South 24 Parganas:
As Makar Sankranti celebrations commence, lakhs of devotees are seen taking part in the Gangasagar Mela in West Bengal’s Sagar Island, even as Covid cases surge in the northeastern state amid the country’s third Omicron-driven wave.
Visuals depict hundreds of thousands taking a holy dip at the confluence of the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal, as well as playing festive music on the banks of the river, as lakhs of devotees from across the country arrived in the South 24 Parganas district to participate in the Hindu pilgrimage.
The celebrations come at a time when Bengal, like much of the country, is struggling with exponentially mounting Covid cases. On Thursday, Bengal reported 23,467 fresh Covid cases in 24 hours, a jump of 1,312 infections from the previous day’s daily cases.
The positivity rate in the state also rose to 32.13 per cent from 30.86 per cent on Wednesday. This number is significantly high in comparison to the nation’s overall positivity rate of 14.78 per cent, as of Friday morning.
Apprehending that the state may witness a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases in the state on account of the upcoming festivities, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday said that the administration is well prepared to tackle it.
A Calcutta High Court division bench comprising Chief Justice allowed the annual fair to take place from January 8 to 16, and ordered that the entire Sagar Island be declared a notified area.
The bench also constituted a two-member committee comprising former Justice Mr Samapti Chatterjee and member secretary of the West Bengal Legal Services Authority to monitor adherence to Covid norms at the fair.
These norms include ‘Covid-safe’ drones, which were seen buzzing over devotees, spraying them with holy water as they chanted, in a sanitary twist to the traditional bath. Further, only those having negative RT-PCR report within 72 hours have been permitted to take part in the festivities.
However, despite these measures, the state government has come under fiery criticism for allowing the annual mela to take place at all.