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The festive season in India is incomplete without pandals erected, particularly during Durga Puja in West Bengal. However, the unregulated construction of pandals often leads to traffic congestion and poses safety hazards.
In this context, the recent remarks by Justice Rajasekhar Mantha of Calcutta High Court on the need for "proper guidelines" for puja organizers who want to erect pandals blocking roads is a welcome step towards ensuring public safety.
The Kolkata police have already issued a detailed format for seeking permission for public meetings and processions, which includes a list of 27 norms that organizers have to follow to obtain permission for their event. It is heartening to know that there are separate guidelines for pujas as well.
The High Court had previously issued specific guidelines in 2009, which prescribed that all four sides of a pandal must be at least 4ft away from the nearest property line, boundary wall, or any other permanent structure. Additionally, the height of a pandal's superstructure should not exceed 40ft, and there should be separate entry and exit gates, with the gate's height within 12-14 feet. Moreover, no cooking or flame is allowed within 200 yards of the main pandal, and adequate water and sand should be stored near the pandals.
While these guidelines are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it is essential to ensure that they are strictly enforced. The authorities should conduct regular inspections to check whether organizers are adhering to the guidelines, and punitive measures should be taken against violators. Moreover, it is crucial to involve the local community in the process of erecting pandals. The organizers should consult the residents living in the area and obtain their permission before constructing pandals that block roads.
Furthermore, the authorities should explore alternative solutions to ensure that the festivities do not adversely affect public safety. For instance, they can identify designated areas for erecting pandals where there are no traffic bottlenecks. Additionally, technology-based solutions like live-streaming of the festivities can reduce the need for people to visit pandals physically.
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