Throughout the world, festival seasons give a big boost to the economy. This is the only time in recent memory, festivals may not be able to boost growth.
The Chinese New Year festival in January was impacted heavily. Japan is relatively less affected by Covid-19 but its ‘Hanami’ festival in March was dull. The San Ferrmin festival of Spain was reported to have been colourless this year due to administrative restrictions. Most importantly, this year’s Easter in the Vatican City was observed almost without human presence. In India, we saw a comparatively mellowed Rathayatra in Puri. The same will be true for the Onam festival. Eid was also celebrated without much fanfare. Eid prayers were reportedly held in the mosques of Mecca and Medina were subdued. Against this backdrop, the purpose of the article is to analyse the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the coming Durga Puja and other festivals of Bengal.
Durga Puja festival economy is 10% of Bengal’s GDP
The contribution of Durga Puja alone has been 10% of the GDP of West Bengal. But the situation is significantly altered this year. Though in history, the celebration of Durga Puja has been strangely resilient to natural calamities. In 1954, Bengal had natural calamities. There was devastating flood in north Bengal and at the same time, there was severe drought in south Bengal. But Durga Puja was observed with great enthusiasm. Even in 1978, there was a devastating flood throughout West Bengal hardly a few days before Durga Puja. Yet, the festival was celebrated with great enthusiasm.
An estimated average subdivision of total expenditure in Durga Puja
It has been reported that out of the total budget of a big budget puja (`30 lakh and higher), the biggest share is spent in making the pandal. About 45% to 55% of the total expenditure is incurred in pandal construction. Then comes illumination and lighting – where around 20%-25% of the budget is spent. That means about 70% to 75% of the total expenditure of a big budget puja is spent on these two items. Then there are other items where the budget is also not very less such as decoration, prasad, idol, puja items and entertainment. A significant amount is also spent on the emersion procession.
The pandal and illumination sectors are extremely critical
First, in most of the cases and perhaps without any exception, the total budget has been reduced by 60% to 90%. As there is no big budget puja in this festival, it is natural to think that these two segments (decoration and illumination) will be the worst affected. More than one lakh crore of money will go out of circulation from the economy of Bengal due to suppressed festival spending this year.
According to Balaram Pal, Member, Decorator’s Samanway Samity of West Bengal, “This would affect the entire state as more than one lakh workers - mostly from the rural sector - would lose jobs.” He said that they were perhaps the worst affected sector in the Covid-19 pandemic. They had applied for financial help to the state government but no assurance has been made.
Ashoke Paul, Joint Secretary of the same association, said that they had been jobless for more than six months. He stated, “Even 20% of the orders has not been received by our members and we have around 10,000 members. The situation was so critical that our members decided to accept orders, of whatever small budget they might be, but with full advance payments. This was because most of our members were uncertain of retrieving their dues once the festival is over.”
Secondly, a huge number of decorators have lost their capital and many of them cannot accept even the orders they are getting. This is because almost all their savings have been spent in maintaining their own families and for paying permanent workers. Decoration items, like bamboo, string, plastic sheets, costly apparels and cloth have largely been wasted due to prolonged unuse. The recent Amphan cyclone has ruined thousands of decorators in south Bengal by destroying their items of decoration. So, without financial support, a large number of decorators cannot take orders for any festivals in the coming days. The condition of the illumination sector is no different.