When Durga Puja arrives in Tripura, people become euphoric. Thousands of people throng the puja pandals and socializing becomes the obvious norm. However, the ongoing pandemic has translated to grave concerns for the state administration and state apex court in terms of Durga Puja celebrations. The Onam celebrations recently held in Kerala have shown how festive gatherings can lead to sudden surge of COVID 19 cases, despite all precautionary measures.
It is to be noted that the concerned authorities have revised the Durga Puja guidelines twice in the span of a month.Incidentally a division bench of the Tripura High Court (comprising of Chief Justice Akil Kureshi and Justice Subhashish Talapatra) in its order passed on October 13 has cited the adverse effects of the Onam festival in Kerala.
Citing reports provided by the state government pertaining to COVID-19 positivity, the apex court of Tripura has observed that the number of positive cases reduced from 214 to 109 between October 7 and October 11. The court also stated that there is a steady drop in positivity rate, particularly from October 9. While around October 7 the positivity rate was more than 10% on October 11th it has dropped to a fraction over 5 percent.
However, the Court cautioned that the state government should not be complacent or overconfident. "This period is too short to discern a systematic trend. The reasons can be many. The drop may be sporadic (not representing a true cross section) on account of sampling errors. In any case we need to bring down the positivity rate further and cannot relax and rejoice at the current positivity rate of 5%. It would be a serious error to get euphoric on the basis of these figures. There is no scope for relaxing or letting our guard down," the Court observed.
There is a strict ban on fairs in front of the puja pandals and instructions have been issued to arrange pushpanjali through microphonesThe High Court observed that medical experts have predicted a possible spike of COVID-19 during the winter months. Hence they have urged the administration to open a constant dialogue with the principal stakeholders of Durga Puja like clubs and pandal organizers.The court has also asked the media to play a positive role and act as a catalyst in terms of spreading awareness on the government guidelines regarding puja celebrations. Further the state law minister has stated that the government is working hard to find a way to contain the spread of coronavirus during the upcoming festive period.
The first Durga Puja guidelines were issued on September 4. The government instructed puja organisers to collect subscriptions through the online mode, reduce the number of puja pandals through mutual consultation, avoid narrow entrance and exit systems in pandals and allow five to ten people at a time to visit idols. Now COVID-19 tests of puja organisers, volunteers and priests have also been mandated.
According to the revised rules, the pandals have to be kept open from all sides for emergency exit. There is a strict ban on any kind of fair in front of the puja pandals and instructions have been issued to arrange pushpanjali through microphones, whereby devotees would need to bring flowers from their own homes and offer prayers in batches of ten or fifteen at a time.
So far approximately 315 people have succumbed to COVID 19 infections in Tripura. The fatality rate is highest among the north eastern states. Around 2,500 pujas are held in Tripura, of which about 1000 pujas are performed only in the state capital.