The Calcutta High Court has on Wednesday upheld its previous order that barred the entry of visitors and made no-entry zones into Durga Puja pandals in West Bengal.
The division bench comprising of Justice Arijit Banerjee and Justice Sanjib Banerjee was hearing 8 applications filed primarily by the organizers of Durga Puja in and around Kolkata, for modification of the order dated 19th October 2020. Subsequently, the court allowed a few relaxations in terms of the number of people allowed inside the pandals, however, the HC denied permission for Sindoor Khela, a traditional game in which women smear each other with vermillion.
The Court observed that such an order is required to be modified only in respect of the following:
- Dhakis [traditional drummers who play the dhak (drum) during Hindu festivals, primarily in Bengal] may be permitted, not within the pandal area but in the no-entry zone immediately beyond the pandals;
- It will be permissible for the dhakis to be inside the pandal, but in such event, the number of other persons simultaneously allowed inside the pandal will stand reduced so that the maximum number of persons as permitted by the present order is not exceeded;
- For all other purposes, such no entry zone has to be kept completely empty and the only exception that is made is for a reasonable number of dhakis to be allowed to play in such an enclosed place;
- It has been made clear that the dhakis should wear masks and maintain proper hygiene and distancing norms;
- The directions as to the fixed charts (list of names of persons who will be permitted to enter the puja area) referred to in the order of October 19, 2020 stand modified and the charts will now be fixed for the day;
- Such charts must be put up by 8 a.m. and, in case of smaller pujas, may include up to 20 names, but not more than 15 persons in case of smaller pujas should get access to the pandals at any given point of time.
- At the highest end, the charts may include up to 60 names, but at no point in time should the number of persons present within the pandals or the covered area be more than 45.
- The norms for the highest-end pandals would only apply to pujas where the pandals cover an area in excess of 300 sq. meter excluding the dais on which the idols are placed.
Further, the bench said that 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.
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,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, the court banned the entry of visitors inside pandals, virtually declaring them as ‘no entry zones’ to prevent any gatherings that may lead to a surge in coronavirus cases, as doctors have warned.