|Mamata Banerjee addresses Puja organisers and religious leaders at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Friday evening. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
Welfare economist, benevolent administrator, brand manager, traffic expert and communications consultant — Mamata Banerjee donned several hats during a preparatory meeting ahead of Puja and Id on Friday evening.
Displaying her skills as an administrator with a solution to every problem, she drew a huge round of applause from over 500 Puja organisers and religious heads of other communities as she single-handedly steered the meeting and rolled out sops and solutions in the same breath.
Though the chief minister had her cabinet colleagues, departmental secretaries, Trinamul MPs and MLAs, senior civic officials, top cops and fire services personnel for company, the 90-minute programme was a Mamata show from beginning till end.
Mamata’s plan: Welfare objective topped the agenda as the chief minister preached the policy of redistributive justice, asking solvent Puja organisers to extend financial support to those reeling from income-expenditure deficits.
“I want to request big Puja committees to help five smaller pujas by donating Rs 5,000 to each one of them. Shelling out Rs 25,000 should not be a big deal for big Puja committees,” said Mamata, stealing a glance at her cabinet colleagues, most of whom are attached to big pujas.
The pledge for support poured in from Aroop Biswas (Suruchi Sangha), urban development minister Firhad Hakim (Chetla Agrani), panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee (Ekdalia Evergreen) and industry minister Partha Chatterjee (Naktala Udayan Sangha), among others.
Rationale: As most of the big Puja committees corner the major share of advertisement revenue, redistribution will bring relief to small Puja organisers.
Mamata’s plan: The government will loosen its purse strings to help Puja organisers both in Calcutta and across the 18 districts. The chief minister mandated the PWD, fire services, housing and transport departments to sponsor one Puja each in the districts and 10 pujas in Calcutta with Rs 5,000 to each committee. The Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority and the CMC were also asked to help 10 Puja committees each with Rs 5,000.
“The government has a social responsibility to help small and medium Puja organisers,” the chief minister said.
Rationale: There can be questions on why the government should support pujas, but Mamata has used the occasion to involve the government in the festival. If the four-day affair is looked at as an event, support from the government in making it a success will yield economic dividends and — needless to say — political gains.
Mamata’s plan: What the corporate entities have done for years, the Bengal government will start doing from this year. Mamata intends to popularise Biswa Bangla — an umbrella brand to promote handicrafts from Bengal — during Puja.
“We will showcase the Biswa Bangla brand in 50 pujas, 25 in Calcutta and 25 across Bengal…. We will give them financial rewards for promoting the brand from the state,” Mamata said.
Rationale: Given the footfall at pandals, the move is a smart one as it will give Biswa Bangla — a fledgling brand — much-needed visibility.
Mamata’s plan: The chief minister suggested that the problem of clogged thoroughfares during immersion be tackled by starting the processions during daytime, from 2pm instead of 5pm. She also recommended using the smaller ghats to decongest the big ones, which get crowded during immersion days.
“There should be co-ordination between the clubs and police stations so that everything is properly planned for the two immersion days,” Mamata said.
Rationale: A longer immersion window, starting afternoon, will surely decongest the thoroughfares. The use of smaller ghats that the government has refurbished in recent months — Doi Ghat in the port area is one — will promote them as ideal immersion options.
Mamata’s plan: The chief minister has asked the police to increase the number of helplines from the usual three to 10 in an attempt to provide people on the move better access to administrative help.
“More than two to three crore people come to the city during Puja…. Please increase the number of helplines to at least 10,” Mamata said after police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha spoke about three helplines being part of Calcutta police’s preparations.
Rationale: Mamata referred to instances of people failing to get through to the helplines.