Mamata revokes jazia on
Ganga Sagar pilgrims
By Asim Kumar Mitra
After three and half decades, the Ganga Sagar Mela is going to have a new look and pilgrims are poised to have new experience. First of all they would visit this Mela without paying ‘Pilgrim Tax’ which was imposed by the Left Front government. There was agitation against this tax throughout the State. But the erstwhile Left Front government did not pay any heed to it. Vishva Hindu Parishad termed this tax as jazia kar and took this movement on all India level. Still this could not bring any positive result. Hence, this unfortunate and derogatory tax on Hindus was going on uninterruptedly.
When Mamata Banerjee assumed the post of chief minister of the State six months ago, she has started keeping her promises one by one and two months ago Mamata had abolished this insulting tax on Hindus. Surprisingly enough no so-called secularists came forward to protest against abolition of “Pilgrim Tax”. The Left parties including CPM had tried to point out that there would be heavy ‘revenue loss’. They posed a question : When the government run by Mamata is running under heavy pecuniary pressure, can they withstand the revenue loss on this count?
The ruling party had put a counter question: How much they were earning on account of this tax? On an average Rs 12 lakh to Rs 15 lakh used to be collected every year as pilgrim tax which was practically a fraction of the total expenditure incurred by the State government for running the Ganga Sagar Mela. We just cannot hurt the sentiment of large section of people.
The fact remains that every year, on an average, five lakh pilgrims come to Ganga Sagar Mela. They start coming to the spot from January 12 to January 15, and on Makar Sankranti day they take a holy dip in the confluence of Ganga river and Sagar i.e. Bay of Bengal. The pilgrims come from every nook and corner of the country. Even people from many foreign countries visit the Mela every year. Government expenses amounts to the tune of Rs.30 crore for Ganga Sagar Mela. While in Ganga Sagar, you can hear the pilgrims and devotees of ‘Ganga Maiya’ chanting the slogan: Sab tirtha bar bar, Ganga Sagar ek bar. Every year on the day of Makar Sankranti celebrated on the last day of the Bengali month Poush, which is middle of January, lakhs of Hindus gather to take holy dip in the Ganga and offer puja at the Kapil Muni Temple in Ganga Sagar.
The latest trend is that the Sagar Island is fast developing into a tourist spot as current figure discloses that every year, on an average, fifty thousand tourists visit Sagar Island.
From now onward pilgrims would not have to wait for six hours or even longer, to catch a boat during low tide to reach both Sagar Island and Kakdwip.
Mamata Banerjee’s government is taking steps to reduce waiting time for Ganga Sagar pilgrims by installing permanent jetty on both ends: Kachuberia at the Ganga Sagar Island and Lot No 8 at Kakdwip in the mainland.
The State tourism department is all set to build exclusive permanent jetty one each on either side of the river for smooth transit of lakhs of pilgrims gathered annually, especially during the low tide.
“There are no permanent jetties at Ganga Sagar leaving lakhs of pilgrims visiting the place every year stranded especially during the low tide for hours. We are constructing a permanent jetty each on both ends to ease the movement,” said the State tourism minister Rachhpal Singh.
According to Singh, such initiative by Mamata Banerjee’s government would enable operation of vessel services 24 x 7 all along the year and especially during Ganga Sagar Mela. Government generally builds up three to four temporary jetties on both ends and despite the facilities, pilgrims are forced to wait for six or more hours during the low tide.
The government is also constructing reception centres where pilgrims would be welcomed. Several waiting sheds and toilets both for ladies and gents too are being constructed at different points. “We will complete all constructions including the permanent jetties prior to this year’s Mela at Ganga Sagar.We have allocated Rs. 5 crore for this project,” said Rachhpal Singh.
Ganga Sagar pilgrimage and fair is the second largest congregation of mankind after the holy Kumbha Mela. While Kumbha Mela is observed once in four years at alternate locations in North, Central and Central-West parts of India, Ganga Sagar fair and pilgrimage is held annually on the Sagar Island’s southern tip in the Ganges Delta atop Bay of Bengal. That makes Ganga Sagar all the more distinctive.