Mamata Govt Treading Carefully with 9-Day-Long Gangasagar Mela as Bengal Reels Under Covid-19 Surge

With West Bengal’s Covid-19 positivity rate touching a high of 33.89% and daily cases touching 24,284, the government at present is facing the toughest challenge to organise the nine-day-long Gangasagar Mela, which had already begun on January 8. Although the state has mentioned in an affidavit to the Calcutta High Court that 30,000 people have already gathered for the event, a footfall of more than 5 lakh is expected this week.

The Calcutta High Court had given the approval for the event, however, calling for “strict adherence to Covid-19 norms”. The court had ordered the government to set up a committee, which will oversee the arrangements and take steps depending on the emergency situation.

There are apprehensions that the Covid cases would jump after the Mela. BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh said, “Let the Mela happen but norms should be followed. Several melas have taken place in UP but the infection rate is not high there.”


About 2,250 West Bengal Transport Corporation buses and 500 private buses will carry pilgrims to Gangasagar from railway stations, airport and bus stands. Nearly 21 jetties will be operational, 4 barges, 32 vessels and 100 wooden boats will be deployed at Lot-8 and Namkhana for trans-shipment. ‘Sagar Bandhu’ will be present in all the buses plying within Sagar Island. Additional trains will be arranged from Howrah, Sealdah and Namkhana. Around 12 buffer zones have been built along NH-117 and MDR for regulating passenger vehicles. Speed restrictions has been imposed for all vehicles. Single-ticket solution for the entire trip has been initiated for seamless travel to and fro Gangasagar.

Crowd Management

About 51 km metal and temporary barricading has been done for the movement of the crowd. Directional signage has been installed on all major roads, Mela points and pilgrim facilities. Real-time tracking of pilgrims is being done for which 1,050 CCTV cameras have been placed at all important locations. Around 20 drones will track the event and GPS-guided Intelligent Crowd Monitoring will be done through an Integrated Control Room. Feed will be provided to Nabanna control room as well for monitoring.

Covid-19 Protocols for Mela

Around 13 medical screening camps at all the major entry points including railway stations (Howrah/Sealdah), 13 Rapid Action Test/RTPCR facilities, 8 safe homes, 11 quarantine centres, 5 isolation centres, hospitals with 600 bed facility and 6 wellness centres have been set up. Massive Information and Education Communication campaign, dedicated Covid control room, toll free helpline number, enforcement of face masks, sanitisers and social distancing and contact tracing will be done. Ambulances including three water and one air, and green corridor for transportation, dead body disposal of Covid patients and dedicated fire team for sanitisation will also be provided. According to the HC order, e-Snan will be promoted and all necessary Covid protocols will be followed.

Kapil Muni ashram in Gangasagar, West Bengal. (Photo: News18)

Health Facilities

Intensive Care Unit and 24X7 post-mortem facilities will be provided in Sagar island. Upgraded healthcare service at Namkhana, Chemaguri, Lot-8, Rudra Nagar and Sagar will be ensured for better health service. A total of 300 bedded health facilities will be made available in and around Sagar and Kakdwip area. One air and three water and 85 ambulance vehicles will be deployed for emergency situations. Sufficient number of specialist doctors along with paramedics and nurses will be pressed into service at Sagar and Lot-8. A Green Corridor will be available for evacuation of patients.

Debasish Roy, Chief Medical Officer (health) of 24 Parganas, said 30% of the doctors deputed to Gangasagar are infected with Covid. “We have asked for other doctors.”

Emphasis on e-Darshan

Online broadcasting of Gangasagar Mela (e-Darshan), virtual delivery of Prasad (e-prasad), and doorstep delivery of holy water (e-Snan) will be available for pilgrims. Pilgrims Transport Management System (PTMS), digital strips for missing personnel, mobile app for general information, Covid watch software are also in place.

The Home and Hill Affairs department, PHE, PWD, Disaster Management, Fire and Emergency, Health and Family Welfare, Irrigation and Waterways, Transport, I&CA, Tourism, WBSEDCL and South 24 Parganas district administration are making most of the above arrangements for the Gangasagar Mela.

The high court has asked the state government to comply with its own restrictions of not allowing more 50 people at a gathering.

District Magistrate of South 24 Parganas P Ulaganathan told News18, “As per the high court, order of the state government dated January 2, 2022, particularly point No 10, shall be complied with. Already the home secretary has issued the order in this respect. Arrangements such as deployment of police, barricading, partitioning, training of police and volunteers, restriction in movement, have been planned so rules are not violated. In this respect, a meeting was also held. Everything will be ensured.”

Senior doctors in the state, however, are not convinced by the measures taken for the Gangasagar Mela. Dr Kunal Sarkar, senior vice-chairman at Medica Superspecialty Hospital, Kolkata, said, “Bengal fails to give priority to people above populism. The content of arguments on Gangasagar has been puerile and would not have qualified for any undergraduate debate. Judiciary, which lacks the boldness, and the government, which does not have the courage.”

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