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Ganga Sagar Mela Amid COVID-Inform Pilgrims That For Their Own Good They Should Stay Away From The Ganges Water: Calcutta High Court

Sparsh Upadhyay
8 Jan 2021 2:19 PM GMT
Ganga Sagar Mela Amid COVID-Inform Pilgrims That For Their Own Good They Should Stay Away From The Ganges Water: Calcutta High Court
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After cautioning the Government against holding of Ganga Sagar Mela in the wake of COVID Pandemic, the Calcutta High Court on Friday (08th January) said, "The administration will ensure that there is wide spread publicity over microphone and otherwise, informing the pilgrims that it is for their own good that they should stay away from the Ganges water." The Bench of Chief...

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After cautioning the Government against holding of Ganga Sagar Mela in the wake of COVID Pandemic, the Calcutta High Court on Friday (08th January) said,

"The administration will ensure that there is wide spread publicity over microphone and otherwise, informing the pilgrims that it is for their own good that they should stay away from the Ganges water."

The Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee was hearing a PIL filed by one Ajay Kumar De related to the issues affecting health, safety and welfare matters in relation to Ganga Sagar Mela 2021 to be held soon.

[NOTE: Every year on Makar Sankranti, lakhs of Hindus flock the Sagar Island in West Bengal's South 24 Parganas district to take the holy dip and offer prayers at the Kapil Muni temple.]

Yesterday, while hearing the matter, the Court had asked the State Government to indicate measures regarding the imposition of restrictions and enforcement of social distancing norms as well as use of mask and due sanitization in terms of COVID management protocols ought to be clearly spelt out on behalf of the State Government in such report in the form of affidavit.

Report filed by the State

The Director of Health Services, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of West Bengal, placed a report delineating the various arrangements that have been made; are being made and are in the contemplation of the appropriate authorities to be made in furtherance of larger public interest (list not exhaustive).

  • It shall be ensured that all persons and pilgrims, including sadhus, sanyasis and citizens coming from other states to the Ganga Sagar Mela ground, its immediate precincts and officers, Police Personnel, Medical Personnel, Volunteers associated with Mela mandatorily use face masks, maintain physical distancing and use sanitizers.
  • Sufficient amount and quantity of face masks and hand sanitizers would be made available for distribution to those not having masks and sanitizers.
  • E-Snan (e-bathing) through door step delivery of packaged holy water would be made to those who intend to have so and arrangements are also being made for online broadcasting (e-darshan)of Ganga Sagar Mela.
  • Pilgrims and others reaching the Ganga Sagar Mela would be encouraged through the public address system to opt for E-Snan instead of having a dip in the holy water.
  • Medical Screening Camps having thermal checking facilities at all the major entry points including railway stations Howrah and Sealdah, 13 Rapid Antigen Testing Centres, 5 RTPCR testing facilities, 8 Safe Homes (615 beds), 11 Quarantine Centres (645 beds), 5 SARI isolation centres (116 beds), 7 Covid Hospitals (600 beds) and 6 wellness centres (203 beds) have been set up for the pilgrims. More than 2500 health officials and health workers will be deployed for handling the situation.

Court's Observations

The Court was primarily satisfied with the administrative arrangement and the policing arrangements for crowd management and for dissemination of information as to the protective steps to be taken by the visiting pilgrims in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

The Court, while emphasizing that wide publicity be given to pilgrims "to stay away from the Ganges Water" and directing that the process should start immediately, said,

"It cannot be overemphasized that a dip in the water may contaminate the water if the person concerned has infection within him/her and it does not matter how long that person stays in the water. A dip for a second may be enough to cause the damage that is apprehended."

"What is important is that the administration should keep all persons concerned informed about the danger to which they may expose themselves if they enter the water", said the Court.

The Court also said that all the protective and precautionary measures referred to in the report of the DHS "should also be implemented at all places in and around Kolkata and anywhere else in the State of West Bengal where people are congregating en route to the Gangasagar."

Further, the Court advised the State that it could consider, in larger public interest, to give such incentive as it may decide, to pilgrims who opt for e-snan rather than actual physical dip in the water.

The Court also appreciated the efforts put in by the State Government during Durga Puja, Kali Puja and Chhath Puja, to control the situation admirably thereby perhaps averting a possible disaster in the form of spiking up of COVID-19 cases.

Lastly, the Court said,

"We have no doubt that in so far as the Ganga sagar Mela is concerned, the State machinery shall also rise to the occasion and ensure that the festival is conducted in such a manner that there is no spread of the disease."

The matter has been posted for further hearing on January 13, 2021 and on that date the State Government through the Chief Secretary, has been directed to file a further report in the form of affidavit regarding all arrangements made till then.

Case title - Ajay Kumar De Vs. The State of West Bengal & Ors. [WPA (P) 23 of 2020]

Click Here To Download Order

[Read Order]

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