Life is more important than religious practice, beliefs and faith, the Calcutta High Court underscored on Friday urging the West Bengal government to incentivise “E-snan” for pilgrims instead of physically taking dip in Ganges for the Gangasagar Mela this year (Ajay Kumar De v. The State of West Bengal & Ors.)
E-snan refers to the government’s proposal to drop off holy water at the doorsteps of those who required it at kiosks so as to reduce the number of people taking dips in the Ganges.
“It cannot be overemphasized that a dip in the water may contaminate the water if the person concerned has infection within him/her and it does not matter how long that person stays in the water. A dip for a second may be enough to cause the damage that is apprehended”, the Court observed.
The Court was dealing with a PIL moved raising concern over the various challenges likely to be faced due to the congregation of people for the Gangasagar Mela amid the pandemic.
During the hearing, the Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and Justice Arjit Banerjee raised concerns over the risk of waterborne transmission of COVID-19 since the Mela involve pilgrims dipping in Ganges river.
The Court, therefore, asked the West Bengal government to submit by January 13 the safety measures put in place for the safe conduct for the Gangasagar Mela this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bench called for an affidavit on this count, so that the Court can assess the situation “and decide whether or not the Gangasagar Mela should be permitted to be held this year keeping in mind the pandemic situation and the paramount interest of public health at large.”
A day earlier, the Court had opined that even if the crowds for the Mela were likely to be reduced this year, the risk needed to be assessed.
“Be that as it may, life is more important in every sense, in comparison to religious practice, beliefs and faith,” the Bench had observed on Thursday.
It also asked the State to respond on how the Mela can be controlled, regulated “or if necessary, even dropped (altogether) for the current year”, if the situation so warrants. In this regard, the Court also sought inputs from the highest Medical Officer in the State government.
Pursuant to that hearing, the State had filed an affidavit which was placed on record when the matter came up for hearing on Friday.
The affidavit filed by Ajoy Kumar Chakraborty; the Director of the States’s Health Department listed various safety measures proposed to be put in place by the State for the safe conduct of the Mela.
- The mandatory use face masks, maintenance of physical distancing and use sanitizers by participating pilgrims and officials on duty.
- measures to spread awareness among the pilgrims and others about the need to follow COVID-19 protocol and for the distribution of masks and sanitizers.
- E-Snan (e-bathing) through doorstep delivery of packaged holy water, which would be made to those who intend to do so. Arrangements are also being made for online broadcasting (e- darshan) of the Ganga Sagar Mela, it was informed.
- Pilgrims and others reaching the Gangasagar Mela would be encouraged through a public address system to opt for E-Snan instead of having a dip in the holy water. E-snan packaged holy water would be distributed from kiosks to be set up for such purpose.
- Pilgrims would be kept moving through the dedicated barricaded channels and asked to vacate the mela ground and the riverbank without delay
- There would be Medical Screening Camps having thermal checking facilities at all the major entry points, testing centres etc., among other measures.
The Court, in turn, expressed that it was primarily satisfied with the arrangements proposed by the State. It added that the government should give wide publicity to messages telling the pilgrims that it would be for their own health to stay away from the Ganges water and instead opt for E-snan.
This publicity should start immediately, the Court emphasised. It also opined that the protective and precautionary measures proposed by the Health Department should be implemented in all areas of West Bengal where people are congregating enroute to the Gangasagar.
It proceeded to adjourn the matter to January 13, when the Court would take a final call on whether the Mela should be permitted this year, after assessing how far the State’s protection measures have been put in place. By the said date, the State is to file a report on all the arrangements made until then.