The Calcutta High Court on Friday directed the District Magistrate, Jhargram to consider postponing the upcoming Jangalmahal Utsav, scheduled to take place across 6 districts of West Bengal from January 17- January 19, 2022, in view of the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the State. The decision has to be taken within a period of 24 hours, the Court directed further.
Earlier in the day, the Bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj had directed the State government to file a report detailing the arrangements made to follow Covid-19 protocol during the conduct of the Jangalmahal Utsav.
Considering the Covid-19 situation in Jhargram district where the Utsav is slated to take place, the Court directed,
"We direct the respondent No. 2, District Magistrate, Jhargram to take a decision in respect of postponement of Mela within a period of 24 hours from this order"
The Bench also placed reliance on an order issued by the District Magistrate, Jhargram dated January 6, 2022 wherein having regard to the rising COVID cases in Jhargram District, the District Magistrate had ordered that all Government Offices and private offices in Jhargram District will remain closed from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M. on January 8, January 10, January 12 and January 14 and that only for any emergency minimum staff will remain present in the Government Offices on these days. The order had further instructed all markets, shops and establishments in Jhargram Municipality to remain closed from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M. on January 10, 2022.
"The order further reflects that the movement of public and private vehicles was not allowed from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M. on 10.01.2022 in Jhargram Municipality area except for health emergency etc. This order clearly reveals the COVID situation in Jhargram District is very serious. Hence, we are of the opinion that if such a situation is existing in the District then it may not be in the public interest to hold the Mela on the given dates from 17th of January, 2022", the Court observed.
The Court further instructed that the District Magistrate, Jhargram while taking the decision must duly take into account the COVID situation which was prevailing on January 6, 2022, which compelled him to issue the order referred above and thus consider if the situation thereafter has improved or deteriorated.
It was further noted that there is no past practice of holding the Mela on a particular date of the month or in reference to any particular lunar or solar position. Accordingly, the Court remarked further,
"The COVID situation is grave in the State of West Bengal and the COVID cases are rapidly increasing."
In a related development, the High Court has directed the State Election Commission to consider postponing the conduct of the upcoming municipal elections in Siliguri, Chandernagore, Bidhannagar and Asansol for a short period of 4 to 6 weeks in the wake of the 'galloping speed with which the COVID cases are increasing' in the State of West Bengal.
The Court was adjudicating upon a PIL moved by one Pratik Maitra seeking a postponement of the Jangalmahal Utsav considering the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the State. Among other reliefs, the PIL also sought the constitution of a supervising committee to regulate the conduct of the Jangalmahal Utsav.
During the hearing, the counsel for the petitioner apprised the Court that on January 12, 2022, the new COVID cases in the State were 22155. The petitioner further submitted that the infection rate is 30.86% and that in the Jhargram District lockdown has been imposed, therefore, the Mela should not be held especially when there is no tradition of holding the Mela on a particular date or in reference to particular lunar and solar position.
On the other hand, the counsel for the State submitted that instead of holding the Mela at one place, this year it has been decided to hold the Mela separately at six places at Jhargram, Paschim Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum and Paschim Bardhaman. The State government also submitted a detailed report in this regard.
Case Title: Pratik Maitra v. State of West Bengal
Case Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Cal) 3