West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday urged pilgrims visiting Gangasagar Mela to strictly follow COVID-19 guidelines and asked the Mela (Religious gathering) committee not to allow too many people to Sagar Island for the annual fair.
“I will request them (Gangasagar Mela committee) not to send too many people to Gangasagar Mela." "Restrictions have been imposed by the Calcutta High Court and we must follow them diligently," Banerjee said while inaugurating the fair at Outram Ghat here on Wednesday.
"I welcome pilgrims coming from other states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan to Bengal for the Mela and request them to wear double masks and strictly follow the COVID-19 guidelines set out by the Calcutta High Court which has clearly said that those who do not have RT-PCR tests will not be allowed to go to the Mela," she added.
The Bengal CM also urged pilgrims to isolate those who test positive for Covid-19 and not to travel in the same vehicle as they would otherwise risk infection. "I will ask all those who are coming from outside states to please keep those who have tested positive for Covid-19 isolated. In case, it is needed then take help from the police. But remember that if one Covid-19 patient travels in one vehicle along with others, all will be infected," she said.
West Bengal on Wednesday registered 22,155 fresh Covid-19 cases, 1,057 more than the previous day's figure. Asking the Mela committee to conduct tests on people who are experiencing cough and cold, Banerjee, however, admitted that conducting RT-PCR tests on the huge number of people coming from outside the state would be a difficult task.
"There are people coming to Bengal via flights, trains and roadways ... around 20 to 30 lakh people come to Gangasagar Mela every year. This (testing all of them) is a tough task." she said. A Calcutta High Court division bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Kesong Doma Bhutia allowed the annual fair to take place from January 8 and 16, and ordered that the entire Sagar Island be declared a notified area.
The bench also constituted a two-member committee comprising former Justice Samapti Chatterjee and member secretary of the West Bengal Legal Services Authority to recommend the state government to ban the entry of pilgrims to the island in case of violation of safety norms.
The bench also ordered that all pilgrims must be fully vaccinated and should test negative for COVID-19 in an RT-PCR test conducted 72 hours before reaching the venue. Banerjee requested the pilgrims to show restraint while travelling to the Gangasagar Mela and not to plunge into any celebration owing to the pandemic.
The CM also said that this year getting volunteers for the Gangasagar has also become very difficult as all are scared of the rising number of Covid cases. She also said that her administration has rebuilt infrastructure in the Sagar Island where Cyclone Yaas had caused devastation in May 2021.
"Everyone starting from doctors, nurses, policemen, senior officials of the government, journalists are working tirelessly to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Several ministers, both of the central government as well as of the state, have fallen prey to the pandemic. We all are working despite all difficulties, I will request the pilgrims and sadhus coming here to cooperate with us," she said.
Paying tributes to Swami Vivekanada on his 160th birthday, Banerjee said that she was hopeful about winning the battle against the Covid pandemic. "Vivekanada had said to have faith in yourself to succeed in life. Let's have faith in ourselves so that we can win our fight against any pandemic. We could do it in the last two years and I believe we will be able to repeat that this time too," she said.
Gangasagar Mela, which is one of the largest religious congregations in eastern India, attracts several lakhs of people who take a holy dip at the confluence of Ganga and Bay of Bengal and offer prayers at the Kapil Muni temple on Makar Sankranti.
With inputs from PTI.