During the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Sourav Dutta, a CITU activist praying for an order to stay the state government’s grant of `50,000 to the puja committees, a Division Bench of Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Arijit Banerjee of Calcutta High Court today asked that whether apart from Durga puja, such grants are given by the government in other religious festivals too. Was such grant made for Id, the court asked.

The Division Bench asked the state counsel that though it is proud of Durga puja but can funds be disbursed in this manner. “Can such differences be made in a democratic system?” it further asked.

The court pointed out that the reason for such funds was enunciated as aiding committees to buy masks and sanitisers, however, it observed, the state could have purchased it which would have cost lesser.

How can permission be granted for pujas when educational institutions have been closed apprehending contamination, the court asked. The court then asked for the precautions taken and also the blue-print for crowd control.

What is the rationale of giving funds to the clubs if all the the work is done by police, the court further asked. The matter will heard again tomorrow.

The Division Bench of the then Chief Justice had stayed a decision to give a sum of `10,000 to the community pujas in 2018, but after hearing the submission of t he state counsel that the funds had been disbursed for “Safe Drive, Save Life” awareness campaign, withdrew the stay. The petitioner moved the Supreme Court and the matter is still pending before it.

Mamata directs police to help small pujas:

Amidst the Covid pandemic, chief minister Mamata Banerjee today asked the police to help the new clubs that are not entitled to get government aid.

“Clubs that are holding pujas for more than 10 years will be provided an assistance amounting to Rs 50,000. However, the new clubs that are financially weak should also be helped. I would ask police to look into the matter,” said Miss Banerjee while virtually inaugurating 110 pujas located in 12 districts of south Bengal from Nabanna.

The districts are West and East Burdwan, Hooghly, Howrah, East and West Midnapore, Bankura, Jhargram, Purulia, Birbhum and North and South 24 Parganas.

Miss Banerjee said fire services department will waive fees, civic bodies will waive taxes and power utilities CESC and WBSEDCL will give 50 per cent discount on the electricity bill.

She told the organisers that they have to avoid crowding at all cost. “This year, we have to be careful during the celebrations,” she said urging puja revellers to wear masks, maintain physical distance and follow the Covid protocols.

Mamata said that three MLAs, several doctors and government officials have died due to Covid.

Big-ticket Pujas to allow only locals:

With the threat of the spread of COVID-19 during pandal-hopping casting a shadow over Durga Puja festivities in West Bengal, a crowdpuller big-budget puja in Kolkata has decided to allow only locals to visit its marquee.

The Santosh Mitra Square Puja Committee, in a statement on Wednesday night, said it has decided to not allow any outsider to visit its marquee based on the Badrinath Temple to prevent the pandemic from assuming gigantic proportions after the puja.

Only residents of adjacent wards, besides committee members, will be allowed to enter the puja compound after they exhibit identity proof, it said.

“We are aware that this decision will be extremely painful for many people. But a festival cannot be bigger than human lives,” the statement issued by the committee’s president Pradip Ghosh and general secretary Sajal Ghosh said.

The puja draws lakhs of visitors every year on all five days of the festival.

Praising the state government for tackling the COVID19 crisis, the committee hoped other puja committees will also follow its lead, keeping in mind this year’s pandemic situation and the threat of community transmission.

The committee’s decision was praised by many people on social media.

“Let this decision be emulated by other big-ticket pujas as well,” a netizen said.