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Gangasagar Mela: TMC govt presses ahead with its big celebration, Covid checks in place

One of the largest religious gatherings in India after the Kumbh Mela, the fair was held under strict Covid restrictions last year, and didn't attract much crowds.

Written by Atri Mitra | Kolkata |
January 4, 2022 3:01:40 am
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently visited the Mela grounds and held an administrative meeting. (File)

AS Covid cases spiral in West Bengal, particularly Kolkata, the government has so far not taken any decision to curtail the Gangasagar Mela, which is held on the Sagar Island on January 14, Makar Sankranti day, and attracts around 20 lakh people.

West Bengal Chief Secretary Harikrishna Dwivedi said they were working out the details, on how to hold the fair while maintaining health protocols.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently visited the Mela grounds and held an administrative meeting. Asked whether the government would consider cancelling the gathering, she said: “This is not a government festival, it is a public event. People come from different parts of the country. How will I stop people who come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar?”

One of the largest religious gatherings in India after the Kumbh Mela, the fair was held under strict Covid restrictions last year, and didn’t attract much crowds.

Sources said the TMC government was planning to hold the Mela this time on a grand scale, with Banerjee eyeing a bigger, national profile for herself. A senior leader said: “The Mela has immense national importance. This year, the government made grand arrangements to showcase it nationally.”

The government was wary of how the BJP would react if there was any move to cut back on the celebrations.

The new measures in place include e-snan and online registration facilities to take the fair even to those people who can’t attend. The South 24 Parganas district administration will be hiring 20 drones to sprinkle “holy water” on the pilgrims.

As per the plan shared by officials, there will be Covid testing facilities at all entry points of Sagar Island during the festival, and every devotee will be screened. All health facilities will have buffer zones and first aid centres, down the 110 km length from Outram Ghat, Kolkata, to Sagar Island. Besides, there will be Rapid Test facilities at 13 locations, including bus stands and railway stations.

Four dedicated Covid hospitals have been set aside to handle possible cases. They have a total capacity of 500 beds and will coordinate with the screening points. Other than that, facilities with 1,910 beds are being created between Outram Ghat and the island, besides five SARI (Severe Acute Respiratory Illness) isolation wards with bed capacity of 125, and four ‘Safe Homes’ with 235 beds.

There will be seven quarantine centres with a total of 435 beds to accommodate direct contacts of Covid patients during the Mela period, as well as pilgrim sheds.

The district administration has also set aside six dedicated cremation grounds as well as six burial grounds for “safe” disposal of bodies.

The health posts will have dedicated ambulances, 25 in all, apart from water ambulances and air ambulances. There will be 75 more ambulances for non-Covid patients.

A dedicated rapid response team will be at hand to handle any emergency. A reserve pool of specialist Medical Officers will be kept ready at the Headquarters.

Officials said they had also designed a software that will track Covid patients from the stage of medical screening till when they reach home after recovering.

The CPM criticised the state government for going ahead with the fair. Party leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “We know that Covid numbers will surge in the coming weeks. The government should be more concerned about managing the situation rather than organising fairs and festivals.”

BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said there was a third wave coming. “The government has to decide in this situation if they will continue the Gangasagar fair.”

The Mela comes on the heels of the large crowds seen during Christmas and New Year celebrations in Kolkata. In the days since, the state’s Covid cases have surged, with Kolkata accounting for half the new ones in the last seven days.

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