Calcutta High Court: A Division Bench of Arijit Banerjee and Sanjib Banerjee, JJ., while laying down directions with regard to the Durga Puja Festival, held that all the pandals will be made no-entry zone in view of the pandemic.

The instant matter pertained to the bandobast during the Durga Puja celebrations.

Petitioners concern is with regard to COVID protocol, that the same may not be maintained at the Puja pandals in the State and if free access would be permitted, the distancing norm can never be maintained.

Petitioner apprehended that the breach in the above regard may lead to an uncontrollable spurt in COVID cases across the State.

Adding to the above, the petitioner stated that ideally, strict restrictions on the conduct of Durga Puja should be placed by the State Government to ensure that there was no crowding.

Petitioner claimed that if the pujas were permitted to be low-key affairs, with visitors not being permitted at the public pujas, there may not have been any fear of over-crowding or of the COVID protocol not being maintained.

The doctors have been expressing serious concern regarding what the situation may be after the pujas if such uncontrolled gatherings are allowed and the COVID protocol is not followed.

State submitted that special measures have been put in place. For the said measures, Government Memorandum of September 28, 2020, was referred to wherein all the aspects have been covered.

Volunteers have been asked to be deployed at all pandals ‘for ensuring compliance of norms of physical distancing among visitors”. Also, cultural programmes have been prohibited and inaugurations and immersions directed to be conducted on a low-key.

State also referred to a book released by the Kolkata Police detailing the police arrangements during the Durga Puja and Laxmi Puja, 2020.

When students across disciplines, whether in schools or colleges or engaged in higher studies, have been prevented from attending educational institutions for more than six months and several students stand to lose a year, it is rather incongruous that puja festivities would continue as in the previous years.

Court stated that

the measures that have been announced by the State are well-intentioned, but may only remain a pious wish on paper without any blue-print being chalked out for their implementation on the ground.

Further, adding to the above, State is justified when it complains that any attempt by the court to make the pandals a no-entry zone may not be effective as the crowds will be beyond the no-entry zone anyway.

Court added that the present order should not be seen against the State for the inadequacy of the measures attempted to be put in place, but only as a supplement to ensure the proper implementation of such measures by the limited police personnel, volunteers and other administrative officials and workers.

  • Durga Puja pandals have been made no-entry zones for members of the public.
  • For small pandals, 5-metre zone beyond the extremities of the pandals on all sides and for the larger pandals, a 10-metre zone beyond the extremities of the pandal on all sides will be a part of the no-entry zone.
  • At the smaller pandals, 15 persons will be named in the list who may have access to the no-entry zone at all times. The number will be 25 to 30 in respect of the bigger to the biggest pandals.
  • Police administration is empowered to identify which of the pandals will be regarded as small pandals or big pandals for the restricted zone to be a distance of 5m or 10 m beyond the furthest extremities of the pandals on all sides.
  • Awareness campaigns o be conducted even by the local media in small towns across the State to request people to maintain the distancing norm and not to descend on the streets in hoards as in regular years to celebrate the Durga Puja festival.
  • The lists of personnel to be allowed access within the core puja pandals must be fixed and cannot be a floating list or changed every day.

Bench declined the State’s prayer to stay the operation of the present order. [Ajay Kumar De v. State of West Bengal, 2020 SCC OnLine Cal 1984, decided on 19-10-2020]

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