need to impose strict restrictions to check the epidemic from further spreading very rapidly as it spreads by contact. This what the Apex Court Bench in this notable case has stated right at the outset also. There can be no denying or disputing it!

To be sure, the Apex Court Bench then very rightly went on to say as a word of caution that, “While we do not have the official copy of the gazette itself, we are informed that in the 18th-19th century a yatra of this kind was responsible for the spread of cholera and plague “like wild fire”. We say this in order to remind the authorities concerned that the situation can become dangerous if the rules of caution are ignored.”

To put things in perspective, it is then envisaged by the Apex Court Bench that, “Before we passed our earlier Order we had suggested to the parties that the procession of chariots, i.e., the Rath Yatra itself, could be allowed to proceed, however, without the general congregation which participates in this Yatra. We were informed that it would be well nigh impossible to ensure that there is no congregation. This Court was, therefore, left with no option but to grant an injunction restraining the Rath Yatra itself.”

While elaborating further, it is then pointed out by the Apex Court Bench that, “However, we find, in one of the present applications, an affidavit filed on behalf of the State of Orissa stating that it might be possible to conduct the Rath Yatra at Puri “in a limited way without public attendance”. This has been proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, who is the Chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple Administration. 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.”

Most significantly, it is then held by the Apex Court Bench that, “Having given serious consideration to the matter and having heard the parties, we are of the view that the Rath Yatra at Puri may be held subject to following conditions:

(1)         All entry points into the City of Puri, i.e., airports, railway stations, bus stands, etc., shall be closed during the period of Rath Yatra festival.

(2)         The State Government shall impose a curfew in the City of Puri on all the days and during all the time when Rath Yatra chariots are taken in procession. The State Government may also impose curfew in the city of Puri on such other days and during such time as deemed necessary. During the period of curfew no one would be allowed to come out of their houses or their places of residence, such as hotels, lodging houses, etc. To start with, the curfew shall begin tonight at 8 P.M.

(3)         Each Rath i.e., Chariot, shall be pulled by not more than 500 persons. Each of those 500 persons shall be tested for the Coronavirus. They shall be permitted to pull the chariot only if they have been found negative. The number 500 shall include officials and police personnel.

(4)         There shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots.

(5)         Each of those who is engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra.

(6)         We are informed that certain rituals are associated with the Rath Yatra. We direct that only such persons shall be associated with the rituals who have been found to have tested negative and shall maintain social distancing.

(7)         The primary responsibility for conducting the Rath Yatra in accordance with the conditions and other norms shall be that of the Committee in-charge of Puri Jagannath Temple Administration. Each member of the Committee shall be responsible for due compliance with the conditions imposed by this Court and the general directions which govern ensuring of public health issued by the Union Government. In addition, the officers designated by the State Government for conduct of the Rath Yatra shall be responsible likewise.

(8)         The rituals and the Rath Yatra shall be freely covered by the visual media. The State Government shall allow TV cameras to be installed at such places as may be found necessary by the TV crew.

(9)         The bare minimum number of people shall be allowed by the Committee to participate in the rituals and in the Rath Yatra. We take a note of the fact that the State of Orissa has a good record of having controlled the pandemic with a very little loss of life. We see no reason why the same attitude of care and caution should not be applied to the Rath Yatra.

(10)  The State Government may take such help as may be found necessary from the Union Government. Shri Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General, has assured the Court that the Union Government shall offer all assistance and help to the State Government in this endeavour.

(11)  The State Government shall maintain a record containing details of all those who have been allowed to participate in the Rath Yatra or the rituals connected therewith along with details of their medical conditions after testing.

Finally, it is then held in the last para that, “All the applications for intervention and modification of Order dated 18th June, 2020 passed by this Court are disposed of.”

All said and done, it is a commendable judgment delivered by a three Judge Bench of the Apex Court which includes the CJI also! It may be recalled that the Apex Court on June 18 had ordered that no Rath Yatra should be held keeping in mind the pandemic situation. But no it stands modified and the Rath Yatra has been permitted with the restrictions and conditions as has been already above elaborated upon in detail!

