Updated: October 22, 2020 6:58:05 am
The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday stood by its order of barring entry of visitors to Puja pandals in West Bengal in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hearing a review petition filed by an umbrella group of over 400 Durga Puja organisers — Forum for Durgotsab — the High Court, however, gave some relief by allowing dhakis (traditional drummers) to perform within the no-entry zones of the pandals — 5 metres around smaller pandals, and 10 metres for bigger ones.
The Division Bench of Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Arijit Banerjee also allowed entry of more Puja organisers — from 25 to 60 — for big Puja committees. For small Puja committees, the number of organisers allowed to enter the marquees or the pandals at a time will, however, remain the same — 15.
“The original High Court’s order of Monday has been modified in two aspects — dhakis may be permitted, not within the pandal area but in the no-entry zone outside the pandal. Dhakis will have to wear masks and maintain hygiene and distancing norms. Secondly, the fixed list of people allowed to enter the pandal to in the original order has been modified. Now, the list will be applicable for one day. The list should be hung outside the pandal every day 8 am. The list may include 30 names for smaller pujas but not more than 15 people can enter inside the pandal at a time. Similarly, 60 people will be allowed to enter larger pujas but not more than 45 people can remain/stay inside the pandal at a time,” advocate Sabyasachi Chatterjee, the counsel of the original petitioner who had sought a curb on crowding during Durga Puja, said.
The Forum for Durgotsab and five community Puja committees had filed separate review petitions in the court on Tuesday seeking modification of the earlier order “for practical purposes”, saying that they are already following the Centre and state’s Covid guidelines for organising Durga Puja.
The organisers had contended that if people were stopped at entry points of the pandals then it can lead to more chaos and crowding. They also said that they don’t have the time to redesign their pandals and entry of people to look after puja for over five days be increased to 100.
The petitioners also submitted before the Division Bench that the number of people who can enter the marquees be increased for offering “anjali” and during “sandhi puja”.
On Monday, the High Court while expressing apprehension of “uncontrollable rise” in Covid-19 cases post the Durga Puja festivities, ordered that the pandals would be out of bounds for the visitors.
“In public interest, all pandals where Durga Puja is being celebrated this year are made no-entry zones for members of the public. Further, for the smaller pandals, a five-metre zone beyond the extremities of the pandals on all sides and, for the larger pandals, a 10-metre zone beyond the extremities of the pandal on all sides will be a part of the no-entry zone. In other words, the area covered by the pandals and the additional area around the pandals extending 5m from the smaller pandals and 10m from the bigger pandals will have to be barricaded as a no-entry zone,” the High Court had ordered.
The Bench had also said that though the measures announced by the state government were “well-intentioned”, “they may only remain a pious wish on paper without any blueprint being chalked out for their implementation on the ground”.
Last week, the same Division Bench of the High Court had directed Durga Puja organisers to spend 75 per cent of the Rs 50,000 grant given by the Mamata Banerjee government on procurement of Covid-19 protection equipment like sanitisers and masks, and the remaining amount on strengthening public-police bonding. It had said the money given by the state to the Durga Puja committees cannot be used for any other purpose, and purchase bills have to be submitted to the authorities for audit.
Meanwhile, reacting to the High Court making minor changes in its previous order, state Education Minister Partha Chatterjee, who heads the Naktala Udayan Sangha Durga Puja, said, “We have to accept the court’s order and abide by it. But it should have come much earlier as a lot of investments have been made to decorate pandals.”
Another TMC minister Firhad Hakim, who organises Chetla Agrani Durga Puja, said, “We have no option than to accept the order. Our pandal this year has been made in such a way that visitors can view the idol from outside. So, we are not affected that much, but small pandals that are set up in the bylanes of Kolkata will be affected by the court’s order.”
However, state Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury expressed apprehension if the court’s order would be implemented in letter and spirit. “There are thousands of pujas across the state, small and big,” he added.
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