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Calcutta High Court Orders Durga Puja Pandals to be Declared “No Entry Zones” for Devotees

Manas Dasgupta

KOLKATA, Oct 19: Spoiling the festive mood of the Bengalis and tacit support to it by the Mamata Bannerjee government, the Calcutta High Court has directed the West Bengal government to declare all Durga Puja pandals as no-entry zones for devotees and visitors.

The High Court in its order on Monday said besides the organisers of each Durga Puja festivals, only some selected guests would be permitted to enter the pandals during the five days of Durga Puja, the biggest annual festival of Bengalis, beginning on Tuesday. The entry would be allowed only for 25 organising committee members for puja-related works in big pandals, and only 15 members in each small pandals and each pandal would have to display a list of the names of those allowed entry outside the pandals.

The Durga Puja, a blend of social, cultural, economic and religious activities, is celebrated with huge pomp and enthusiasm all over West Bengal and despite the prevailing Corona pandemic the citizens had just started breaking the shackles to celebrate the annual festival almost with the same enthusiasm as in the normal years. Though the state government earlier had urged the Puja organizes to keep the festivities to bare minimum and offered Rs 50,000 government aid to each registered puja bodies as the public donation was expected to be low due to the pandemic, the government had not imposed any restrictions on the crowding of the pandals forcing the High Court to intervene and put a spanner on the enthusiasm.

The High Court order comes amidst heightened enthusiasm of the people violating all pandemic norms including social distancing and wearing of masks while on a shopping spree on the eve of the puja festivals.

The court order came on a Public Interest Litigation by one Ajay Kumar. The High Court said revelers would not be allowed within a five-metre distance for small pandals and 10 metre for big pandals and directed organisers to erect barricades at their entrance.

Besides limiting the entry only for the members of the organizing committees, the HC also asked each puja committee to submit a blueprint on crowd management. There are over 37,000 puja committees in West Bengal, including 3000 in Kolkata.

The court was of the view that there were not enough policemen in Kolkata and in the districts to manage the crowd during puja.

“The court said no visitors will be allowed to enter into the pandals. Only some people from puja organisers will be allowed an entry. The police will have to ensure that such measures are maintained,” said counsel Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who appeared on behalf of the petitioner.

The order comes days after the High Court directed the Puja organizes to spend at least 75 per cent of the government’s grant of Rs 50,000 each only on the procurement of Covid-19 protection equipment like sanitisers and masks while the rest of the amount must be spent on strengthening public-police bonding.

The state administration had told the court that the grant was meant to help increase public awareness about Covid-19 protocols, and purchase of sanitisers and masks.

In most other states, the respective annual festivals so far had been celebrated with restricted movements but West Bengal lately had been going overboard to celebrate the Puja virtually ignoring all COVID-19 protocols. The state’s death toll went past the 6,000-mark on Sunday with 64 more fatalities, even as a record number of 3,983 fresh cases pushed the tally to 3.21 lakhs.