The Calcutta High Court on Friday allowed the West Bengal government to host the yearly Gangasagar Mela amid the third wave of coronavirus pandemic, reported Live Law. However, the court asked the authorities to make the public aware of the risks involved.
The religious fair will be held from January 8 to January 16 at Sagar Island in the state. During the Gangasagar Mela, thousands of pilgrims take a holy dip in the river Ganga.
“The home secretary of the state will issue an advertisement in the daily newspapers having wide circulation in the state of West Bengal and also through the Electronic Media making the public aware of the risk of visiting Gangasagar Island between 8 to 16 January 2022 in large gatherings and will make an appeal to them to stay safe and to desist themselves from visit the island,” the bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Kesang Doma Bhutia observed.
The court also formed a three-member committee to oversee the conduct of the fair and adherence to Covid protocols, reported ABP Ananda. The committee will include the chief secretary of the state, the leader of Opposition and the chairperson of the state human rights commission.
The High Court was hearing a plea seeking that this year’s event be called off given the rise in coronavirus cases. The petitioner, who is a doctor by profession, has contended that infection may spread further as more than 30 lakh pilgrims visit the religious fair.
“Religion is not more important than a person’s life,” the petitioner’s counsel had told the court on Thursday.
On Thursday, West Bengal registered over 15,000 new cases. The daily positivity rate rose to 24.71% from 23.17% the previous day.
Cases have exploded particularly in Kolkata. An official told PTI that nearly 300 doctors, healthcare officials and support staff at different hospitals have contracted the virus. Several policemen in Kolkata and the state police have also tested positive.
The state government had informed the court that it will go ahead with the event this year by adhering to the Covid protocols.
On December 30, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had ruled out imposing restrictions on the Gangasagar Mela. The administration will use close circuit television cameras and drones to monitor the event and to avoid congestion, she had said.
She had also asked whether any restrictions were imposed on the Kumbh Mela, which was held amid the devastating second wave of the pandemic.
In April 2021, as thousands of Hindu devotees flocked to participate in the Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar city, international media had reported that the gathering was allowed to take place despite the massive surge in coronavirus cases in India.
The mela took place on a day when India recorded more than 2 lakh new cases – a global record since the pandemic broke out in December 2019.
Criticism about the government’s handling of the pandemic flooded Twitter subsequently. The Centre had asked the social media platform to take down 52 tweets about the matter. Medical journal The Lancet had said that Modi’s attempts to curb criticism and open discussion during the coronavirus pandemic were “inexcusable”.
Amid the rising cases, the West Bengal government on Wednesday cancelled several events scheduled this month. The Kolkata International Film Festival, supposed to take place between January 7 and 14, has been deferred, and popular music festivals, including the Dover Lane Music Conference, have been cancelled.