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Focus on safety, preparations afoot for low-key Durga puja

With just about a month to go for Durga puja – the biggest annual extravaganza in West Bengal – preparations have begun across the city, albeit at a lower scale this time, as organisers chalk out safety plans to avoid further spread of Covid-19.

Samajsebi Sangha in south Kolkata, known for its thought-provoking marquee themes every year, has decided to change its open-air pandal’s direction towards Southern Avenue to enable people catch a glimpse of the deity from a distance without having to alight from their vehicles.

“There will be a canopy on top to guard the 10-foot- high deity, but all three sides of the pandal will remain open. Medical personnel would be stationed next to the marquee with emergency kit and equipment. Volunteers won’t allow people to crowd at the pandal entrance.

“This year, things ought to be different… We have curtailed our budget from Rs 60 lakh to Rs 15 lakh. The amount saved will be distributed among 75 underprivileged families from Sunderbans,” Arijit Moitra, the secretary of the puja association, said.

At Md Ali Park, another big-ticket puja, organisers are planning to give pomp and show a miss this year, while “sticking to the basics”.

“Lights will be fewer, and the pandal smaller. The height of the deity would not exceed eight feet,” Ashok Ojha, the joint secretary of the puja committee, said.

Preparations are also underway at Bhawanipore 75 Pally, another crowd-puller in South Kolkata, with labourers there made to undergo the Covid-19 test before starting work.

“We will have a sanitiser tunnel and proper measures in place to ensure revellers maintain physical distance. The road leading to the pandal won’t have barricades on its two sides,” Subir Das, an office-bearer of Bhawanipore 75 Pally committee, said.

Tridhara Sammilani, patronised by Kolkata Municipal Corporation official Debashis Kumar, however, is yet to devise its puja plan. Organisers said they were in two minds about going ahead with this year’s festivities.

“We have booked the idol, but work to set up the pandal has not started yet. We don’t appreciate the idea that only revellers who travel by cars would get to see the idol from a distance. What about others who walk several kilometres to visit pandals? “A final call will be taken in the matter after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with puja organisers on September 25,” Kumar said.

Artisans at Kumartuli, a traditional potters’ quarter in north Kolkata, said business was not usual for them, as most puja committees have slashed their budgets this time.

Kanchi Paul, one of the artisans, said that he received 30 per cent less bookings compared to last year.

“Almost all top puja organisers have placed orders for eight- or 10-foot-tall idols, at least 5 feet less than what has usually been the norm for them. This is the new normal. We have to adapt to the changing circumstances,” he added.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)

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