Mamata Banerjee doles out sops for Puja committees for second year

The West Bengal government on Tuesday announced that for the second straight year it would provide Rs 50,000 financial aid to every Durga Puja committee in the state to make up for the dwindling sponsorship money, and the extra expenditure incurred because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The committees will be provided electricity at a 50 per cent discount.

At a meeting of Durga Puja organisers held here, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said her administration would not issue any special guidelines for this year’s Durga Puja celebrations, adding that the Covid-19 guidelines set last year should be strictly followed this time too.

Asked whether the night curfew would be lifted during the celebrations next month, Banerjee said the decision would be taken after the upcoming elections in three Assembly seats in the state.

“There are certain rules due to the by-elections. We have taken permission before Mamata govt organising this programme since it will be too late to announce puja protocols after the by-polls,” said Banerjee, who is likely to contest the by-poll from Bhabanipur in south Kolkata.

Earlier in the day, the BJP accused the chief minister of violating the model code of conduct (MCC) by participating in the programme. “We have requested the Election Commission to take action against Bhabanipur by-poll candidate Mamata Banerjee for violating the MCC by announcing cash rewards for Durga Puja clubs despite the declaration of the by-polls date and the poll guidelines being in place. We have also demanded that she should be restrained from participating in the by-poll for violating the MCC,” said BJP leader Shishir Bajoria.

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee asked Puja organisers to ensure that visitors wear face masks at all times and use hand sanitisers before entering pandals (marquees).

She also asked Puja committees to distribute masks and sanitisers at the pandals. “The organisers can distribute masks and sanitisers in the close vicinity of the pandal for people who might have reached without these,” the chief minister added.

Last year, Durga Puja celebrations were held in a restrained and staggered manner across the state after the Calcutta High Court laid down guidelines amid the pandemic. The state government then accordingly directed all organisers to ensure that the pandals are spacious and open from all sides, with separate entry and exit points for visitors.

This time too, visitors will not be allowed in the pandals without face masks and the use of hand sanitiser, and, if necessary, organisers have to make adequate arrangements for the distribution of masks near pandals among visitors without masks.

Last year, rituals such as pushpanjali, sindoor khela, and the distribution of prasad were also organised in small groups in accordance with social-distancing norms. People were encouraged to bring flowers from home for pushpanjali and to avoid crowding, arrangements were made so that people could visit pandals from the day of Tritiya, three days prior to the start of the five-day festival.

Sources in the state administration said this year too the administration might allow people to visit pandals from Tritiya, which will be on a Saturday.

(With PTI inputs)

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