Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today urged pilgrims visiting Gangasagar Mela to follow Covid protocols and directed the mela organisers to abide by the High Court directives.
Miss Banerjee said that the RT-PCR test is mandatory and pilgrims would not be allowed at the Sagar Island in South 24 Parganas without the test report. She requested the pilgrims not to overcrowd the vehicles to reach the Gangasagar Mela, wear double masks, cooperate with the administration and seek police’s help if needed.
“Do whatever is needed to follow the Covid protocols. I request the administration not to send too many people to Gangasagar Mela. It is our responsibility to abide by the court directives. I urge the pilgrims not to overcrowd vehicles to reach Sagar Island,” she said while inaugurating the fair at Outram Ghat in Babughat. “I welcome the pilgrims coming to West Bengal from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and request everyone to wear double masks, sanitise his/her hands and avoid spitting. Follow the Covid guidelines so that all can stay well,” she added.
Miss Banerjee said that Omicron is spreading very fast and has reached all the households. “Remain cautious. From Centre to state ministers, all are falling ill. Many of our doctors, nurses, health workers, police and journalists are getting affected. Still, our friends are working hard putting their lives at risk. Help our administration to organise the mela well,” she said. She further said that the Bharat Sevasram Sangha, a voluntary social organisation that has a special role in providing monks as volunteers for the mela, has informed that many of the monks have been infected and won’t be able to participate at the fair.
A Calcutta High Court division bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Kesong Doma Bhutia allowed the annual fair to take place from 8 to 16 January, and ordered that the entire Sagar Island be declared a notified area. The court has laid down an SOP including a series of dos and don’ts for holding the fair and formed a committee to watch over the administrative preparedness.
An official said that preparations are on full swing to ensure all visitors coming for the holy dip are tested before they are allowed entry. Only people who are fully vaccinated and have a Covid negative RT-PCR report will be allowed at the Gangasagar Mela, said the official. Testing is being done at Babughat and pilgrims who test positive are sent for seven-day isolation while those tested negative head directly to Lot 8 in South 24 Parganas from where they reach the mela premises, he said People who go directly to Lot 8 will have to get themselves tested there. No person can reach the mela premises without a negative RT-PCR report, he added.
Gangasagar is the second largest congregation of pilgrims, devotees and enthusiasts across the country after the Kumbh Mela at Haridwar. The state, in previous years, had recorded a footfall of 2 million people. In the last few years, the state government has taken up many projects for the wellbeing of Gangasagar pilgrims. The government has built roads and a bridge as well as improved accommodation and security arrangements. Miss Banerjee slashed the pilgrim tax in August 2019 and announced insurance of Rs five lakh for the next of kin of dead pilgrims.