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Taking cognisance of the crowds at Durga Puja pandals in Kolkata, the Calcutta High Court has ordered the state government to declare all pandals as no-entry zones. In response to a public interest litigation, a divisional bench of the court has said that no visitors should be allowed inside pandals and only a limited number of members from the puja organising committees should be let in.
Over the last few days, a number of videos have emerged on social media showing people thronging pandals in droves without maintaining distancing.
The court decision comes just as devotees were gearing up to embark on their annual pandal-hopping from October 22.
In order to ensure that the virus is contained, the high court bench has also set the limit for the number of organisers allowed inside pandals. While it has permitted 25 people from the puja organising teams to be present inside big pandals, it said that smaller pandals can only let in 15 organisers. It also directed concerned authorities to make sure that there are adequate barriers at the entrance of every pandal.
The bench also pointed out that there weren’t enough police officials in the city to handle large footfalls at the hundreds of pandals spread across Kolkata.
The court decided to intervene in the matter and take control of the situation fearing that such large and “uncontrollable” crowds could lead to a widespread spread of the novel coronavirus. It noted that the plan to host the festival this year and invite visitors at puja pandals only looked good and well-intentioned on paper, but could not be implemented practically.
According to reports, the state erects as many as 34,000 puja pandals, which are visited by millions from all corners of the country. Last year, a record number of people had used the Kolkata Metro during the pujo season.
So far, West Bengal has reported more than 3,21,000 cases, of which 2,81,000 are reported to have recovered. The number of active cases stands at around 6,056.
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