Calcutta High Court allows Ganga Sagar Mela to be held

Three-member committee may recommend ban on entry to Sagar island

The Calcutta High Court on Friday allowed the Ganga Sagar Mela to be held in West Bengal but directed the setting up of a committee which may recommend to the State a ban on entry to Sagar island, where the pilgrimage is held, in case of violation of health safety norms.

The Bench of Chief Justice Prakash Srivastava and Justice K.D. Bhutia also directed the State government to declare Sagar island, where the annual fair is held, as a notified area in terms of Section 3 of the Gangasagar Mela Act, 1976. This declaration will empower the State government to take measures for the health and safety of devotees.

The proposed committee, as directed by the court order, will comprise the Leader of the Opposition in the State or his representative, the Chairperson of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission or his representative, and a representative of the State.

Referring to the setting up of the committee, civil rights groups in the State expressed surprise that the post of the Chairperson of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission remains vacant.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) by a medical practitioner seeking various directions to restrict and regulate the gathering of pilgrims, sadhus and tourists on Sagar island, situated about 130 km from Kolkata, during the Ganga Sagar Mela scheduled from January 8 to 16.

The HC directed the authorities to fully implement the order dated January 8, 2021.

The court also directed the Home Secretary to “issue advertisements in the daily newspapers having wide circulation in the State of West Bengal and also through the electronic media making the public aware of the risk of visiting Gangasagar Island between 08th and 16th January, 2022 in large gathering and will make an appeal to them to stay safe and desist from visiting the Gangasagar Island during this period”.

In the order, the court pointed to the affidavit filed by the State government on January 6, where the government has stated the State is not in favour of banning the Gangasagar Mela at this stage in view of the arrangements that have been already made. The court order refers to the affidavit: “It is stated in the affidavit that about thirty thousand people have already visited the Mela ground and nearly fifty thousand people including sadhus have arrived at different locations and that due to COVID situation the inflow of devotees has come down and only about four to five lakh pilgrims are expected to arrive between 06th to 15th January, 2022.”

A few days ago, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had also said that she could not ban or impose curbs on the Ganga Sagar Mela as it was not “the State government’s event” and devotees from different parts of the country assemble on the island.

Meanwhile, pilgrims for Ganga Sagar Mela have started trickling into the State and camps have been set up in the Kolkata Maidan and other areas of the city to accommodate them.

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