Sanjeev Sirohi

More High Court Benches Will Produce More Bobde

                                        It cannot be disputed by anyone that if more high court benches are created all over India as was very rightly recommended by the 230th report of Law Commission of India, it will certainly produce more diamonds like the Chief Justice of India designate Sharad Arvind Bobde who is most invaluable and even Kohinoor diamond stands just nowhere near him! It was Nagpur High Court Bench which was witness to the nurturing, grooming and shining of this “greatest of great” lawyer who gave up his roaring practice to accept “Judgeship” and the rest is history! Would it have been possible if Nagpur had no high court bench? Without leaving his home and migrating anywhere else like in Bombay where High Court is located or at Aurangabad where High Court Bench is also located, he could give his best and create a niche in golden letters by becoming CJI designate thus bringing glory and fame not only to himself but also to Nagpur where he practiced in high court bench for more than 22 years!

It is heartening to note and it is Maharashtra’s great fortune that Bombay High Court which earlier had three high court benches at Nagpur, Kolhapur and Panaji was accorded one more bench by Centre in Kolhapur for just 6 districts in 2018 but it is India’s biggest misfortune that UP has least which is incomprehensible! Why no high court bench was created in UP even after the landmark recommendations of Justice Jaswant Singh Commission which was appointed by Centre itself by the then late Mrs Indira Gandhi government in late 1970s headed by former Supreme Court Judge – Justice Jaswant Singh which recommended 3 high court benches for UP but not one was created even though on its recommendations benches of high court were created at Aurangabad in Maharashtra, Madurai in Tamil Nadu and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal? This is most shocking!

Come to think of it, it is a matter of greatest national shame and most shocking that Uttar Pradesh which is the biggest state amongst all the states in India with maximum population at more than 22 crore as UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi keep proudly bragging about at public rallies time and again which is more than even that of Pakistan and many other countries, maximum MPs in Lok Sabha at 80, maximum MPs in Rajya Sabha at 31, maximum MLAs in Vidhan Sabha at 404, maximum MLAs in Vidhan Parishad at 100, maximum Judges at lower courts at more than 5000, maximum Judges in High Courts at 160, maximum pending cases in lower courts at more than 50 lakhs, maximum pending cases in high court at more than 10 lakh, maximum members in UP Bar Council which is more than one lakh which is the highest not just in India but in  the whole world as is pointed out in the website of UP Bar Council itself, maximum elected representatives at all levels including villages like Sarpanch, maximum villages which is again more than one lakh, maximum tehsils, maximum Mayors, maximum constituencies at 80, maximum districts at 75, maximum poverty and what not yet has least high court benches in India – only one and that too just about 200 km away from Allahabad at Lucknow! What a shame that Jawaharlal Nehru had the great guts to create a high court bench in Lucknow on July 1, 1948, 72 years ago which is just 200 km away from Allahabad where main high court is located but no PM had the guts to create a high court bench thousands of kilometers away at any of the 13 districts in hilly areas which now constitute a separate state called Uttarakhand and the people then numbering 88 lakh living there had to travel so far for more than 50 years after independence which led to resentment and agitation of a separate state and now it has a high court nor at any other district in UP especially West UP which has 26 districts and is notorious for lawlessness!

Why is it that UP has just one bench and here too West UP which owes for more than half of pending cases has none? Why a single bench only for UP at Lucknow which is so close to Allahabad just about 200 km away and not anywhere else as in West UP where people have to travel about 700-800 km on an average all the way to Allahabad as there is no bench here? Why a bench for Lucknow since July 1, 1948 for just about 8 districts but no bench for West UP even in 2019 for 26 districts for more than 9 crore people living here which constitutes for nearly half of the population of UP? Can this be justified on any ground and under any circumstances? Certainly not!

If Lucknow is capital then so is Bhopal which is capital of Madhya Pradesh but which has neither high court nor bench which are at Indore and Gwalior and same is true for Dispur which is capital of Assam, Bhubaneshwar which is capital of Odisha, Dehradun which is capital of Uttarakhand, Thiruvananthapuram which is capital of Kerala, Raipur which is capital of Chhattisgarh, etc! Allahabad High Court must get its due share as it has maximum pending cases, maximum Judges and what not yet has just one bench since 1947 till 2019 which is most shameful and most disgraceful! Allahabad High Court needs special care and not special neglect as most unfortunately we have been seeing till now!

