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Rising Covid infections: Calcutta HC clears Gangasagar Mela; forms panel to enforce norms

“Gangasagar Mela is also in the nature of a social religious and cultural gathering. Therefore, this order clearly applies and it is required to be implemented by the State Authorities with full force,” the High Court said in its order.

Kolkata |
Updated: January 8, 2022 9:19:33 am
The affidavit also suggested certain measures, including compulsory use of face masks, maintaining physical distancing and use of sanitisers at the fair venue to contain the spread of coronavirus. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

Paving the way for holding the Gangasagar Mela in Sagar Island from January 8 amid the surging Covid-19 cases, the Calcutta High Court on Friday constituted a three-member committee to oversee the restrictions imposed by the West Bengal government are being strictly adhered to.

The proposed committee comprising the Leader of the Opposition in the State or his representative, the chairman of West Bengal Human Rights Commission or his representative and a representative of the State, can also recommend a ban on entry to Sagar Island if there is any violation of health safety norms, the court said.

While hearing a plea seeking cancellation of the annual fair amid the third wave of the pandemic, the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Kesang Doma Bhutia also directed the state government to “implement with full force” the state government’s January 2, 2022 order at Gangasagar Mela in which it had limited the number of people at any social, religious and cultural gatherings to 50.

Sanitisation drive in Kolkata at Babughat Transit Camp for Gangasagar Mela will be held at Sagar Island in South 24 Parganas. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

“Gangasagar Mela is also in the nature of a social religious and cultural gathering. Therefore, this order clearly applies and it is required to be implemented by the State Authorities with full force,” the High Court said in its order.

The High Court also directed the state government to take a decision within 24 hours to declare Sagar Island, where the annual fair is held, as a ‘notified area’.

The declaration of Sagar Island as a notified area will empower the state to take measures for safeguarding the health, safety and welfare of the pilgrims as it deems necessary.

The Bench, which had earlier urged the government to “seriously consider” cancelling the annual fair citing the surge in Covid-19 infections, on Friday directed the state Home Secretary to issue advertisements in the newspapers and in electronic media making people aware of the “risk of visiting Gangasagar Island between January 8 and 16 in large gathering” and urge them to “stay safe and desist from visiting the fair”.

“…it is the responsibility of the State to make the general public aware by various means of publication and announcements about the adverse consequence of visiting a small island in large numbers,” the order said.
On Thursday, in an affidavit to the court, the state government said that it would go ahead with the annual
pilgrimage fair after taking measures necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at the event.

Advocate General SN Mukherjee had told the court that residents of Sagar Island have been administered both doses of Covid vaccines and the test-positivity rate in Diamond Harbour was under control. He said the government wasn’t anticipating the turnout at the fair this year to be more than 5 lakh, adding that 50,000 seers have already arrived and 30,000 people have already visited the fair.

The affidavit also suggested certain measures, including compulsory use of face masks, maintaining physical distancing and use of sanitisers at the fair venue to contain the spread of coronavirus.

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