SAGAR ISLANDS: At least 54,000 people across the country have so far received holy water from the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal, as the West Bengal government arranged for 'e-snan' facility to avoid crowding at the Gangasagar Mela in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government has been promoting the 'e-snan' (e- bathing) facility to send the holy water and 'prasad' to anyone who orders for it from any part of the country for a delivery fee of Rs 150, state panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said.
"So far, 54,000 people have received the holy water from the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal at their homes in different parts of the country," he said.
Every year, lakhs of pilgrims from across the country and abroad flock to the Sagar Island -- about 130 km from Kolkata -- to take the holy dip on the occasion of "Makar Sankranti".
They also offer prayers at the Kapil Muni temple during the Gangasagar fair, considered to be the second- largest congregation after the Kumbh Mela.
Makar Sankranti marks the end of the winter solstice month and beginning of longer days.
According to the calendar, the timings of the holy dip this year will be for 24 hours from 6.02 am on January 14. Two lakh pilgrims have already arrived at the Gangasagar Mela till January 12, of whom five persons have been found COVID-19 positive, the minister said.
Mukherjee also said the state government has made elaborate arrangements to ensure that pilgrims follow the COVID protocols and go back safely after taking the holy dip and paying obeisance at the Kapil Muni temple.
In a report placed before the Calcutta High Court in connection with a PIL, seeking strict measures to prevent transmission of COVID-19 due to huge gatherings of pilgrims at the fair, the state government has said that arrangements for 'e-snan' and 'e-darshan' have been made.
Medical screening camps with thermal checking facilities have been set up at all major entry points to the fair, it said.
The state has also set up 13 rapid antigen testing centres, five RT-PCR testing facilities, eight safe homes with 615 beds. Eleven quarantine facilities, seven COVID hospitals with 600 beds and six wellness centres have been built.
More than 2,500 health personnel have been deployed for handling the situation, the report said, adding that green corridor arrangements for emergency evacuation of people have also been made.
The state government said it will ensure that all pilgrims wear face masks, maintain physical distancing and use sanitiser.
All people at the fair will be provided with an insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh from January 8 to 16.
The state government has opened a control room for registering any complaint and grievance in connection with the Gangasagar Mela.
Around 9,000 police personnel have been deployed in and around the island for the fair.