HC Seeks to Know Bengal Govt's Plan on Preventing Covid-19 at Gangasagar Mela

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Observing that life is more important in every sense in comparison to religious practices and beliefs, the Calcutta High Court on Thursday directed the West Bengal government to submit a report detailing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, if the Gangasagar Mela is permitted to be held this year. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently said that the annual fair held on Makar Sankranti attracted 50 lakh pilgrims in 2020. The auspicious day will be celebrated on January 14 this year.

Hearing a PIL seeking that the Gangasagar Mela site at Sagar Island be declared a containment zone in view of the pandemic, a division bench said that it will be up to the state government to come out with clear suggestions in the report as to how the fair can be regulated, controlled or if necessary, even dropped for the current year. The division bench comprising Chief Justice T B N Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee directed the state government to place the report before it at 2 pm on Friday when the matter will be taken up for hearing again.

The bench said that the report should be submitted in the form of an affidavit "through a medical officer at the highest level in the state government service, clearly delineating the modalities of the preventive management of the situation if Ganga Sagar Mela is permitted to be held this year." The court said that the grim situation should necessarily prompt the West Bengal government to make rigorous provisions keeping in mind the duties of the state, in consonance with the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The division bench directed that the measures indicated should take care of congestion on the bank, in the water body, on roads, in eateries, toilets and other facilities.

The imposition of restrictions and enforcement of social distancing norms as well as the use of masks and due sanitisation in terms of COVID-19 management protocols should be spelt out by the state government in the report, it said. Urging pilgrims to go to Gangasagar Mela in smaller numbers this year in view of the pandemic, the chief minister had on Monday announced that arrangements have been made for 'e-snan', whereby holy water and 'prasad' will be sent to anyone who orders for these from any part of the country.

She had also said that provisions have also been made for 'e-darshan' of Gangasagar Mela for those who want to pay their obeisance from their homes.