The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday ruled that Chhath puja will not be allowed under any circumstance at Kolkata’s famous Rabindra Sarobar lakes which are considered to be the lungs of south Kolkata.
Amid Opposition allegations that Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee was eyeing the votes of Hindi-speaking people, the Kolkata Municipal Development Authority (KMDA) recently appealed to the NGT to relax its order banning Chhath puja rituals at Rabindra Sarovar in south Kolkata.
The KMDA appealed for relaxation in the ban for only a day in view of people’s sentiments. The KMDA also told the court that it would take measures to control pollution at the lakes. The puja will be held on November 19 and 20.
Despite the ban, hundreds of devotees broke open the gates of Rabindra Sarobar in November 2019 to perform the rituals. They even busted crackers and played drums at the Sarobar although the government had earmarked alternative water bodies in the city for conduct of the rituals. The incident made headlines and triggered a huge controversy.
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 celebrated mostly in 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 span of four days.
“We will move the Supreme Court,” said West Bengal’s urban development minister Firhad Hakim on Thursday afternoon, drawing strong reaction from political parties and environment experts.
Interestingly, TMC got support on this issue from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has a substantial vote bank in areas dominated by Hindi-speaking people.
“Performing the puja is a fundamental right of the people. There can be restrictions on dropping flowers etc in the water but nobody can ban the ritual entirely,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha.
The Congress attacked the chief minister saying she has politicized religious festivals to get votes.
“Mamata Banerjee has politicized the festivals of Bengal. Did the Bihari people ever tell her that they would not vote for TMC unless they were allowed to pollute the waters of Rabindra Sarobar? They never did that. Similarly, Muslims never asked her to stop immersion of Durga idols to allow Muharram processions. Banerjee is doing these proactively. She thinks this will help her secure Muslim and Bihari votes,” said West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Coronavirus pandemic: Forests in West Bengal to open for tourists for festive season, guidelines to be issued
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.
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.
Also Read: Will ensure fair polls in Bengal, says governor Dhankhar. TMC responds
“The urban development minister says the relaxation is required for only a day. I would like to ask can someone survive without air for even a minute,” Dutta said on Thursday after Hakim said that the government would move the Supreme Court.
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.