SOP for Durga Puja; Pandals to shut before 10, no cultural activities, no ban on temporary pandals
The Health Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma has held a press conference and announced that the COVID cases in Assam are now flattening. However, he added, “The biggest problem that lies in front of us is the Durga Puja.”
The minister appealed to the people of Assam to strictly follow the guidelines issued by the Department of Health, Government of Assam.
The department has shared the SOP with Barak Bulletin and it states, “COVID-19 Guidelines for organising Durga Puja 2020 This year Durga Puja will be celebrated in the middle of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the citizens, organisers and the administration have to strictly follow the COVID-19 protocols during a pandemic. Puja Committees are to comply with health and safety norms in accordance with the following guidelines.”
However, the minister stated that a couple of corrections are expected by the evening
1. Permission for organizing Durga Puja:
a) All organizers of the puja committee must take permission from the District Administration of the concerned district for organizing Durga Puja 2020.
b) The district administration will convene a meeting of at Puja committees/ organizers for a detailed briefing on the protocol/ guidelines issued by the Government before giving permission, in order to ensure compliance with COVID protocols. This is to facilitate District Administration to extend all possible support to the Puja Committee for the successful and safe celebration of Durga Puja, maintaining COVID-19 appropriate protocol.
2. Spacious open pandal with separate entry and exit:
a) Pandal should be spacious and must remain open from all sides.
b) Pandals must keep adequate space for the arrangement of physical distancing of at least one-meter distance. Management must take measures to avoid crowding at all costs and not more than 10 to 30 persons can aggregate at a time depending on the size of the panda).
c) Strict restrictions on crowding will apply during Aarati also.
d) Entry and exit gates must be separate.
e) Proper signage/floor marking must be made from entry to exit point so that visitors are properly guided on the route, once he/ she enters Puja pandal.
f) Well trained committee volunteers wearing masks, must be stationed at different points inside the pandal to assist visitors.
3. Compulsory mask and hand sanitizer:
a) Use of face masks properly shall be mandatory for all visitors visiting a pandal.
b) To meet any exigency, organizers shall arrangement for any visitor to obtain a mask, who inadvertently comes to the pandal without wearing mask.
c) Similarly, hand sanitizer must be kept at the entry gate and exit gate of Puja pandal.
d) The Puja pandal campus must be sanitized twice (once in the morning and evening) along with nearby areas, as a strict public health measures due to the pandemic.
4. Guidelines for inside Puja pandal and keeping adequate volunteers:
a) Puja Committee must keep an adequate number of volunteers inside and outside the pandal to ensure that visitors maintain physical distancing, wear masks properly and sanitizes hand while visiting pandal.
b) All the volunteers, priests, and Puja organizers must get mandatorily tested for COVID-19 before Pooja starts (on Panchami day) and after immersion (Ekadasi day).
c) Volunteers should sanitize their hands, wear mask/ face shield properly and should maintain physical distancing while interacting with visitors.
d) Keeping in view the COVID protocol, all gathering (in the form of Aryan, prasad distribution, sandhya arati etc) should be done very carefully adhering to COVID norms and in small groups in a staggered manner.
e) A priest must use a microphone so that devotees need not come close to him to offer Anjali
f) Devotees should be encouraged to bring flowers from home to avoid congestion at the flower distribution and collection point during the offering of Anjali.
g) There will no distribution of Prasad in the pandal or community feasting. Packet distribution of Prasad, may be done to the residences of the devotees by the organisers.
5. Movement of devotees during Puja days:
a) All the Puja pandals must be closed for the devotees at 10:00 PM and the puja committee has to ensure this strictly.
b) Pillion riding will not be allowed for males during puja days. Pillion riding is allowed during puja for women or child below 15 years;
6. Organizing cultural program before, during, and after puja days:
a) Organizing cultural programmes before, during and after Puja days is strictly restricted. No such event can be organized by the Puja committees.
7. Restriction on mela, fair, setting up food stall, roadside restaurant etc.:
a) Dry Day is to be declared from the day of Dashami till the immersion process gets over.
b) Restaurants will be closed at 9:00 PM and only takeaway food should be allowed, subject to relevant permissions from the Government.
C) Strict restriction is to be imposed on organizing melas, fairs, roadside shops, setting up of roadside food stall/ temporary restaurant, as these might lead to crowding of people.
8. Emphasis on print, electronic and Social Media:
a) The use of print, electronic and social media must be optimal to generate mass awareness about the COVID-19 protocols during Durga Puja and to request devotees to follow the norms strictly to avoid any unnecessary crowding near, inside the pandal.
b) All measures should be taken to avoid unnecessary rumors, misinformation campaigns about COVID-19 and other issues during Pooja time.
9. Low profile inauguration of pandal and immersion of idol:
a) The inauguration of Puja pandal and immersion of Durga idol (Bisarjan) should be a low-key affair with minimum people and adhering to all COVID norms.
b) Organizers may explore the possibility of inaugurating the Puja pandal in virtual mode, which is the safest way.
c) In all activities, sanitizing, using of mask and physical distancing most be ensured.
d) Before immersion, the ghat has to be sanitized and the Durga idol should straight be taken at the ghat without any stoppage on the way to avoid any unnecessary crowding.
e) Immersion must be planned by the district administration in a staggered manner throughout the day, by allotting specific time to each of the puja committees for immersion. No procession will be allowed and one protima will be allowed to be immersed at a time by a maximum of 10 persons accompanying each protima.
f) If necessary, the immersion process might take extra days to complete the process adhering to COVID-19 norms.
10. Assistance from State Government and other public and private organizations: In order to assist Pooja Committees to conduct Pooja in a safe manner, adequate support may be provided from different Government departments, NGOs etc. to the extent possible.
a) Fire services in case of need;
b) The urban local body will also provide services to the puja committees in terms of cleanliness and sanitation
c) The Power Department will make provision of additional power supply to the Puja pandal, if the puja committee submits a formal request in the appropriate application form and on payment of the fee.
d) The district civil and police administration will extend all necessary support, as and when needed, for the already permitted pandals.
e) The PHE department will ensure the supply of adequate drinking water to the Puja committee but for this prior information must be given to the PHE Department, water supply point for timely supply on payment of the stipulated charges.