For the first time in recent memory, Durga Puja celebration in the city is likely to be a low-key affair, and not the boisterous carnival-like extravaganza it usually is, as puja organisers have reduced their budget due to the twin crises brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and Cyclone Amphan. This year, the festival is scheduled to be held from October 22 to 26.
The big puja committees usually spend anything between Rs 40 to 60 lakh on a theme-based puja. However, this time the organisers of big-ticket pujas such as Ekdalia Evergreen and Naktala Udayan Sangha have already reduced their budget because of the economic slowdown.
The organisers of the puja at Suruchi Sangha, one of the popular community pujas here that is headed by state minister Aroop Biswas, have also drastically cut their budget due to a lack of sponsors.
“We don’t know whether we will be able to conduct the Durga Puja the way we have been doing it for the last 20 years. So far, there has been no sponsorship because of the economic slowdown caused by the lockdown. Following pay cuts and job cuts, the financial condition of people is worrisome. Till now, we have distributed relief materials and food to people hit by the lockdown. We have also donated Rs 2 lakh to the Chief Minister’s relief fund. Under these circumstances the priority is to stand by the people and not think about festivities,” said Swarup Biswas, the club’s general secretary.
Usually, it takes a year for the big-ticket puja committees to prepare for the festival. However, Chetla Agrani Club, which is headed by state Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim and attracts a crowd of more than 30 lakh people every year, is yet to hold a single meeting.
“Due to lockdown our club is closed. Not a single meeting has been held over organising Durga Puja and no work has begun. We cannot hold a theme-based Durga Puja this year. The budget will be halved. We don’t want a large number of people to visit our pandal this year as there is no sign of a reduction in Covid-19 infection. Right now all our members are busy with relief work after cyclone Amphan,” said Sandip Mukherjee, an executive committee member of the club.
Some puja organisers said maintaining social distancing norms during the festival would be one of the biggest challenges.
“We spent Rs 55 lakh last year. This year we will organise the puja under Rs 25 lakh. We are also not taking donations from the people. We will organise the puja from our puja fund. On the other hand, it is uncertain whether people will like to go for pandal hopping and if there is a ban on social gathering. Even if they do, how are we supposed to maintain social distancing norms with lakhs of visitors?” wondered Ashok Dey, the secretary of Mudiali Club, which has already placed curbs on its idol immersion procession to prevent social gathering.
The main road that leads to the club’s puja pandal was recently identified as a Covid-19 red zone after a local resident tested positive. Containment was lifted after no infections were reported for 21 days.
For small Durga Puja committees, fighting the current problems plaguing the city are more important than planning for festivities. In Santoshpur, power supply was restored six days after Amphan wreaked havoc.
“We are now in a survival mode. There was no electricity for six days and people were on the streets protesting against it. We also expressed our solidarity with agitators. We have distributed free ration to 600 families who have been affected in the cyclone. We will definitely organise the puja but on a small scale like it used to happen about 30 years ago,” said Rana Dasgupta, a member of Santoshpur Lake Pally.
The puja committee at Samaj Sebi Sangha said it had put all festival-related work on hold and was awaiting a directive from the state government.
“The infection is only increasing and is likely to peak in July. All our meetings and works are put on hold till July end. There is also a ban on social gathering. We don’t know if this will be relaxed. Although October is far away, no one will risk visiting our pandal during Durga Puja when a large gathering will take place,” said Arijit Moitra, the club’s general secretary.
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