| Mamata Banerjee at the pre-Puja meeting. (Bishwarup Dutta)
The deadline for Durga Puja immersion has been extended by two days this year. All idols have to be immersed by October 28, four days after Dashami, chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced on Wednesday to cheers from some 2,500 Puja organisers.
There will, however, be a two-day break in between, with no immersion on October 26 and 27 as Id-ul-Zoha will be celebrated on October 27.
Dashami is on October 24. So all clubs would have to complete immersion by the 26th. But since Id will be celebrated on October 27, making it difficult for police to make the necessary arrangements, the chief minister said at the meet organised at Netaji Indoor Stadium.
I am offering a solution to this problem. The dates of immersion need to be readjusted. Let there be immersion on October 24 and 25. Then after a gap of two days the remaining clubs should complete immersion on October 28, said Mamata, to thunderous applause.
The decision left the police brass with mixed feelings. This was the best possible arrangement that could have been made. It was practically impossible for the police force to perform both whole-night immersion duty on October 26 and early morning Id duty the next day, said a senior officer in Lalbazar.
Another section of Lalbazar however voiced concern over the proposed extension of Puja duty even after Dashami.
"Our men start manning the pandals from Panchami. They toil for six days till Dashami. Now they have to be on their toes for these two additional days also. This apart, Calcutta police will have to carry out both the Eid duty and Puja duty simultaneously on October 27," pointed out an officer.
The primary challenge, some officers believe, will be managing the traffic during these additional days. "Private offices will start opening from October 25 onwards. However the barricades on the major thoroughfares will have to be retained till on October 28 till the immersion is over," said a senior officer of the traffic department.
The announcement however left majority of the puja organisers smiling. "Last year she gifted us with the single-window counter that reduced our harassment to a large extent. This year, she gifted us with the opportunity to extend the festival by two days," beamed a puja organiser.
Taking a break from national politics, the Bengal chief minister adorned a new avatar -lady with the magic wand - as the forum was thrown open for questions.
"Didi, just like the 10 per cent discount on the CESC bill, can't there be an exemption on the CMC tax for erecting hoardings?" questioned a representative from Bhowanipore 75-pally.
Promptly came the answer - "This is a policy decision
still let me see what can be done. Sovan (Chatterjee)..look into it. If CESC can give an exemption, there should be a way out for this also," Banerjee sounded hopeful.
Another puja organiser from Burrabazar cited problem of parking space. "I have already ratified a proposal by the police to set up a new police station in that area. Traffic management will be better after the new police station is set up," the chief minister answered.
Addressing a host of clubs by their names, she fielded questions - rights from overhead gates to free movement of disabled people in a puja pandal.
"Didi, we want to erect an overhead gate - only 18 feet high. Removing overhead gates will trigger huge losses," came a question from organisers of 76-Pally.
"This you have to go by the police decision. It is advisable that overhead gates should not be erected on the main road," came the reply.
Finally came a piece of advise for the physically challenged people. "Please visit the pandals in the daytime when there is no rush. Otherwise how will we provide a separate road for them?"
Banerjee also asked the city police to introduce a prize for cleanliness and neatness of Puja pandals.