November 30, 2023

Durga pandals: Court upholds ‘no entry’ order, relaxes cap on people allowed inside

‘Dhakis’, or traditional drummers, will be present inside the pandals while it denied permission for Sindoor Khela, the court said.

Upholding its previous order that barred the entry of visitors into Durga Puja pandals in West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court Wednesday allowed a few relaxations in terms of the number of people allowed inside the pandals. The court, however, denied permission for Sindoor Khela, a traditional game in which women smear each other with vermillion.

Hearing an appeal submitted by Forum for Durgotsab, a division bench of the High Court, comprising Justices Sanjib Banerjee and Arijit Banerjee, said the cap on the number of people allowed inside the pandal from the organizers side would depend on its size. The bench ordered that the number of people who can stay inside  marquee pandals be increased from 25 to 60 but retained it at 15 for the small ones.  ‘Dhakis’, or traditional drummers, will be allowed inside the pandals, the court said.

The list of 60 people who can stay inside the pandals for big pujas will have to be put up daily, the court said. The court also said a maximum of 45 people can be present inside the marquees at a time. For small pujas, the maximum number of people who can stay inside the pandals at a time is 10.

Reacting to the development, West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury expressed doubt if the HC order would be enforced in letter and spirit by the state administration.

“The CM herself has confirmed community transmission already started in West Bengal and Covid-19 cases are on the rise in the state. Keeping that situation in mind the state has failed to convince the hon’ble high court that it will be able to check that graph if crowds are allowed on puja days,” Chowdhury said.

On Monday, the court had ordered that Puja pandals would be out of bounds for the visitors “in public interest” considering the threat of the coronavirus. Acting on a public interest litigation (PIL), the HC said no one, barring select members of the puja organising committee, would be allowed to enter marquee of the pandals.

“When students… 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,” the Bench had said.

On Tuesday, an umbrella organisation of more than 400 community Durga Pujas had filed a review petition in the court, arguing that if people were stopped at entry points then it could lead to more chaos and crowding. Five community puja committees in Kolkata, including Suruchi Sangha, Hindustan Club and Samaj Sebi Sangha, had also filed separate review petitions.


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