Several cash-strapped puja committees are accepting bookings for stalls around pandals even though the government is yet to clarify whether they will be allowed.
The organisers are telling applicants the booking is ‘temporary’ and a confirmation is expected around Mahalaya on October 6.
Hit by the pandemic and robbed of the usual trickle of sponsors, most puja organisers believe stalls could be one of their few sources of income.
Agencies that would earlier queue up to set up hoardings and banners are yet to do so this year and corporate houses have not yet loosened their purse strings.
“We are telling applicants coming for bookings that confirmation for stalls would be done only around Mahalaya,” said Sandip Chakrabarty of Badamtala Ashar Sangha near Rashbehari More. “Stalls owners around our pandal usually start operating from Dwitiya (four days before Sashthi, the formal start to Durga Puja). We are not sure if any fresh norms about pandals will emerge before that.”
In 2020, Calcutta High Court had passed an order declaring puja pandals as ‘No Entry zones’ for visitors, three days ahead of the start of the festival. The court had asked puja committees to put up barricades at a certain distance around the pandals.
Since there was no word about stalls, several puja committees had let out spaces around their pandals to stall owners, which helped them meet a part of their expenses.
This time, an apprehension of someone moving court at the last minute hangs heavy on most puja organisers.
“Last year, we had over 50 stalls. Many of them had suffered losses after making advance payments. We did not demand the remaining amount from them,” said Partha Ghosh of Shibmandir Puja Committee in south Kolkata. “This time, all bookings are being made as ‘tentative’.”
“Many among the applicants are those who have recently lost their jobs,” said Avishek Bhattacharya of Tallah Barowari puja committee in north Kolkata.