Calcutta, Nov. 12: Bengal leads ' when it comes to spreading the festive feel-good.
"Chhath ar Buddha Jayanti-te ebar theke chhuti (from now on, there will be holidays on Chhath and Buddha Jayanti)," chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced with a wide grin while leaving Writers' this evening.
"Ask the chief secretary for clarification," she added, hurrying down the wooden staircase at the state secretariat.
Within 10 minutes, chief secretary Sanjay Mitra clarified that Chhath and Buddha Jayanti had been included in the list of sectional holidays.
The list of holidays, available at the state finance department's website (www.wbfin.nic.in), however, already mentions Buddha Purnima (also referred to as Buddha Jayanti) as one of the sectional holidays.
Employees of different communities can take a break without seeking permission on the days mentioned as sectional holidays on the official list.
Till this evening, the list included Mahaveer Jayanti (for Jains only), Easter Saturday (for Christians only), Baisakhi (for Sikhs only) and Shab-e-Baraat (for Muslims only).
Sectional holidays are over and above other holidays that state government employees are entitled to during the 2012 calendar year.
By adding the Chhath festival, the state government has recognised the presence of the community from Bihar that has become part and parcel of Calcutta life for years now.
"The chief minister thrives on festive cheer. All state government employees got a 10-day holiday at a stretch during the Pujas because she announced a special holiday on October 26," pointed out a senior official.
Chhath is primarily observed in Bihar and Jharkhand. Some of the first references to Chhath are found in the Srimad Devi Bhagvata Purana of the late medieval period (10th to 13th century AD).
According to this Purana, devotees worship the Sun god and the deity Shashthika in the festival. The deity is considered the protector of children and those still in wombs.
"The chief minister is trying to send a message to the Bihari community in Bengal that she cares about their festival," said a sociologist who did not want to be named. "She may also be trying to send a signal on an inclusive approach that embraces the festivities of all regions."
The gesture comes at a time the government has been battling charges that parts of Bengal have become unsafe for investors or their employees from outside the state. The government has also been trying to build bridges with the prominent business community that was rattled by the AMRI crackdown.
The establishment department, which tracks attendance records, is awaiting clarification on one count. "We have records on the religion but not on the region of origin of an employee. Of course, some surnames are a clear indication but not all. It will be difficult to ascertain who all are eligible for leave on Chhath," said an official.