Nobel laureate economist Abhijit Banerjee on Tuesday supported the West Bengal government’s decision to aid Durga Puja committees with Rs 50,000 each, reported ABP Ananda. He said the additional funds would help the organisers adopt Covid-19 safety protocols.

“It is not a bad decision keeping in mind the additional expenditure by puja committees to implement safety measures,” he told ABP Ananda during an interview.

Durga Puja celebrations will begin on October 22. Around 37,000 Durga Puja events have been announced across the state. On September 24, the Trinamool Congress-led government granted Rs 50,000 to each organiser.

The move was criticised and even challenged in the Calcutta High Court. Last week, the court 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.

Banerjee urged people to be responsible as large gatherings at pandals may increase coronavirus cases in the state. The state has received flak for allowing puja celebrations as videos on social media have showed large gatherings of people, often without wearing masks or following any physical distancing.

The Calcutta High Court has ordered to declare all pandals “no-entry zones” for visitors. On Monday, the court said only organisers will be allowed inside the pandals and capped 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 court was hearing a public interest litigation on the matter of Durga Puja celebrations being allowed in the state. Justice Sanjib Bandhopadhay asked how 20,000 police personnel will control a crowd that can swell up to three lakh. He observed that the police does not have enough resources to control the crowd if people descend onto the streets.

Banerjee also hoped that the Indian economy will return to normalcy in a year’s time. “The pandemic has impacted the economy badly and safety from the infection is also important,” said the economist. “However, I think in a year’s time we will be able to recoup to a great extent helping an improved job market.”