West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday announced a number of aids and grants ahead of Durga Puja, scheduled on October 22 this year. At a meeting in Kolkata’s Netaji Indoor Stadium with organisers of barowari (or the publicly organised) Durga Puja, Banerjee offered Rs 50,000 to each of the over 4,000 puja committees across the state for organising the puja. She reasoned that organisers are finding it tough to get advertisements this year due to the pandemic.

Banerjee also announced waiving of the government fee for fire safety services, and 50 per cent reduction of charges for electricity by the state run WBSEC and the privately owned CESC. She also offered a puja aid of Rs 2,000 each to approximately 81,000 hawkers, and a puja bonus to the ASHA workers.

Should barowari Durga Puja be allowed this year in the state in the current pandemic situation? While that question was in the minds of many, Banerjee said at the meeting that she had “no right” to ban holding of Durga Puja. “Some people are keeping a constant eye on us like vultures and they are waiting to pounce on us on whatever we decide. If we ban Pujas, they will criticise us for that, and if we allow it, they will say the pandemic has spread because we allowed the Puja. But only those who run the government know the huge responsibility that this involves,” she said. Banerjee put the onus on people to not crowd pandals. A set of protocols were explained to the organisers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Pandals were asked to be kept open – either from the top or on the sides. Visitors’ entry would be restricted, circles would be drawn to maintain social distancing even inside pandals, all visitors must wear masks, sanitisers must be kept in pandals, use of prasad and flowers for offering to the deity will all have to be done maintaining the protocols, she explained. The CM appealed to people to try and do the darshan this year from home either online or “send someone to get a video recording”. She said that all these measures have to be taken so that there is not a spike in cases after Durga Puja.

[Image for representational purpose]

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