The Gangasagar Mela, which occurs at West Bengal’s Gangasagar (also known as Sagar) Island during Makar Sankranti every year, starts today and will continue till January 16. There was a major cry regarding its cancellation owing to the ongoing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and the recent surge in cases across the country amid Omicron variant outbreak. However, the Calcutta high court on Friday gave a go-ahead to the Trinamool Congress-led state government to conduct the event after taking necessary measures to check Covid-19.
On Makar Sankranti, thousands of pilgrims, seers and tourists are expected to take a holy dip in the confluence of Ganga and Bay of Bengal, and offer prayers at the Kapil Muni Temple.
The court showed concerns regarding the virus spreading due to oral and nasal droplets transmitting through river water after the pilgrims take dips in the confluence. Advocate General SN Mukherjee, representing West Bengal government, however, reportedly informed that residents of Sagar Island have been inoculated with both jabs of Covid-19 vaccine and the test-positivity rate in Diamond Harbour was under control.
The state further stated that it wasn’t expecting the headcounts at the annual pilgrimage this year to exceed 5 lakh, while adding that nearly 30,000 seers have already visited the fair (mela) and around 50,000 people, including more seers, have reached the event ground from various locations of the country.
High court’s instructions to contain Covid-19 at Gangasagar Mela 2022:
The court directed the state government to constitute a three-member panel comprising the leader of opposition at the state assembly, chairman of West Bengal Human Rights Commission, and representative of the state, to ensure compliance of Covid-19 measures in the Sagar Island.
Should there be any laxity in compliance, the committee has been asked to make recommendations to the state government without any delay to prohibit entry in the island, on which the competent state authority will take immediate action. The court also stated that the secretary of West Bengal Human Rights Commission will coordinate with the committee members on the matter.
The high court has instructed the state to ensure that all persons and pilgrims at the Gangasagar Mela ground mandatorily wear masks, adhere to social distancing norms and use sanitisers. The same protocols are applicable for individuals associated with the control and management of the event such as police personnel, medical personnel, volunteers and government officials.
As many as five RT-PCR testing facilities along with some rapid antigen testing centres must be set up at all entry points, including Howrah and Sealdah railway stations.
Concerns from doctors:
Despite the green signal from the high court, the Doctors’ Forum is sceptical on how the Covid-19 measures suggested by the former will be conducted by the state government. It also stated that the affidavit filed by the state on January 6 to the high court is a mere eyewash to go ahead with the mela.
The forum has claimed that the medical facilities made available in the mela premises are not adequate to cater to lakhs of pilgrims.
Covid-19 situation in West Bengal
As many as 18,213 new Covid-19 cases were reported in West Bengal on Friday, up from 15,421 the day before. There are 51,384 active cases in the state with the case positivity rate as high as 26.34%. The number of people hospitalised in the state due to the virus also saw a rise to 2,444 on Friday from Thursday’s 2,228, according to the state Covid-19 bulletin data.
South 24 Parganas where the Sagar Island is situated logged a total of 704 new Covid-19 cases on Friday of the overall 18,213 infections. It is one of the most affected districts in the state apart from Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly and Paschim Bardhaman.
(With inputs from ANI)
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