Kolkata: A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Calcutta High Court has questioned the grant given by the state government to Durga puja clubs. The PIL which was placed in front of the court on Thursday asks whether the government gives grants only for Durga Puja or for other festivals like Eid calling it discrimination in a democratic system. The petitioner, Sourav Dutta, is a Left trade wing activist from Durgapur.
The PIL also looks at why masks and sanitizers were not bought by the state government which would have cost less instead of looking at the grant given to the club to purchase them. The next question put forward was how permission was given to Durga Puja committees to set up pandals for people to visit during the festive season when schools and colleges are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petitioner also seeks to understand what work is being done by the state administration since majority of the burden will lie on the Police apart from questions like measures on crowd control and other safety measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
In 2018, West Bengal had given a grant of Rs. 10,000 to Puja committees and this decision was also challenged in the Calcutta High Court. The court had ordered a stay in the disbursement of funds. The stay order was later withdrawn after the State placed arguments before the court that the funds were for an awareness programme on the safe drive save life initiative.
The petitioner of this PIL then moved the Supreme Court on the issue, but the matter is still pending. In 2019, the grant given by the West Bengal government to clubs was Rs. 25,000. This year the state government has increased the grant to Rs.50,000 to 37,000 Durga puja pandals across the state.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a tough time for all of us. We have decided to provide Rs 50,000 grant to each Durga Puja committee of the state. We have also decided that CESC and the state electricity board will give 50 percent waiver for the puja committees,” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said while addressing the Durga Puja Coordination meeting in Kolkata’s Netaji Indoor Stadium.
The Opposition parties are looking at this as a pre-poll strategy to garner votes ahead of the state Assembly elections next year and questioned the partisan approach of the state administration towards the Durga Puja festivity, moreso in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cancelling puja not an option: CM
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee said cancelling Durga puja celebrations was not an option, and urged people to maintain all COVID-19 safety protocols during the five-day revelry.
Asserting that her government was not in favour of scrapping festivities, the chief minister said unlike most religious occasions, Durga puja cannot be held within the confines of four walls, as "the goddess has a large family", and arrangements for the rituals and the gala are usually made by clubs and housing societies, involving many individuals.
Banerjee, who is also the TMC supremo, rued that three of her party MLAs, several police personnel and doctors and health officials have died of the viral disease, but insisted that "we have to overcome our sorrows and move forward".
"It is not possible to stop Durga Puja festivities in West Bengal entirely, like some other states. We don't want to stop Durga Puja, it is not right; we have not stopped anything," she said at the secretariat, after virtually inaugurating 110 pandals in 12 districts.
Certain sections of the society, including a few doctors' associations, have requested the government to call off this year's revelries, amid the spike on coronavirus cases. Epidemiologists have warned of a surge in COVID-19 numbers, following the Durga Puja festival, which is usually marked by mass gathering at pandals.
The CM, however, reasoned that adequate safety measures were being taken, and asked all puja organisers to ensure that open spaces were available for the visitors to maintain appropriate physical distance.
"Ramzaan, Eid, Ganapati Puja were held within the four walls of our homes. However, it is not possible to hold Durga Puja in a small space, as Ma Durga has a large family. Also, pujas are mostly organised by clubs, associations and housing societies," she stated.
Banerjee, on the occasion, sought blessings of the goddess, and prayed for forgiveness of those who may have committed any mistake.