Mamata urges pilgrims to go in smaller numbers to Gangasagar mela due to COVID

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Kolkata, Jan 4 (PTI) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday urged pilgrims to go to Gangasagar Mela in smaller numbers this year in view of COVID pandemic,announcing that arrangements have been made for 'e-snan (bath)', whereby holy water and sacred food will be sent to anyone who orders for these from any part of the country.

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

The annual Gangasagar Mela (fair) at Sagar island, which is attended by lakhs of pilgrims from across the country and also from neighbouring Nepal, will be held from January 12 to 16.

'A new initiative of 'e-snan' has been taken up for sending the holy water of the Gangasagar and prasad to anyone who orders for it from any part of the country at a nominal delivery fee of Rs 150,' she told reporters, terming it as 'Duare Gangasagar' (Gangasagar at doorsteps).

'We have not stopped the Gangasagar fair despite the COVID situation, but this time it should be a smaller gathering to prevent spread of the virus,' she said, calling for discouraging pilgrims from coming in large numbers in view of outbreak of the deadly disease.

Banerjee requested devotees from Bengal to skip their visit to the pilgrimage site this year to ensure lesser crowding at the fair and instead take advantage of e-darshan and e-snan facilities.

The journey to the island, about 130 kms from Kolkata, involves crossing of River Ganga before the pilgrims reach the holy confluence of the river with the sea, the Bay of Bengal, where they take the holy dip before offering prayers at the Kapil Muni temple situated on the beach.

She said that 50 lakh pilgrims attended the Gangasagar Mela last year and even an estimated 20 to 30 per cent of that number will mean more than 10 lakh people coming to the fair this time.

Asking ministers and officials to ensure that every efforts are made to prevent spread of the coronavirus, Banerjee said that there will be 13 medical screening camps at all major entry points to the fair where rapid antigen test and RT-PCR tests for the COVID-19 virus will be done on the pilgrims.

She said that a 600-bed COVID hospital and six wellness centres are being set up at the Gangasagar mela site.

Eight safe homes, 11 quarantine centres and 5 isolation centres are also being set up, Banerjee said, suggesting that various flood shelters in the area be kept ready for setting up safe homes if required.

Banerjee called for coordination with the states from where pilgrims would be coming for rapid antigen tests for COVID.

She said that apart from these, a 300-bed hospital is being set up for other ailments and health infrastructure is strengthened at Sagar, Namkhana, Chemaguri and Lot 8 on the route of the pilgrims' journey.

'There will be adequate specialist doctors, nurses and other infrastructure for both COVID and non-COVID care,' she said, adding that two air ambulances, three water ambulances and 100 ambulances will be kept for emergencies.

Requesting that all pilgrims must wear face masks, she said that regular announcements will be made in this regard and also to prevent crowding in a place for maintaining physical distancing norms.

The chief minister said that the state government is setting up a 800-member dedicated team named 'Sagar Bandhu' for helping the pilgrims maintain COVID safety norms.

She said that awareness campaigns by public announcements, banners and hoardings in Hindi and Bengali languages will be done for maintaining health safety instructions.

Banerjee said that 1,050 CCTV cameras will be installed and 20 drones will be flown to ensure proper crowd management.

'Drones will provide surveillance over large areas and will also keep an eye on miscreants trying to foment trouble,' she said.

Banerjee said that close watch must be kept to ensure that no one spreads any message of hatred or politics at the fair.

'When people from all over the country come together, their place of origin does not matter and unity in diversity is what catches the eye,' she said.

Banerjee said that to provide a smooth transportation facility to the pilgrims, 2,250 government buses and 500 private buses, five barges, 32 vessels and 100 launches will be pressed into service.

'I request Railway authorities to arrange for additional trains to clear the rush of pilgrims,' she said.

She said that 10 temporary fire stations with 25 fire fighting vehicles will be set up for disaster management.

There will be more than 6,000 volunteers from 140 NGOs, including Bharat Sevashram Sangha to provide assistance to the pilgrims, she said.

Banerjee said that 3,500 other volunteers will be at service to keep the beach clean and 10,000 toilets will be installed in and around the fairground on the Bay of Bengal coast.

All people working at the fair will be provided with an insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh from January 8 to 16, she said.

Banerjee said that 50 lakh water pouches will be provided apart from the conventional drinking water facilities at the fair site. PTI AMR SNS SNS