COVID-19 cloud over big-ticket Durga Pujas in Bengal

Kolkata: The budget of big-ticket Durga Pujas is set to take a hard knock due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak as sponsorships by corporate advertisers would be reduced, leading to scaling down of the grandeur, organisers said on Thursday.

The Durga Puja, the biggest festival in West Bengal, will be held in October this year.

Not just low-budget pujas, even organisers of the top draws may have to curtail their budget by 40 to 50 per cent, mostly on the decoration of marquees, said the Forum for Durgotsab, an association of community Durga Puja organisers in Kolkata and suburbs.

“Last year, due to economic slowdown, several puja organisers had to lower the Durga Puja grandeur as there was lack of sponsorship. Matters are going to worsen this year.

“The economic slowdown was already there. Now it has aggravated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As per our reports, most of the big-ticket Durga Puja committees will curtail their budget by 40-50 per cent as compared to last year,” the forum’s president Kajal Sarkar told PTI.

Similar views were echoed by officials of Bosepukur Siatala Mandir, another crowd-puller puja.

“We have decided to curtail our budget to Rs 30 lakh from last year’s Rs 55 lakh,” they said.

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Around 3,000 pujas are organised in Kolkata while the figure is around 30,000 across the state.

Individual donations and subscriptions cover about 25 per cent of the expenses while the rest is met by corporate funding and advertisements.

On an average, setting up a theme-based marquee for the five-day fiesta, replete with safety arrangements and basic amenities, costs anything between Rs 12 lakh and Rs 30 crore in the state, according to the organisers.

“Last year, owing to the economic slowdown, we were short of Rs 20 lakh from our budget target of Rs 65 lakh. This year things will worsen. The puja will have to be organised on a reduced scale. Most sponsors, this time, will either decline to make a contribution or pay less than what they usually do,” Sudipto Kumar, an official of the Deshapriya Park community puja in south Kolkata, said.

The current situation will have an impact on every sector and the majority of the corporates will be unwilling to spend on advertisements, he said.

Most of the big-ticket pujas get sponsorship through hoardings, posters, and banners that greet revellers when they visit pandals. Mobile phone manufacturers, telecom companies, automobile and FMCG firms, banks and some prominent city-based companies are the major advertisers.

Orgainsers of some other prominent puja committees said the civic polls, which are likely to be held in June- July, will add to their financial burden.

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The elections to the civic bodies were postponed due to the coronavirus threat.

“Right now, there is a crunch in cash flow. So after this lockdown gets over, civic polls will be held. This will further worsen the matter for us as political parties too will need donations then,” an official of a big-ticket puja in north Kolkata said.

According to the organisers, marquee and decoration costs make up for 40 per cent of the budget, followed by decorative lights – 15 per cent. The cost of the idols usually ranges between 10-15 per cent and the remaining 30 per cent is spent on logistics, cultural programmes, immersion ceremony and food, among others.

The situation has turned worse for small-budget Durga puja committees, with some of the organisers opting for a marquee without any theme.

A committee in Dum Dum, which would organise its 102nd edition of the puja this year, had made elaborate plans for the occasion.

However, in the present situation, it has decided to reduce the planned budget of Rs 20 lakh by 50 per cent, an official of the puja committee said.

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