The Rs 5,000 crore Durga Puja extravaganza of West Bengal begun on Friday with the arrival of Maha Sashti. Roads have been blocked and people have been flocking the streets despite the thunder due to the depression over the Bay of Bengal.
If weathermen are to be believed, Durga Puja would be marred with incessant rains till Maha Navami— day before the Puja celebrations end. Though the Durga Puja is only for four days, the state government had declared Holiday two days before the onset of the celebrations. Also, the organisers have been allowed to continue with the festivities even up to three days after Maha Dashami.
Most of the senior ministers, including Panchyat Minister Subrata Mukherjee, Education Minister Partha Chatterjee, Housing Minister Aroop Biswas, are patrons of various puja committees. As many as 15 ministers are at the helm of committees which spent around Rs 2 crore each for puja. The expenses include buying idols, constructing pandals decorating roads.
A visit to a few of the pandals revealed that ministers received donations for puja from corporate groups. Following the clamp down on chit fund groups, the main sponsors of the events are mobile phone and consumer durables companies.
There are pandals constructed in the shape of Mysore Palace, Somnath Temple, Akshar Dham temple of even Angor Bhat in Cambodia. There are also theme based pandals . A few lakhs of employees were involved in the construction of pandals across Kolkata.
“To be honest, we could not create such huge temporary temples with the help donations from common people. Yes they gave money...but majority of the finance came from corporate groups,” said a member of Suruchi Sangha in Naktala, patronised by the education minister.
The chit fund firms have been major sponsors of puja festivities from 2011 till last year. With the government's indirect support for the events, there never have been scarcity of funds for the event from chit fund firms.
“This time we are suffering heavily. Big companies have chosen big pujas. So we have a low budget this time,” said Pradip Bose, an organiser of a puja committee in North Kolkata.
Alok Dam, another puja committee organiser in Shymbazar, said, “Last year our budget was Rs 3 crore. This time we reduced to Rs 45 lakh due to lack of sponsors.”
After five years, Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal are seeing less hoardings and banners ahead of puja. However, this hasn't held back people from hitting the streets. As usual, eateries have been witnessing large queues.
“Yes we are making huge profit this time. But crowd handling is an issue as well,” said restaurant owner Kushal Agarwal.
In a city which has around 22 per cent of Muslims and around five per cent of Christians, the puja committees are forcing non-Hindus to be part of the festivities and they seem only too eager to do so.
There are however, inconveniences caused to business as the police have prevented business consignments from entering the city to avoid traffic blocks.