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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Calcutta high court bans Chhath Puja processions across WB, only two persons per family can enter water bodies for puja

After banning the bursting of crackers during Diwali and all pujas, including the Kali Puja, Chhath Puja, Jagadhatri Puja, and Karthik Puja, the Calcutta high court on Tuesday banned Chhath Puja processions across West Bengal.

Now, only two persons per family will be allowed to enter a water body to offer the puja, while any others accompanying them will not be allowed to get down from their vehicles. Also, devotees have been barred from entering two of the largest lakes within Kolkata, Rabindra Sarobar and Subhas Sarobar.

Chhath Puja is an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to the deity Surya and Shashthi devi (Chhathi Maiya) in order to thank them for bestowing the bounties of life on earth. It is mostly celebrated in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh and the Madhesh region of Nepal. This year Chhath Puja falls on November 20.

The Calcutta High Court also said other members of the family will have to observe Chhath Puja from home or in and around their home.

However, it is not clear how authorities will determine which two members of a family are allowed to enter a water body for the puja – will devotees need to carry Aadhar/Ration cards for checking at the water body, or will they have to apply for puja permits in advance?

The High Court has already directed police to ensure that no crackers are sold or used in Kolkata as crackers have already been banned till November 30 by a High Court division bench of Justices Sanjib Banerjee and Arijit Banerjee and the NGT. On the objection raised by the fireworks association, the court said:

For the greater good, a small number of persons involved in the firecracker business may have to suffer losses. The overwhelming public interest cannot be compromised.

The high court had also directed that the guidelines in place during Durga Puja, such as no entry to pandals, would also be in effect during other pujas. Fifteen people will be allowed in the Kali Puja pandals having an area up to 300 sq metres, and 45 in the bigger ones, the court had said, while disallowing procession during immersion.

A Supreme Court vacation bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee on Wednesday refused to interfere with the Calcutta High Court order banning the use and sale of firecrackers in West Bengal, saying ‘preservation of life was more important’ amid the coronavirus pandemic, and as the high court knew the local condition better it should be allowed to do the needful.

Earlier in 2019, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had banned Chhath Puja at Rabindra Sarobar. Despite the NGT’s ban, hundreds of devotees broke open the gates of Rabindra Sarobar in November 2019 to perform the Chhath rituals. So this time around the Calcutta high court has directed the State to impose restrictions under Section 144 of the CrPC to restrict the number of people in any area.

Many have questioned why the ban on sale & bursting of crackers promulgated by courts across the country and NGT extends only till 30 November.

While the NGT order does mention restricting to two hours the bursting of green crackers even during New Year/Christmas Eve in towns/cities where air quality is ‘moderate’ or better, it too is silent on why cracker sale is completely banned in NCR till 30 Nov, but will be allowed just a month later for New Year/Christmas Eve when winter will be at its peak and Covid-19 still very much around.

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