Friday, 7 October, 2022
HomeIndia'Enough to paralyse health infra' — Experts raise alarm over Ganga...

‘Enough to paralyse health infra’ — Experts raise alarm over Ganga Sagar Mela in Bengal

Calcutta HC allows Ganga Sagar Mela to be held after Bengal govt says it's not in favour of banning it. Health experts, however, say large gatherings shouldn't be allowed.

Text Size:

Kolkata: The annual Ganga Sagar Mela, which is held at West Bengal’s Sagar Island during Makar Sakranti, began Sunday after the Calcutta High Court’s nod Friday.

The religious congregation, which will end on 16 January, is taking place even as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is driving a surge in infections across several states, including West Bengal.

As of January 9, West Bengal reported 24,287 active daily cases. According to health ministry data, Kolkata, which is just five hours away from Gangasagar, has a positivity rate of 57.98 per cent, the second-highest in the country.

The religious congregation comes even as experts have advised caution, fearing the event could lead to an increase in hospitalisations and paralyse the health infrastructure.

What Calcutta HC said

The Ganga Sagar Mela is an annual holy pilgrimage held every year on Makar Sankranti, it’s the second-largest religious congregation in the country that takes place at the confluence of Ganga and Bay of Bengal after Kumbh Mela. Devotees take a dip in the confluence in the morning followed by prayers at the Kapil Muni Ashram. This year, the West Bengal government is expecting around 4-5 lakh pilgrims to attend the religious gathering between 6- 15 January.

On Friday, the Calcutta High Court had given a go-ahead to the Mamata Banerjee government to conduct Ganga Sagar Mela and ordered setting up of a committee that may recommend to the state a ban on entry to Sagar Island if there is any violation of Covid protocols.

“We are of the opinion that there should be an independent committee to look into the implementation of the measures and in case, if any violation or shortcoming in implementation is found then to submit a report to the State for completely banning the Mela”, the court said.

The court was hearing a PIL seeking a ban on the event due to a surge in Covid cases across the country. However, in a 24-page affidavit filed before the court Friday, the West Bengal government said it was not in favour of banning the religious event.

“It shall be ensured that all persons, pilgrims, sadhus, sanyasis coming from other states to Ganga Sagar Mela mandatorily use facemasks, maintain physical distancing and use sanitizers”, the affidavit read.

Addressing the media at Ganga Sagar on 29 December during a three-day review visit, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said her government will ensure that all Covid protocols are followed. “Omicron is not fatal, but it’s spreading faster. Those who want to come to Ganga Sagar will come, those who don’t feel safe will skip it. We are ensuring all Covid protocols are followed.”


Also read: Bengal Covid cases skyrocket days after it eased curbs for Xmas & New Year, positivity at 19.6%


‘Large gatherings should not be allowed’

Experts, however, have raised concerns over the Ganga Sagar event, given how devotees were seen flouting Covid norms during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar last year, and many even tested positive. The event had raised eyebrows as it continued in spite of the deadly second wave of the pandemic.

“From a strictly scientific point of view, large gatherings should not be allowed in the current situation where Covid is spreading rapidly with a high infectivity rate, secondary attack rate is high and cases of reinfection of the vaccinated population is also being seen”, said Dr Rupali Basu, Managing Director & CEO, Woodlands Multispecialty Hospital.

Dr Kunal Sarkar, cardiac surgeon, Medica Hospital, Kolkata, told ThePrint, “In the outbreak of Omicron which at present is mild for an individual is fairly severe for a community because the infection rate is higher and if half the percentage of the caseload requires hospital attention, then that is enough to paralyse the entire healthcare infrastructure. Large number of hospitals are already compromised with so many of its staff sick. It is extremely frustrating that this simple logic is not conceived by either the political dispensation nor bureaucracy and not even the judiciary.”

“The people of Bengal stand in a vulnerable position at this moment. Is there any wisdom in aggravating the problems ourselves and then imposing restrictions?” he asked.

Dr Shyam Krishnan, pulmonologist, CMRI Hospital said, “As a pulmonologist treating Covid patients, I feel any large gatherings, be it for social or religious is uncalled for when we are experiencing huge surge in the number of cases. This time the variant we are dealing with is highly transmissible. The administration has to ensure everyone strictly adheres to the protocols and ensure they don’t add to the rising cases.”


Also read: Delta to Omicron — India needs to avoid Covid complacency in 2022


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism

Most Popular

×