COVID-19: Calcutta HC Declares Durga Puja Pandals 'No Entry' Zones

Pandal footfall, in Bengal capital Kolkata, and many other cities and towns go into lakhs during the festivities.

Kolkata: The Calcutta high court on Monday ordered that all Durga Puja pandals across the state be declared no-entry zones to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A division bench of the high court comprising Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Arijit Banerjee, hearing a public interest litigation filed by one Ajay Kumar, said that no visitors will be allowed to enter the pandals.

Pandal footfall, in Bengal capital Kolkata, and many other cities and towns go into lakhs during the festivities. Several puja committees had announced that they were closing off pandals, or building much more open structures that allow for easier circulation of air.

On Sunday, October 18, which was the last weekend before the festivities, several marketplaces across the state saw crowds that wildly overshoot permissible limits considering the risk of COVID-19.

People shop at New Market area ahead of Durga Puja festival, in Kolkata, Sunday, October 18, 2020. Photo: PTI

For small pandals, barricades will have to be put up five to 10 metres from the entrance, while for the bigger ones, the distance has to be 10 metres, the court ordered.

There should be no-entry boards on the barricades, it said.

The court also ordered that the Kolkata police commission and West Bengal DGP would have to submit affidavits to the court by November 5 on how these orders were followed, reported Anandabazar Patrika.

The court also ordered that only 15 to 25 persons belonging to the organising committees will be allowed to enter the pandals.

Only those organisers whose names have been put up outside the pandals will be allowed to enter them. All Durga Puja committees across the state have been asked to submit a blueprint for crowd management, according to a report by Indian Express.

A day earlier, the same court had directed that community Durga Puja organisers in the state spend 75% of the Rs 50,000 grant given by the West Bengal government on the procurement of COVID-19 protection equipment and the rest on strengthening public-police bonding.

A division bench comprising Justices Sanjib Banerjee and Arijit Banerjee directed that the money given by the state to the Durga Puja committees cannot be used for any other purpose, and purchase bills have to be submitted to the authorities for audit.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced on September 24 the Rs 50,000 grant for each of the 36,946 Durga Puja committees in the state.