Who can deny that Allahabad High Court is the biggest high court not just in India but in whole of Asia yet has just one bench which is so close at Lucknow and is also one of the oldest high court which completed its 150 year of creation in 2016? Who can deny that Bar Council of UP has maximum members in whole world yet its former Chairperson Darvesh Yadav just within three days of being elected is brutally murdered right inside court premises by pumping three bullets on her? Who can deny that even Supreme Court lawyers are not safe in West UP and this stands vindicated by the recent brutal murder of lady advocate Kuljeet Kaur in Noida in West UP right inside her house? Who can deny that many senior lawyers in the past also have been brutally murdered not just  in West UP but in other parts also as we saw in Basti? Just recently we saw a senior and eminent lawyer in Meerut named Mukesh Sharma being brutally murdered just adjacent to his house while he had gone for walk and similarly in other districts of West UP we saw lawyers being murdered! Another advocate Zahid was murdered in Baghpat! In Muzaffarnagar still another advocate Ameer Saifi was murdered! For how long will West UP’s legitimate claim for a high court bench be consistently ignored?

Needless to say, UP must have maximum benches in India and not minimum as most unfortunately we have been seeing since last 72 years! Centre’s adamant approach to not create any bench anywhere else in UP other than Lucknow is responsible for demand being raised for separate state as we see in Bundelkhand, West UP, Poorvanchal and other parts also! Centre can shamelessly create 2 more benches for a peaceful state like Karnataka at Dharwad and Gulbarga for just 4 and 8 districts even though it had a bench already at Hubli also for just 6 crore people living there but for more than 9 crore people of West UP it is not ready to create even a single bench! Karnataka has just about 1 lakh pending cases still it has 3 benches but for UP which has more than 10 lakh pending cases and West UP alone which has more than 5 lakh pending cases it has none! Same is true for Assam and Maharashtra which have 4 benches even though their pending cases stand nowhere when compared to UP whom Ban ki moon who is former UN Secretary General had slammed as “rape and crime capital of India” and even West UP alone has more cases which is more than both the states put together!

Bluntly put: Is this is what Article 14 which talks about right to equality stands for? Is Centre not making an open mockery of Article 14 of Indian Constitution? Are the people of West UP not entitled to get “speedy justice”, “justice at doorsteps” and “cheap justice” just like the people of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Assam etc? Why is it that the high court and benches of 8 states are closer to West UP as compared to Allahabad? Why even Lahore High Court in Pakistan is closer to West UP as compared to Allahabad High Court? Still should a high court bench not be created here?

Needless to say, Centre must clarify its stand and not maintain a conspicuous and deafening silence on it! Former Attorney General Soli J Sorabjee had clearly said in 2001 while he was Attorney General that, “Centre is fully empowered to create a bench in any of the districts in West UP without any recommendation from the Chief Justice or anyone else in this regard.” Former Supreme Court Bar Association Chairman  Krishnamani had also said that, “Only by the creation of a high court bench in West UP will the people living here get real justice.”CJI Ranjan Gogoi while disposing of a petition on this filed by a lady advocate KL Chitra last year had appreciated the dire need for a bench in West UP but also had said that it is for Centre to decide on it!

One hopes fervently that the new CJI would seriously look into it! He himself being a product of a high court bench should certainly go into it deep and set up benches not just in West UP but also in other needy places in different states as was rightly recommended by 230th report of Law Commission of India also so that more talent comes to the horizon and we see that the “poorest of poor” people get “justice at doorsteps” and they are not compelled to travel a long way to get justice as it is they who have to spend more and suffer innumerable hassles! He must act as Centre has failed to act in last more than 72 years especially in case of UP and Bihar which inspite of being lawless states have just one bench and no bench respectively!

It is most shocking that peaceful states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Assam, Madhya Pradesh among others have more high court benches but the most lawless states have either just one or no bench at all! This must be set right at the earliest! Let’s hope that the CJI designate – Sharad Arvind Bobde will act courageously on this score and do what none of his predecessors has ever dared to do and tended to play safe by always leaving the ball in Centre’s court which has done just nothing at all even though the incumbent Law Minister of India Ravi Shankar Prasad is from Bihar and the PM Narendra Modi himself is from UP representing Varanasi!

Sanjeev Sirohi