Calcutta High Court yesterday agreed with the West Bengal government’s proposal to make arrangement for e-snan for pilgrims in place of an actual dip in Ganga in Gangasagar Mela this year. By e-snan the state government referred to the facility of making available the holy water at the doorsteps of people to discourage gathering and taking physical dips in Ganga. A Bench of Justices Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and Arijit Banerjee was hearing a PIL raising concerns over challenges likely to arise from gathering of people for the Gangasagar Mela in view of the pandemic. The judges expressed concern over the possibility of waterborne transmission of Covid-19 if devotees took dips in the river.
On Thursday, the court had asked the state government to assess the risk that may arise if devotees congregate for the Mela even in reduced numbers. “Be that as it may, life is more important in every sense, in comparison to religious practice, beliefs and faith”, the judges had observed. The court had asked the government to submit its response with respect to control or regulated or even cancellation of the Mela if required in view of the pandemic. The court had also sought inputs from the highest Medical Officer in the State government.
Proposed safety measures to include e-snan
An affidavit was filed on Friday by the Director of the State’s Health Department, Ajoy Kumar Chakraborty, listing the safety measures proposed to be implemented by the State government during the Mela. The measures included–
- Mandatory use of face masks, maintenance of physical distancing and use of sanitisers 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 sanitisers.
- 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.
- Participating Pilgrims and others 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 river bank 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 pointed out health risks involved in taking dip in the water
The court expressed satisfaction over the arrangements made by the state government. It directed the state government to start the publicity of the safety measures immediately and to implement the safety measures across the state.
Pointing out the health risks of taking physical dip in Ganga, the court observed, “It cannot be overemphasised that a dip in the water may contaminate the water if the person concerned had 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 has asked the State government to submit an affidavit providing the details of safety measures put in place for the safe conduct of the Gangasagar Mela by January 13. It said that it would assess the situation and decide whether the Mela should be held at all keeping in mind the pandemic and the paramount interest of public health at large.