Kolkata Durga Puja organisers move HC with review petition, cite ‘practical problems’

Citing practical problems in implementing the Calcutta High Court’s order to put up barricades outside Durga Puja pandals, a section of the most prominent puja organisers in Kolkata filed a review petition in the court on Tuesday. The petition is likely to be heard on Wednesday.

On Monday, the Calcutta HC, while hearing a PIL, had banned the entry of visitors inside the pandals declaring them as ‘no entry zones’ to check any gathering which could lead to a surge in Covid-19, as doctors have warned. While pandal-hopping has already started, Durga Puja starts from Thursday.

“We have filed a review petition in the court citing some practical problems which may arise if the orders are implemented. The matter is likely to be heard on Wednesday,” said Saswata Basu, general secretary of the Forum for Durgotsab.

The forum represents more than 350 pujas in the city, including prominent ones some of which are patronised by ministers and senior leaders of the ruling Trinamool Congress.

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“The applicants state that the court may appreciate that the directions, as given in the order dated October 19, may not be workable in view of the variable in-situ issues which the individual organisers are required to address holding the Durga Puja in the locality,” the petition states, adding that Kolkata’s Durga Puja has been nominated for UNESCO’s 2020 list.

The HC on Monday had directed that while the city’s big pujas need to put barricade at least 10 metres away from the outer end of the pandal, the smaller ones can barricade at a distance of five metres.

“There are some practical problems as nearly 80 percent of the pujas in Kolkata are held in lanes which are not more than 18–24 feet wide. If they put up barricades, there would be no space left for the visitors to pass through and people will virtually have to go back participating in the puja,” said Basu.

Puja committees claimed to have made elaborate arrangements for managing the crowd based on the guidelines issued by the Mamata Banerjee administration in September.

This year, more than 37,000 community pujas would be organised across the state, including more than 2,500 such pujas in Kolkata. Around 1,700 pujas are organised by women in the state. The list, however, doesn’t include pujas which are held inside housing societies and houses. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had even announced a donation of Rs 50,000 to each of the puja committees.

“At all puja pandals, entry and exit gates have been kept separate. Barricades have already been set up accordingly. Now, if we put up new barricades, in some pandals, visitors would have to make a U-turn and go back the same way. It would lead to chaos and crowd would accumulate. Earlier, we had plans to allow a restricted number of visitors in specific time slots,” said Partha Ghosh, an executive committee member of the forum.

Instead, the organisers, in their 18-page review petition, have said that security arrangements would be made so that not more than 50 persons remain inside the pandal at a time. There would be a continuous flow of visitors and no crowding. Pandals would be sanitised twice daily among other precautions.

“The court has allowed only 25 puja committee members inside the pandals. This means no resident would be able to perform ‘Anjali’ and attend other rituals such as ‘sandhi puja’ except for the 25 members. This would create a rift within the locality amid the festive season,” said Ghosh.

Citing examples of Kerala where Covid-19 cases had shot up after Onam festivities, doctors had earlier warned the Mamata Banerjee administration that Covid-19 infection in Bengal could increase up to four-fold if restrictions were relaxed during the festive season.

“The only reason behind filing the PIL was to ensure that safety protocols to stop Coronavirus are maintained. The court had observed that the state government has pious intentions to stop the virus but it would be hard to manage the puja crowd. Monday’s order is basically the modalities, which the court has laid down, to manage the crowd,” said Sabyasachi Chatterjee, the lawyer who had filed the original PIL on behalf of Ajay Kumar De.

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