The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Puja money for people in need

nSuhashini Mistri, a vegetable-seller, plans to set up a hospital for the poorest of the poor

nNineteen-year-old Debraj, whose father Narayan Chandra Biswal committed suicide last month for his failure to foot the bill for his son’s medical education, remains determined to be a doctor

Suhasini and Debraj are no longer alone in pursuing their dreams; they will now get some much-needed help from two Puja committees who have decided to cut down on extravagance and spend a part of their corpus for people in need. The organisations using the festivities to do the two a good turn are Sahajatri of Barisha (standing by Suhashini) and the Bhowanipore Durgotsav Samiti (bearing the expenses for Debraj’s medical studies).

The effort has won them the first and second prizes in the Sera Samaj Kalyan award instituted by Shalimar Chemicals this year. Aahiritola Sarbojanin Durgatsob Committee has bagged the third prize. “These organisations have been doing such things for quite some time and we thought we must recognise their efforts. Various sharad sammans have been instrumental in propelling a return to more traditional and noise-free pujas. We expect these awards to create awareness about sensible spending among organisers,” explained Binayak Sarkar, coordinator for the awards.

The organisers invited applications from the puja committees last month and 156 responded with their resumés. After an initial screening, a panel of judges, including film-maker Goutam Ghose, theatre personality Bibhash Chakraborty, painter Kanchan Dasgupta and social worker Soma Mukherjee met members of the shortlisted committees to take stock of their activities during the festival and throughout the year. “There are over 1,000 pujas in the city and crores are spent during the four-day festival. Why can’t we use a small portion for the underprivileged'” demanded Mukul Dutt, another coordinator of the event.

According to Goutam Ghose, the award can serve a real purpose: “Puja doesn’t just mean pandal, idol and lighting. It’s heartening to note that there are puja committees who are realising this and utilising funds sensibly.”

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