After HC ordinance, government issues guidelines on low-key Durga Puja celebrations

The West Bengal government released the Durga Puja guidelines, days after the High Court in Calcutta announced that guidelines similar to those applied last year would be in place during the festivities this time too due to the pandemic of Covid-19.

On Friday, the court said visitors would not be allowed to enter Durga Puja’s marquees (pandals) this time around, too, and the premises would be treated as containment areas. The same rules would also apply during Kali Puja, he added.

In a notification on Monday, the government said: “This year Puja is being organized and celebrated amid this unprecedented pandemic. This requires appropriate and adequate health security measures for citizens. Puja committees are responsible for ensuring health and safety standards for themselves and for participants and visitors.

He added: “Pandals should be spacious and should be kept open on all sides. If in the event that it becomes essential to have a closed ceiling, the sides should be kept open. Pandals must maintain adequate space and arrangements to ensure physical distancing in accordance with existing standards for the Covid-19 pandemic. There should be separate entry and exit arrangements with separate doors. Mixtures and crowds should be avoided at all locations. Ground markings and other signs must be made on entry and exit routes and assembly points to ensure compliance with physical distancing standards. “

The government announced that cultural programs and fairs would not be allowed in Puja venues, and added that judges from various award programs should not be allowed to enter the premises in large convoys and in large numbers.

“No more than two judges’ cars at a time should be allowed to visit a pandal. Ideally, all visits to “judge” the Pujas should be virtual and physical visits should be confirmed at off-peak hours (between 10 am and 3 pm), ”the notification said.

Mamata Banerjee’s government has said face masks and hand sanitizers will be mandatory on pandals. “To meet any requirements, organizers must make adequate arrangements for the distribution of masks in the immediate vicinity of the pandal to visitors who inadvertently enter the pandal premises without wearing a mask. The use and availability of hand sanitizers should also be made mandatory in the premises and the pandal area, ”he added.

The government said puja organizers should deploy enough volunteers to ensure that the rules – including physical distancing, wearing masks and using disinfectants – are followed.

“The volunteers themselves should wear face masks and face shields for safety reasons. Keeping in mind the health safety of participants and organizers, Anjali, Prasad Bitaran or Sindoor Khela should be organized by Puja committees in a planned manner and as much as possible in small groups with staggered schedules. Priests should use microphones to utter the mantra so that the sound reaches even distant devotees and people do not have to congregate in small spaces. Devotees can be encouraged to gift Anjali with flowers brought from home so that flower collection points in pandals do not become congestion points, ”the notification read.

The government said openings and immersion ceremonies should be low-key events, and “where possible, the opening should be virtual.” He added, “The pre-planned allocation of ghat slot time to the various Puja committees should be strictly adhered to. The ghats should be properly disinfected before and during dives with arrangements that facilitate the standards of physical distancing required in the current situation. Protima [idols] must be taken directly to the ghats without any stopovers at any point, avoiding unnecessary diversions.

Announcing the concessions for Puja organizers, the state administration said firefighters would not charge any fees for its services. “Local authorities [urban and rural] must also provide their services free of charge… ”, he added.