The order of a division bench of the Calcutta High Court (coram: Sanjib Banerjee, J and Arijit Banerjee, J) declaring puja pandals that dot the state as containment zones and placing stringent restrictions on the annual festivity in the state will act as a dampener on revellers. But it is both necessary and welcome.
The order has carefully dissected the policing resources available to the state before concluding that these are inadequate for the purpose of crowd-control. Accordingly, it has decreed that no one, except designated organisers and priests, will be allowed closer than 10 metres from the boundary of the pandal in the case of large pujas and five metres in the case of smaller ones.
In thinly-veiled criticism of the State and society, the court has noted: “When students across disciplines, whether in schools or colleges or engaged in higher studies, have been prevented from attending educational institutions for more than six months and several students stand to lose a year, it is rather incongruous that puja festivities would continue as in the previous years.
Life has not been normal for the human species since or about March 2020 and it may have been better if restrictions were put in place as to how the Durga Puja festivities would be celebrated this year.”
Noting that puja pandals have already come up and “there does not appear to have been any curb” on their number, the Court has damned the state with faint praise holding that its measures while “well-intentioned” would remain a “pious wish” without any blueprint for implementation.
In the same vein, the Court says: “This order must not be seen to be a finding against the State for the inadequacy of the measures attempted to be put in place, but only as a supplement to ensure the proper implementation of such measures by the limited police personnel, volunteers and other administrative officials and workers.”
Holding that neither Kolkata Police nor West Bengal Police have the resources to manage the 34,000 pujas in the state, the court has expressed alarm at the manner in which crowds have thronged market places in the days leading up to the festival and said this cannot be allowed for the four or five days of the Puja.
It has asked the state government to ensure public awareness campaigns are carried out across the state to sensitise people to the threats posed by the virus epidemic and asked that arrangements for virtual darshan be put in place. The stakes are high and estimates of previous years have pegged spending at several thousand crore rupees with a substantial portion of this spent on Pujas organised by politicians, especially of the ruling party.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the organisers have sought a review of the High Court order. The State of West Bengal, too, had sought a stay on the order, a plea that the Court rejected with the words, “It is a matter of concern that the State finds the directions onerous.”