Bengal govt moves green court NGT to allow Chhath puja at Kolkata lake – Hindustan Times

Kolkata News

The Kolkata Municipal Development Authority (KMDA) has appealed to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to relax its order banning Chhath puja rituals to be held at the famous Rabindra Sarobar Lakes in south Kolkata. The NGT will hear the review petition on September 17.

The word Chhath means six. The festival is dedicated to Lord Surya (Sun God) and Chhathi Maiya, who is known to be the sister of Lord Surya. This festival is unique to the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Delhi. Devotees express their gratitude towards Lord Surya and perform important rituals over a for a span of four days.

While the opposition sees this as another move by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) to woo Hindi-speaking voters prior to the 2021 assembly polls, environment activists and conservation experts said they are extremely worried.

The NGT passed an order in 2018, banning Chhath puja at Rabindra Sarobar, after environment activists and wildlife lovers started a movement. The petition was moved by noted environment activist Subhas Dutta. The green activists had earlier moved the Calcutta high court as well to stop the old practice.

Covering 192 acres of artificial lakes and with 7,000 trees, some of which were badly damaged by cyclone Amphan in May, Rabindra Sarobar is a birders’ paradise. At least 200 species of resident and migratory birds have been sighted here by the city’s birders. It is also home to numerous types of fish and animals.

Despite the ban, hundreds of devotees broke open the gates of Rabindra Sarobar in November 2019 to perform Chhath puja. They even used crackers and played drums at the Sarobar although the government has earmarked alternative waterbodies in the city. The incident made headlines and triggered a huge controversy.

“It is very difficult to control the religious sentiments of people. The police could not take any harsh measure because the rituals are performed by women. We have appealed to the NGT to relax the ban this year. The puja will be held on November 20,” a senior KMDA official said on condition of anonymity.

“This is shocking. How can the government allow nature to be destroyed?” said veteran environment activist Banani Kakkar whose organization, PUBLIC, has been crusading for a greener city for more than three decades. “There is very little time to move the NGT against the KMDA’s review petition,” she added.

Declared as a site of national importance Rabindra Sarobar was developed by the British in the 1920s as one of the twin lungs of Kolkata, the other being the Maidans. Bird species sighted here include cotton pygmy goose, large-billed leaf warbler, Tickell’s leaf warbler, black-headed cuckooshrike and slaty-blue flycatcher, among others.

No TMC leader was willing to comment on the development on record.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bengal unit vice-president Ritesh Tiwari took a dig at chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

“It has taken her nine years to understand the sentiments of Hindi-speaking people. But it is too late now. Why didn’t the government take action when some outfits were making insulting remarks against Hindi-speaking people in public in recent years?” said Tiwari.

Incidentally, on Monday, the TMC launched an all-new three-tier Hindi cell while India observed Hindi Diwas. The cell will have separate committees at state, district and community block levels.

The BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019. The TMC’s tally came down from 34 seats to 22. The BJP poses a challenge to Banerjee in the upcoming assembly polls.