West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday announced a grant of Rs 50,000 each to nearly 30,000 puja committees across the state, adding that the fire brigade, Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), other civic bodies, municipalities and panchayats will not charge any money or tax for their services from the puja organisers this year.
Expressing concern over collection of Durga Puja donations amid Covid-19 pandemic, Banerjee said, "We are aware that raising money to celebrate and organise Durga puja is difficult this year due to the pandemic. We are hopeful that the amount we announced today will come as relief for the puja committees to some extent."
The grant was given to promote the cultural and the traditional legacy of Durga puja in Bengal with a focus on community development. The announcement is likely to cost the public exchequer around Rs 140 crore.
During a meeting with Durga Puja committees, Banerjee also announced that there would be a 50 per cent concession on electricity bills for the committees. Last year, it was 25 per cent.
"A dedicated Covid-19 helpline number will be there to assist people during Durga puja days. I have asked the Department of Fire and Emergency Services to provide free services this year,” she said, adding that the West Bengal government will not hold the Puja carnival this year to avoid gathering of people. "We will organise the Puja carnival in a big way next year," she said.
In Bengal, there are nearly 37,000 community pujas (this does not include Durga puja in housing society), including 2,509 in Kolkata.
Based on the suggestions of the ‘Global Advisory Board’ chaired by Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee which recommended that puja pandals should not be covered so as to allow enough ventilation, the Chief Minister said, “We have suggested puja pandal committee to keep their puja pandals well ventilated. We have suggested them to keep the roof of the pandals open if the walls are closed and to keep walls open if the roof needs to be built.”
The Chief Minister also asked the puja committee to strictly follow Covid-19 guidelines. "All the guidelines to contain the spread of coronavirus must be maintained. Puja volunteers and pandal hoppers should be encouraged to wear masks, face shields and use hand sanitizer. Extra precautions need to be taken during pushpanjali (sprinkling of sacred water), prasad distribution and ‘sindoor khela’ rituals,” she asserted.
The state government has also asked the puja committee members to avoid cultural programmes during the occasion.
The immersion of Durga idol should be conducted with minimal presence of puja committee members and no processions.
Moreover, police personnel have also been instructed to wear protective gears while performing their duties and should manage the crowd efficiently during the puja days.
The Chief Minister has also hiked the salaries of civic volunteers, Green Police and Asha workers by Rs 1,000 and an aid of Rs 2,000 announced to nearly 81,000 registered hawkers in the state.