The Calcutta High Court on Monday ruled that visitors will not be allowed inside Durga Puja pandals this year, reported NDTV. The court said all the pandals should be declared containment zones in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Durga Puja celebrations will begin on October 22.
Only organisers will be allowed inside the pandals, the court said. It also put a cap on the number of organisers allowed inside – 25 for big pandals and 15 for the smaller ones. The court also directed that the names of Durga Puja organisers allowed inside the puja pandals to be displayed outside the pandals, The Hindu reported.
Justice Sanjib Bandhopadhay asked how will 20,000 police personnel control a crowd that can swell up to three lakh, reported Hindustan Times Bangla.
The court, while hearing a public interest litigation on the matter of Durga Pujas being allowed in the state, observed that the police does not have enough resources to control the crowd if people descend onto the streets.
“The Calcutta High Court said that in case of small Durga Puja pandals five metres and for large puja pandals ten metres should be declared a no-entry zone,” Advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, appearing for the petitioner, said. “The distance will have to be measured from the place where the boundary of Durga Puja pandal ends.”
Around 37,000 Durga Puja events have been announced across the state and the Trinamool Congress-led government has granted Rs 50,000 to each organiser. Last week, the Calcutta High Court had ruled that money allocated by the state for Durga Puja can only be spent on distribution of masks, sanitisers and community policing, and not for organising the event or for entertainment of organisers.
Following the High Court’s order, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is holding a meeting with the administration to decide the next step, NDTV reported. “It is a setback for Puja organisers...we will wait for the government to speak,” said Saugata Roy, Trinamool Congress MP.
Saswat Bose, head of Durgotsav Forum, an umbrella organisation of 400 of Kolkata’s biggest pujas, also called it a huge setback. “My first reaction is huge disappointment,” he said. “What about economic losses? Huge expenses have already been incurred. The puja we do is not a matter of loss or gain. We do puja from a passion. We are shocked. Let’s see what happens.”
West Bengal has over 33,000 active cases and more than 6,000 deaths as of Monday, according to the health ministry.