Following calls by prominent personalities and political parties for cancelling cultural events associated with a month-long Rongali Bihu events starting mid- April in Assam amid the continuously rising Covid-19 infections, the state government has said it will soon take a decision on the matter.
“Given the deteriorating situation, all Bihu functions need to be cancelled forthright. Hope the government of Assam will take a considered decision,” national award-winning filmmaker Utpal Borpujari tweeted on Monday. He is one among many who are urging for cancellation of Bihu events through their social media messages.
Dr Navanil Barua, a prominent neurosurgeon and columnist said the government shouldn’t have allowed holding of Bihu functions in the first place. “The state government was informed by ICMR in February itself about (the) presence of new strains of Covid in the state. With that in mind, the elections should have been postponed. But nothing of that sort happened. If Bihu was allowed keeping in mind hundreds of artists who rely on these functions for income, it should have been held online, something on the pattern of IPL, without audience at the venues. The government can still do that,” he said.
In past weeks, Covid-19 cases in Assam have increased from single digits daily to three digits. On Sunday, the state recorded 639 new cases—including 354 in Kamrup (Metropolitan) district which includes Guwahati– and 6 deaths, taking the number of active cases to 5,268 with the positivity rate climbing to 2.74%.
While the situation in Assam may not look threatening at the moment, the new Covid-19 strain has led to a record surge in infection nationally with several states reporting new daily peaks during the second wave of the disease.
Popular singer Angaraag ‘Papon’ Mahanta underlined this point during a Bihu event on Sunday
“If you compare with some other parts of India, Assam is still in a better position. But we need to be careful,” he said, adding, “You guys are listening to my songs with your ears. So there’s no harm in covering your faces with masks. We can save ourselves, our homes and Assam if we wear masks.”
Earlier on Sunday, health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said if any district had more than 300 active Covid-19 cases, “Bihu functions and other events won’t be allowed to be held there”. He added that a formal decision on this will be taken on Monday.
Last year, the lockdown imposed after Covid-19 outbreak put a lid on the cultural events. This year, with assembly polls getting over on April 6, the state government allowed celebrations, but with restrictions.
Besides the usual Covid-19 protocols, the organizers of these functions were asked to get themselves tested for Covid-19 three days prior to and also after the event. All functions, which usually continue till early mornings, were asked to wrap up by 11 pm and organisers were asked to sanitise venues twice, once before the event and again after it.
While some organizers decided not to hold events, many events are being held at present all over the state but the deadline for functions to get over as well as other safety measures are getting flouted in many places. On April 14, the first day of the functions, prominent singer Zubeen Garg took to the stage after 11 am and performed till 12:45 am. The singer has since restricted his performances till the deadline set by government. Another singer Bipin Chowdang also performed after 11 pm on the first day of the events.
The authorities have now decided to act tough against defaulters.
“Today onwards we appeal to all Bihu celebration committees of Assam to strictly follow Covid protocols and wind up before 11 pm without fail. No excuses. From tonight, strict legal action will be taken to save human lives,” Assam Police director general of police (DGP) Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta tweeted on Sunday.
Senior Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Pradyut Bordoloi said the state government was guilty of “criminal negligence and dereliction of duty”. He claimed the state government itself flouted all Covid norms during the assembly elections and thus could not stop Bihu events citing the disease.
“. …They allowed these functions to be held by issuing some absurd SOPs like time limit of 11 pm with complete disregard to human lives. The harm has already been done. But now strictest measures should be enforced to ensure that these functions don’t continue to add to the health crisis looming in the state,” said
Md Aminul Islam, organising secretary of All India United Democratic Front said the government should stop Bihu functions held on stage to ensure safety of people.
“It is very unfortunate that the government allowed Bihu functions at a time when the Covid-19 in other states was already alarming. We will love Bihu as it is the life thread of all Assamese and we become sentimental about it. It was always going to be impossible to maintain strict social distancing and other measures at places where thousands gather,” he added.