KOLKATA: The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday, November 3, 2021, allowed unrestricted entry into Kali Puja, Jagadhatri Puja and Kartick Puja pandals in West Bengal for visitors, provided each of them is double vaccinated and wears a mask.
Subject to the maximum number of persons permitted inside a puja pandal and compliance with other conditions, all activities and rituals such as Anjali (floral libations) are permitted inside the marquees, The vacation bench comprising justices Rajasekhar Mantha and Kesang Doma Bhutia said.
The bench, however, cautioned that the expression in the order – “entry shall be unrestricted provided each visitor is doubly vaccinated and wears mask” – should not be treated as a blanket license to one and all to throng and overcrowd the puja pandal areas in particular and streets in general.
The court said it is expected that citizens self-impose the restrictions.
Kali Puja will be celebrated on Thursday while the four-day Jagadhatri Puja will start from November 12.
Kartik Puja is slated for November 19.
The vacation bench said directions for Chhat Puja to be celebrated next week may be considered after reopening of the court on November 8.
The bench directed that for small pandals, where the covered area excluding the dais is up to 150 square metres, only 10 persons may be in such covered area at any given point of time.
For pandals with a covered area between 150 square metres and 300 square metres excluding the dais, the number of persons at any point of time maybe 15 and for larger pandals, in excess of 300 square metres in area excluding the dais, a maximum of 45 persons can be within the marquees at any given point of time, it directed.
The bench directed that the entry requirement compliance will be checked by the puja organisers at the entrance and spot verification would have to be made by the police.
An earlier order of the high court restricting entry inside Durga Puja pandals had directed that a list of persons allowed inside the pandals be made and displayed each day of the festival.
The vacation bench directed in its order on Wednesday that sanitiser must be available at puja pandals and wearing of masks will be mandatory within and around the pandal and the physical distancing norm has to be maintained at all times in and around the pandals.
It further directed that immersions should be low-key affairs and processions for such purpose will not be permitted.
The use of bands and lights at the time of immersion will also remain prohibited, the court directed, adding that it will be open to the local police to provide for staggered timings so that the immersion ghats are not overcrowded.
The order came on public interest litigation praying that the directions earlier passed by this court to stop crowding at Durga Puja pandals so as to prevent spread of the Covid-19 virus be enforced during the immediately forthcoming successive festivals.
The court noted that the likelihood of crowding and assembly of a large number of people during the forthcoming festivals of Kali Puja, Jagadhatri Puja, Kartick Puja as well as the Chhat Puja cannot be ruled out.
Advocate General S N Mookherjee submitted that the West Bengal government has no objection to the directions issued in the earlier orders to be implemented in the state for the forthcoming festivals.
The bench noted that during this year’s Durga Puja, with the reduction in the Covid positive cases and easing of restrictions, people who have been confined and restricted at home for the prolonged lockdown, have ventured out socially, with vengeance.
“As a consequence of this, certain areas and popular pandals have seen enormous crowds albeit outside the entry points of the particular puja,” the bench said.
It said the onus lies on the citizens to ensure that there is no crowding at any place and the people should restrict themselves and apply curbs on their own to avoid and prevent overcrowding, while the state would “obviously continue to take all steps to strictly implement the aforesaid orders.”