Durga Puja celebrations in West Bengal this year will be different, owing to the pandemic. In order to curtail an alarming increase in cases of COVID-19, amid the festivities, the West Bengal High Court has passed an order, prohibiting entry of the public into the Durga Puja pandals.
The high court’s order comes more than three weeks after the state government allowed visitors inside pandals, but made masks and sanitizers compulsory. In that order, the state government had banned cultural programmes and fairs.
The high court, in it’s order, said:
"“This order must not be seen to be a finding against the State for the inadequacy of the measures attempted to be put in place, but only as a supplement to ensure the proper implementation of such measures by the limited police personnel, volunteers and other administrative officials and workers.”"
So, can I go pandal-hopping this year?
The short answer is no. Not unless pandal-hopping, for you, means standing away from the pandal, at a permissible distance.
This is because you are not allowed to enter any pandal.
The high court order declares all Durga Puja pandals this year as “no entry zones” for the public.
Can I at least stand close to the pandal and watch?
Not too close. The area covered by the pandals and the additional area around the pandals, extending 5 metres from the smaller pandals and 10 metres from the bigger pandals, will be barricaded as no-entry zones.
Does anyone have access to the no-entry zone at all?
Only the the named personnel, including the priest, who will be identified by the puja organisers in advance and whose names would be displayed (for checks to be made at any point of time).
At the smaller pandals 15 persons will be named in the list who may have access to the no-entry zone. The number will be 25 to 30 in respect of the bigger to the biggest pandals.
And who decides which pandal is big and which is small?
According to the high court order, the local police administration is supposed to identify which of the pandals will be regarded as small pandals and which are to be identified as the bigger puja pandals.
Further, all the major pujas which are referred to in the manual of Kolkata Police, pertaining to Durga Puja 2020, will be considered as the larger pandals.
Can the list of personnel who have access to the pandals be changed?
No, the Court order says:
"“It is made clear that the lists of personnel to be allowed access within the core puja pandals must be fixed and cannot be a floating list or changed everyday. The local police regulating the conduct of traffic and law and order in and around the pandals should ensure the strict compliance with the directions contained herein.”"
How will enough people get to know about these COVID-related measures?
The court has asked local media to conduct awareness campaigns across the state, requesting people to maintain social distancing norms due to the pandemic, and to not descend on the streets in hoards, as in regular times, amid the Durga Puja festivities.
"“The court hopes that the message is spread by the police and the executive authority all over the State to make people aware that it is in their interest that a degree of self restraint must be exercised all around.” " - West Bengal High Court
According to The Indian Express, on Monday, 19 October, West Bengal reported almost 4,000 COVID-19 cases in a day as a record 3,983 infections pushed up the case count to 3,21,036.
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