The West Bengal government informed the Calcutta High Court that packaged holy water will be distributed at the Gangasagar Mela venue free of cost so that they may carry out an e-snan instead of going for a physical dip in the Ganges. For doorstep delivery of such water, a small charge would be levied, the State added (Ajay Kumar De v. The State of West Bengal & Ors.).
The Court appreciated the State’s proposal while insisting that the State should continue to dissuade pilgrims from opting to physically dip in the river Ganga as part of the Gangasagar Mela with a view to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
“The State Administration shall continue to make all endeavours to dissuade the pilgrims for going for a holy dip and opt for E-snan,” a Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee observed.
The Court was dealing with a public interest litigation petition moved raising concern over the various challenges likely to be faced due to the congregation of people for the Gangasagar Mela amid the pandemic.
Pursuant to the Court’s queries on the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission through water, the State’s Health Department apprised the Court that the risk of the viral transmission through river or saline water is extremely low.
All the same, as a measure of abundant precaution, the State informed that pilgrims would be allowed to take a dip in the waters only in a staggered manner and while maintaining safe distance between one another.
“Foot marking for maintaining social distance has been done at the beach and at the Temple, bus bays & stations. Crowd control is specially ensured at the beach. In addition to routine measures, volunteers have also been placed at the beach to keep watch on the pilgrims and to ensure Covid appropriate behavior. Public address system in the Mela is also being intensively utilized to make the visitors aware of such behaviour,” the State’s affidavit in this regard said.
The affidavit also pointed out that there was a significant reduction in the number of pilgrims visiting the river Ganga. It stated that only 1.65 lakh people visited the site between December 25, 2020, and January 12, 2021. In comparison, approximately 12.5 lakh people had visited the mela last year until January 12, the State said.
Expressing that the Court’s concerns over the risk of COVID-19 transmission stood mitigated, the Court observed:
“The only area of concern that was troubling us was the issue of physical dip by the pilgrims in water. We had expressed our concern in this regard in the order dated January 8, 2021, and in particular, in paragraphs 6, 7, 8 and 9 thereof. However, in view of the report of the DHS filed today, our apprehension stands mitigated to a large extent.“
The Court proceeded to list the matter for further monitoring on January 18, Monday, expressing hope that “the parties will be able to apprise us that the Gangasagar Mela is progressing under controlled conditions.”