Kolkata/ New Delhi:
A day before Bengal’s biggest festival begins, the Calcutta High Court today eased its order which declared Durga Puja pandals “no-entry zones” for visitors amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. After 400 top Durga Puja organisers in the state capital appealed for a review of the order, the court today allowed entry of up to 45 people at a time.
The organisers approached the court on Tuesday as part of the Durgotsav Forum, an umbrella body of Durga Puja organisers.
Dhakis, or traditional drum players, are allowed to perform in “a limited number”, just outside the no-entry zone at each pandal, the court said today, adding 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 people, not more than 45 people can be allowed at a time. The smaller pandals can list up to 15 people.
The court refused to pass any orders on the appeals by Kalyan Banerjee, who appeared for the organisers, to allow two important rituals – Anjali and Sindoor Khela.
On Monday, the High Court had said only organisers would be allowed inside pandals; 25 for bigger Pujas and 15 for the smaller ones. The names of the organisers would have to be put up on a display board daily and could not be changed, the court said.
“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 noted.
The court also asked organisers to put up barricades outside pandals — five meters from the entrance for smaller celebrations and double that for the bigger ones.
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, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met with the administration to decide on the next step.
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.