The West Bengal government, for the second year in a row, has decided to cancel the annual Durga Puja carnival, which involves display of the city’s top pandal themes before idol immersion, and urged the people of the state to strictly abide by COVID-19 protocols.

In an order issued recently, the state has made wearing of masks and carrying of hand sanitisers mandatory for all revellers, while also underlining that cultural programmes will not be allowed anywhere near the marquees.

“In the context of the pandemic and the need to have physical distancing norms, the state immersion carnival shall not be held this year. In a similar vein, melas, carnivals near puja pandals shall not be allowed (sic),” the order stated.

It has asked organisers to ensure that pandals are kept open on all sides.

“All pandals must have adequate space and arrangements for ensuring physical distancing .. There should be separate entry and exit arrangements. There must be floor marking and other signages (sic),” the order said.

People should be encouraged to “offer anjali (prayers) with flowers brought from homes” to avoid congestion at the pandals, it maintained.

“Keeping in view the safety of participants and organisers, anjali, distribution of prasad, or sindoor khela should be organised by puja committee in a planned manner and in smaller groups,” the order stressed.

It has also directed puja organisers to keep inaugurations, and award-distribution programmes “low key”.

“Ideally all visits for judging pandals should be virtual, and physical visits should be made during the lean hours, between 10 am and 3 pm,” the state government said in its 11-point order.

The government has further asked the organisers to make its arrangements in advance so as to facilitate visits to pandal premises from Tritiya (third day of the 10-day festival) for catching a glimpse of the goddess.

The Calcutta High Court, much like last year, has barred entry of people inside pandals.

Kolkata police commissioner Soumen Mitra, on Tuesday, visited a few renowned puja pandals in the city to check if the preparations made by the organisers are in tune with the government guidelines. “The state government has issued a notification which all puja organisers must follow. I am visiting pandals to oversee the arrangements… to check if the COVID protocols are being adhered to. So far, it seems everything is fine,” Mitra said.

The government, in its bid to give puja preparations a boost, has offered a slew of concessions to the organisers.

According to a senior official, the fire department would not be charging any fee for setting up safety measures in the marquees, and the civic bodies, too, would “provide their services free of cost”.

The state is providing a one-time financial assistance of Rs 50,000 to each puja committee to help them make requisite arrangements amid the pandemic.

The government has sanctioned a sum of Rs 201 crore for the purpose, the official said.

Altogether 40,382 clubs, 3,700 of them under Kolkata Police jurisdiction and the rest under West Bengal Police, would be getting the grant, he added.

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