As cases of Covid increase in West Bengal, particularly in Kolkata, the government has so far made no decision to reduce the Gangasagar Mela, which is held on Sagar Island on January 14, the day of Makar Sankranti, and attracts around 20 lakh people.
West Bengal Chief Secretary Harikrishna Dwivedi said they were working on the details, on how to run the fair while maintaining health protocols.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently visited Mela’s grounds and held an administrative meeting. When asked if the government would consider canceling the rally, she replied, âThis is not a government festival, it is a public event. People come from different parts of the country. How am I going to stop the people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar? “
One of the largest religious gatherings in India after the Kumbh Mela, the fair was held under strict Covid restrictions last year and did not draw many people.
Sources said the TMC government plans to hold the Mela this time on a large scale, with Banerjee eyeing a higher national profile for herself. A senior official said: âThe Mela is of immense national importance. This year, the government has taken great steps to bring it to the national level. “
The government was wary of how the BJP would react if there was any measure to curtail the celebrations.
The new measures in place include online and online registration facilities to offer the fair even to those who cannot attend. The South 24 Parganas District Administration will hire 20 drones to spray pilgrims with âholy waterâ.
According to the plan shared by officials, there will be Covid testing facilities at all entry points to Sagar Island during the festival, and every devotee will be screened. All health facilities will have buffer zones and first aid centers, along a 110 km stretch from Outram Ghat, Kolkata, to Sagar Island. In addition, there will be rapid test facilities at 13 sites, including bus stations and train stations.
Four dedicated Covid hospitals have been reserved to treat possible cases. They have a total capacity of 500 beds and will coordinate with the screening points. Apart from this, 1,910 bed facilities are being established between Outram Ghat and the island, in addition to five SARI (Severe Acute Respiratory Illness) isolation wards with a capacity of 125 beds and four ‘homes. secure âwith 235 beds.
There will be seven quarantine centers with a total of 435 beds to accommodate direct contacts of Covid patients during the Mela period, as well as pilgrim sheds.
The district administration has also reserved six cremation grounds as well as six cemeteries for the âsafeâ disposal of bodies.
The health posts will have dedicated ambulances, 25 in total, apart from maritime ambulances and air ambulances. There will be 75 additional ambulances for non-Covid patients.
A dedicated rapid response team will be on hand to handle any emergency. A reserve of specialist doctors will be made available at the head office.
Officials said they have also designed software that will follow Covid patients from the medical screening stage until they return home after recovery.
CPM criticized the state government for organizing the fair. Party leader Sujan Chakraborty said: âWe know the number of Covid people will increase in the coming weeks. The government should be more concerned with managing the situation than organizing fairs and festivals.
BJP spokesman Samik Bhattacharya said there was a third wave to come. “The government must decide in this situation whether it will continue the Gangasagar Fair.”
The Mela follows the large crowds seen during Christmas and New Years celebrations in Kolkata. In the days that followed, Covid cases in the state increased, with Kolkata accounting for half of the new cases in the past seven days.
West Bengal saw 6,153 new cases of Covid on Sunday, including 3,194 in Calcutta. There were eight deaths. The numbers edged down to 6,078 and 2,801 cases in the state and Kolkata on Monday, although 13 deaths were reported.