Calcutta High Court allows Gangasagar Mela, forms committee to oversee adherence to Covid protocols

Calcutta High Court allows Gangasagar Mela, forms committee to oversee adherence to Covid protocols

Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Friday allowed the West Bengal government to host the yearly Gangasagar Mela amid the third wave of Coronavirus pandemic. However, the court asked the authorities to make the public aware of the risks involved.

The religious fair will be held from January 8 to January 16 at Sagar Island in the state during which thousands of pilgrims will take a holy dip in the river Ganga.

"The Home Secretary of the state will issue an advertisement in the daily newspapers having wide circulation in the state of West Bengal and also through the Electronic Media making the public aware of the risk of visiting Gangasagar Island between 8 to 16 January 2022 in large gatherings and will make an appeal to them to stay safe and to desist themselves from a visit to the island," the Bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Kesang Doma Bhutia observed.

The competent authority of the state will take a decision to issue the notification in terms of Section 3 of the Gangasagar Mela Act, 1976 declaring the Sagar Island as a "notified area" within a period of 24 hours from the pronouncement of this order.

The court also formed a three-member committee to oversee the conduct of the fair and adherence to Covid protocols. The committee will include the Chief Secretary of the state, the Leader of Opposition or his representative and the Chairperson of the State Human Rights Commission.

The High Court was hearing a plea seeking that this year's event be called off given the rise in Coronavirus cases. The petitioner, Dr Avinandan Mondal, who is a doctor by profession, has contended that infection may spread further as more than 30 lakh pilgrims visit the religious fair. The Division Bench also directed the Bengal government to "implement with full force" the state's own order, dated January 2, 2022, at the mela premises. The order issued in the wake of the fresh surge in Covid cases stated that "not more than 50 persons at a time shall be allowed for any social, religious and cultural gatherings".

The petitioner's counsel had told the court on Thursday: "Religion is not more important than a person's life."

The state government in an affidavit submitted to the court said it is not in favour of banning the Gangasagar Mela at this stage in view of the arrangements being already in place.

It also said that about 30,000 people have already visited the fair ground and nearly 50,000 people, including sadhus, have arrived at different locations.

However, due to the Covid situation the inflow of devotees has come down and only about 4 to 5 lakh pilgrims are expected this year, it said.

The affidavit also suggested certain measures, including compulsory use of face masks, maintaining physical distancing and use of sanitisers, at the fair venue to contain the spread of Coronavirus.

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