Calcutta HC to decide on municipal elections for Ganga Sagar Mela and Bengal
Doctors and activists urged the judiciary and state government to postpone ‘super-spray’ events such as Ganga Sagar Mela, city polls as third wave spreads
The Calcutta High Court will hear two cases on January 6, 2022, to decide whether municipal elections for Ganga Sagar Mela and West Bengal can take place as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spreads across the state.
The petitioners in both cases have asked the court to stop the two events as they could serve as “super spreaders” for the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
The Ganga Sagar Mela is scheduled to start from January 10. Municipal elections are scheduled in four major cities in West Bengal – Bidhannagar, Siliguri, Chandannagar and Asansole – on January 22.
Nearly 0.85 million voters are expected to give their mandate at the polls.
The High Court asked the state government on January 5 how it plans to control the huge crowds expected at Ganga Sagar Mela on Sagar Island, near Kolkata.
The court’s request followed a public interest motion filed by the non-profit West Bengal Doctors Forum, among others.
Another coordinating group, The Joint Platform of Doctors, West Bengal, wrote to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on January 4.
âThe state’s health infrastructure is already on the verge of collapse and around 1,000 doctors, nurses and medical students are affected. Any possible super-spread triggered by the Mela or the polls will further jeopardize the situation, âsaid Hiralal Konar, one of the organizers of the Joint Doctors’ Platform.
Others have also asked for a stay.
Biswajit Mukherjee, a retired chief legal officer of the West Bengal government, wrote to the chief electoral officer of the West Bengal State Election Commission. He called for the electoral process to be stopped.
The Election Commission is charged, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of India, with organizing an election in which the people can participate in a proper manner. But the current situation is not at all favorable for citizens to participate in the electoral process.
âIt’s a difficult situation. We are awaiting a judicial directive, âa senior minister in the state cabinet told the journalist.
Sources said the state government was trying to shift responsibility for making tough decisions about controlling COVID-19 at Ganga Sagar Mela to justice.
This last happened when the Uttarakhand High Court issued a series of guidelines to control the pandemic during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar.
The West Bengal government health department removed treatment with monoclonal antibodies and the antiviral drug Molnupiravir from its COVID-19 treatment guidelines on January 4.
The decision came just five days after the two were included in the guidelines for COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate manifestations of symptoms.
“This change in guidelines in the space of a few days only adds to the confusion at this difficult time,” Ajoy Sarkar, senior COVID-19 specialist, told this reporter on January 5.
“Although the abuse of drugs, including monoclonal antibodies, is not justified, how can we summarily exclude it from the guidelines when its effectiveness is scientifically established against delta variants. The government suggests that is the delta variant no longer a problem? âsays Sarkar.
He also noted that if the central nod was important, why was such clearance not taken before listing the therapy and medication in the guidelines in the first place.
Arup Haldar, another COVID-19 specialist at a private hospital, agreed that antibody cocktail therapy was being abused.
But he stressed that such blunt “all or nothing” guidelines could have been avoided.
“The guidelines could have spelled out the exact conditions under which these drugs can be used, rather than abolishing them summarily,” said Haldar.
âIt is a fact that the specific cocktail has been replaced by one in the United States, which can act against both the delta and the omicron variants. But here we still don’t have the new one, âsaid Haldar.
Ajay Chakraborty, director of state health services, defended the decision.
âThe Indian government has yet to provide any protocol. We will wait for their new guidelines and withhold these new drugs until national guidelines give a clear direction, âhe said.
Chakrabarty, however, did not elaborate on why the drugs were included in the first place without any national guidelines.
However, senior members of the state’s COVID-19 advisory committee pointed to two different reasons for the state’s health department’s rapid about-face on the guidelines.
âTreatment with monoclonal antibodies is very expensive; once you add it in the guidelines, you will need to use it in public facilities that provide free treatment. It can prove to be a real stress for the public purse, âsaid a senior public health expert.
Another member of the state’s expert committee pointed out that monoclonal antibody therapy has not worked against the omicron variant, which is now dominant in West Bengal, especially Kolkata.
Balram Bhargava, director general of the Indian Council for Medical Research, said on January 5 that molnupiravir has major safety concerns, including mutagenicity, muscle damage, bone damage as well as problems with contraception. Therefore, it was not included in the national guidelines for treatment.
West Bengal recorded 14,022 cases of COVID-19 on January 5, with a positivity rate of over 23.2%. Kolkata has recorded 6,170 cases among these.
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