Calcutta HC to Hear Plea to Cancel Gangasagar Mela This Year Amid Worrisome Surge in Covid-19 Cases

A plea was on Monday filed before the Calcutta High Court seeking cancellation of this year’s Gangasagar Mela in West Bengal amid the surge in the number of Covid-19 cases. The petition has been filed before the Division Bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj of the court.

Dr Abhinandan Mondal, the petitioner and a medical practitioner by profession, has expressed serious apprehension at the eventual scenario of an estimated 30 lakh pilgrims gathering at the Mela ground and taking a holy dip at the Sagar Island confluence on and around the auspicious Makar Sankranti on January 14.

The Mela is scheduled to take place from 8-16 January and the Bengal government has already put in place a gargantuan mechanism to welcome and manage the lakhs of devotees who are expected to pour in from all parts of the country.

As per the latest figures, West Bengal is currently registering upwards of 6,000 fresh Covid-19 infections daily, which is a manifold jump over what the figures were even a fortnight ago, along with a staggering positivity rate of nearly 16 per cent despite low testing numbers.

“Given the spurt of infection, the fair almost certainly would pose a major public health crisis against which the state has already sounded its alarm bell. We are most concerned about the holy bath during the Mela which would be a sure shot recipe for the spread of the disease. Even if 10 per cent of the pilgrims get the virus, the number would be as high as 3 lakh from a single fair,” said Suryaneel Das, advocate for the petitioner.

“Even if there are measures to test the pilgrims at the fair ground, there is no way to monitor their health from the point of origin of their journey till they reach Gangasagar. The sheer number of people who are expected to arrive could mean that the infection would spread beyond all manageable proportions even before they reach the fair ground,” Das added.

The advocate-on-record for the case insisted that the hygiene status at the en-route camps for pilgrims were unpalatable and could also add to the risk of infection spread. “There cannot be a middle path to avoid the risks. The government can neither put a cap on the number of attending pilgrims, nor stop them from taking their holy bath. The government can either decide to go ahead with the fair and shoulder responsibility for the dire consequences it may have or it may take the firm step of cancelling the fair for this year altogether,” he argued.

Das upheld last year’s precedence when the Mela was cancelled amid the first wave and pilgrims were sent the holy water by remote mechanism after they underwent e-registration.

Asked about the Mela infrastructure which the state government has readied for the annual event at a huge cost, Das said: “Public expenditure cannot take precedence over public health. The real and social cost as a result of the adverse fallout would be much higher than what the state has incurred till now.”

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