Describing the Durga Puja festival this year as “special”, as the festival comes after it has been recognised by UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday hiked the honorarium for community Durga Pujas. Addressing representatives of community Puja organisers in Kolkata, Ms. Banerjee said that honorarium to clubs which organise community Durga Puja will be increased from ₹50,000 to ₹60,000.
“I don’t have money, our exchequer is empty. I hope Maa Durga fills our exchequer. Despite these difficulties, we are ₹increasing the money from ₹50,000 to ₹60,000 this year,” the Chief Minister said amidst loud cheer from the organisers. Ms. Banerjee said that there are about 43,000 Durga Pujas, out of which about 2,700 are in Kolkata alone. She also announced the rebate in electricity tariff to the Pujas will be increased from 50% to 60%.
Ms. Banerjee declared a 10-day holiday from September 30 to October 10 on account of Durga Puja.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) government decided to give money to community Durga Puja clubs in 2018, with Opposition parties, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), raising objections to the decision. The matter was challenged before the Calcutta High Court but, since 2018, the honorarium has increased from ₹10,000 to ₹60,000. This year, the honorarium to the clubs is going to cost the State exchequer ₹258 crore.
The announcement of raising the honorarium was criticised by Opposition parties, with the BJP calling the TMC government a government of “fairs and festivals”. BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said that roads in the State were not being repaired and hospitals did not have basic facilities but the State government was hiking the honorarium for Puja committees.
During the day, a group of government employees filed a contempt petition against the State’s Chief Secretary for not complying with an order of the Calcutta High Court directing the clearance of DA (dearness allowance) dues to State government employees. The State government filed a review petition to the order in August 2022.
Speaking at the gathering, the Chief Minister urged organisers to hold a grand rally on September 1 to celebrate UNESCO’s recognition of the Durga Puja. She said representatives of UNESCO will be present at the event. “This year, the Durga Pujas are special. We have to start preparing early. A number of foreign visitors will be coming this year,” she said.
Ms. Banerjee said the rally will start from Jorasanko Thakurbari, the birthplace of Rabindranath Tagore. It was in December 2021 that the Durga Puja in Kolkata, one of largest cultural carnivals and street art festivals of the country, made it to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.