India

Court's Bengal Pandals 'No-Entry' Order Partially Eased. What's Allowed

Court's Bengal Pandals 'No-Entry' Order Partially Eased. What's Allowed

Durga Puja - Bengal's biggest festival - begins tomorrow.

Kolkata/ New Delhi:

A day before Bengal's biggest festival begins, the Calcutta High Court today eased its order that declared Durga Puja pandals "no-entry zones" for visitors amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The court today allowed entry of up to 45 organisers at a time; traditional drummers - popularly known as Dhakis - will be allowed to perform just outside the no-entry zone. However, for visitors, the pandals are still out of bounds.

Four hundred top Durga Puja organisers had approached the court on Tuesday as part of the umbrella body Durgotsav Forum, a day after the High Court said only organisers would be allowed inside pandals; 25 for bigger Pujas and 15 for the smaller ones. 

The court on Monday also asked organisers to put up barricades outside pandals -- five meters from the entrance for smaller celebrations and double that for the bigger ones.  

As the court eased the restrictions today, it stressed the "list of persons allowed should be fixed on daily basis". These lists will be put outside the pandals every day at 8 am.  While the larger pandals - which have an area of more than 300 sq metre - can list up to 60 organisers, not more than 45 can be allowed at a time, the court said. The smaller pandals can list up to 15 organisers

The court did not pass any order on pleas for permission for "Anjali" or the ritual worship of Goddess Durga. Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee, the lawyer for Durgotsav Forum, had appealed to the court to allow the anjali to be performed in phases by locals to avoid crowding. He had also asked the court to give permission for another ritual - Sindoor Khela - on Vijaya Dashami. 

Experts have expressed concerns over the surging crowds out on the streets in Bengal shopping, without observing precautions like distancing or masks. The state has logged over 3.2 lakh Covid cases so far; more than 6,000 people have died. 

"Life has not been normal for the human species since 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," the High Court had noted on Monday. 

The Durgotsav Forum had expressed shock at the order. "This is a huge setback for us. For four months, we have been working at making things safe for visitors. We had made masks mandatory, sanitising gates were in place, we bought machines for thermal screening. Our exit gates were bigger than entry gates. But now... the rule about barricade 10 metres before the pandal, how will the crowds disperse? There will be more chaos," Saswat Bose, the chief of the forum, said on Monday.

After the court order on Monday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met with the administration to decide on the next step.