Once again COVID19 pandemic has played spoilsport on the grand festivity of Dussehra. This is for the second time in the last as many years that the festive spirit among people across Odisha has been dampened owing to the strict Covid-19 guidelines in place for this year’s Durga Puja.
In view of the pandemic, the State government has imposed strict restrictions for the festive month of October, due to which the grand public festival will be a low key affair. Apart from dampening the festive mood, the restrictions have also landed small-scale traders and vendors in a soup.
The curbs have been imposed on public gatherings with strict compliance of social distancing norms at the Pandals in fear of virus spread. It is likely that the virus may repeat the devastating situation like the previous year. There will be no public participation and no grand immersion ceremony as well. Moreover, the administration has imposed restrictions on the organisation of cultural programmes and other events.
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Vendors of makeshift stalls/small-scale traders remain hopeful of churning out good profits during the festivities which draw large crowd, offering a golden opportunity for a good business once in a year. However, such restrictions have become a reason of concern for the traders over business prospects this year.
As per the new guidelines, special night curfew restrictions will come into effect in the Twin cities of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar for 10 days from 8 pm to 5 am (instead of the earlier 10 pm to 5 am) between October 11 and October 20. All markets and other commercial establishments will be allowed to operate till 8 pm daily during these 10 days till October 20 in both the cities.
The vendors of small eatery stalls hopeful of earning during the celebrations at night are now disheartened as there will be no decoration at the Puja pandals and no gatherings following the imposed restrictions.
"The earlier time restriction of night curfew which started at 10 pm was good as people prefer to spend time in the evening. As per the new 8 pm curfew guidelines, police will start evicting us from 7pm and will impose penalty if the stall is crowded. We had big hopes of making a good earning in Dussehra but it seems, we will incur huge loss this year also," said a makeshift vendor in Cuttack.
"Maximum customers visit our stalls after 8pm. We start business at 5pm, how much will we earn in just 3 hours," questioned another vendor.
Meanwhile, small-scale firecracker manufacturing units are also staring at uncertainty following the restrictions. Be it for Durga puja or burning effigies of Ravan or during the idol immersion, handmade firecrackers remain in high demand during the festive occasion. However, the firecracker makers have been reeling under strain from last year as the government has imposed strict restrictions on conducting immersion programmes.
Tikan Mohapatra, who resides in Old Town in Bhubaneswar has inherited his ancestral business of making firecrackers. However, the restrictions and tumbling sale of firecrackers since last year has forced him to change his occupation. Once a government certified firecracker maker, who was famous for his handmade crackers, Tikan has now taken up idol making as his new profession to feed his family.
Not just Tikan, the situation of firecracker manufacturers in Jatani of Khordha- also called as second Sivakashi, and Salepur's Raghavpur in Cuttack also mirror the same scenario.
Two years in a row, the firecracker makers and traders are reeling under extreme financial constraints for stumpy business. Meanwhile, the traders have made demands to make firecrackers tax-free.
"We were at least able to sell some firecrackers during weddings. However, as COVID continued, my business went into losses. I am able to survive in this challenging time as I have the knowledge of making idols. Firecracker business is completely shattered, as of now," said a worried Tikan.
Meanwhile, the State Health Department has alerted that crowding at places and venturing outside for a long time may increase the probabilities of COVID transmission. Though the number of patients detected with COVID has decreased in Kordha, the threat seems to remain intact.
"All are advised not to congregate in public places and avoid crowding unnecessarily. We should observe Durga Puja in a low-key manner with devotion to ward off the threats of COVID transmission. The government has drafted the guidelines considering the threats," said Bijoy Mohapatra, Director of Health Services.