The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear four petitions seeking modification of its earlier order of June 18, which had stayed the annual ‘Rath Yatra’ in Puri and all other places in Odisha, due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Odisha and the Central government are in favour of conducting the ‘Rath Yatra’ with the Centre telling the apex court that it can be held without public participation.

“It is a matter of faith for crores. If Lord Jagannath will not come out tomorrow, he cannot come out for 12 years as per traditions,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the centre, told the Supreme Court.

“A ritual going on for centuries cannot be interfered with. Only people tested negative (for coronavirus) and working in the Lord Jagannath temple can be part of the ritual,” Mehta was quoted as saying by NDTV.

The Odisha government had on Sunday said it will take favourable action as legally permissible when the writ petition on holding of Puri Rath Yatra is taken up for hearing before the Supreme Court.

The statement of the government came a day after Puri Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb, who is also the chairman of temple managing committee, wrote to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik requesting that Rath Yatra in Puri may be held without congregation of devotees.

“The state government will take favourable action as legally permissible on the request of Gajapati Maharaj when the writ petition W.P.(C) No. 571 of 2020 is taken up for hearing before the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” said a press statement of Law department.

It said that the stand of the state government in the hearing before the apex court was primarily related to thousands of Rath Yatras taking place all over the state.

These involve lakhs of people, and happen almost in every Gram Panchayat of the state, it added.

The state government is in line of fire from different quarters for not making enough efforts to convince the court to hold the annual festival without the presence of devotees in Puri.

The Supreme Court had on June 18 disallowed the ‘Rath Yatra’ this year saying “Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allowed the rath yatra”.

The remarks came from the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde while hearing a petition seeking to defer the rath yatra in Odisha’s Puri which is scheduled to start on June 23.

The apex court further said that such gatherings cannot take place at a time of the pandemic. It also referred to the advice by health professionals to maintain social distancing as the deadly virus can spread via respiratory droplets and surface contact.

The court said it cannot allow the rath yatra this year “in the interest of public health and safety of citizens”.

Terming it as a “serious matter”, the CJI said, “Even if there are only 10,000 people (in the event), it is also a serious thing”.