This Chhath would be the first time in two decades when Delhi-based businessman Shashi Kaushik did not go home to Bihar. For his family of four, that includes two children, trains and buses were unsafe with the pandemic is tightening its grip on the capital, and flights were too costly. Driving down to Bihar was the only feasible option he had, but he couldn’t muster the courage for the long journey.
“My brother drove home with his family, but I regret not being home for Chhath,” said Kaushik, 45.
“The festive fervour seen at railway stations during the previous Chhaths was on the highway this time. There were so many cars heading to Bihar and Jharkhand,” said Ritesh Shekhar, who drove to his home in Gaya.
The trains and buses plying to these areas did see a reduced rush this Chhath season, said stakeholders.
Deepak Kumar, spokesperson for Northern Railway, said the number of passengers seeking train tickets for Bihar and eastern states this time were fewer and he attributed this to the pandemic and people’s concerns about social distancing.
Another railways officer, who didn’t want to be identified, pegged the decrease at almost 40% when compared to last year, but HT could not independently verify this.
Buses to Bihar too saw a decrease in passengers. GS Yadav, who runs the Jai Mata Di Travels and operates buses from Delhi to Bihar, said the number of passengers have dipped by 20% compared to the Chhath last year.
But sufficient arrangements were in place to cater to the festive rush, insisted the railways spokesperson. “To cater to the rush, we planned over 1,000 train trips from Delhi to the Northern states since October 15 to November 30. For Chhath alone, we ran around 700 train trips during the festive period from November 8 to 20,” said Kumar, adding that a number of special trains were introduced to cater to the increase in demand.
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“Those with wait-listed tickets are not being allowed on trains as we have to ensure one seat is just for one passenger,” said Kumar.
But passengers had more problems even then. Chanda, who managed to find a berth on a train to Katihar, said that she had to make compromises to ensure her safety. “I didn’t use the toilet during the 21-hour journey,” said the woman.
Bus operators said that though there was a dip in the overall number of passengers this season, they had to turn away many. “To ensure social distancing, we allowed only one passenger every two seats. So, many of those waiting at bus stops without a confirmed ticket were turned away,” said Anand Sharma, who operates buses from Delhi to Bihar.
“There may have been separate seats for each passengers, but toilets are shared by many during a long journey. It wasn’t a risk I was willing to take,” said Satyendra Sinha, an advocate who drove 1,200km to Banka in Bihar.
Dipak Jha, a Delhi-based journalist, said he found travelling by car to his home in Jamshedpur the safest for his family of four. “We only got out of the car during the 24-hour journey to use toilets. We even carried our own meals. This ensured that we hardly ever exposed ourselves during the journey,” said Jha.
And as Jha drove on, he realised that he wasn’t alone on the journey. “One five-seater car had eight occupants stuffed inside. That is how desperate people were to get home for Chhath,” said Jha.
HC upholds celebration ban
Meanwhile, the Delhi high court on Wednesday refused to entertain a plea which had challenged the Delhi Disaster Management Authority’s (DDMA) decision of banning Chhath Puja celebrations at public places in the city due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While dismissing the plea, a bench of justice Hima Kohli and justice Subramonium Prasad, remarked that “it appears the petitioner is not alive to Covid-19 situation in Delhi” and “any such permission if granted would necessarily result in such function turning into a super spreader”.
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Mayor writes to L-G for Chhath celebrations
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled North Delhi Municipal Corporation mayor Jai Prakash on Wednesday wrote letters to lieutenant governor Anil Baijal and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and request them to reconsider their decision to ban Chhath Puja at public places in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that he had request them to allow the puja with certain riders and guidelines.
“I have written letters to the CM and the L-G and requested them not to ban celebrations of Chhat Puja at public places in the city. Puja should not be completely banned instead special arrangements should be made to organise it,” the mayor said.
Police issues advisory
Delhi Police Wednesday said they have held meetings with different organisers and residents urging them to avoid public places and follow social distancing rules while celebrating Chhath Puja.
In a press statement, police said they have also sensitised their personnel while dealing with citizens.
“All station house officers have been told to hold meetings with puja committees and ensure there is strict compliance. Residents are advised to celebrate the festival at their homes during the pandemic,”said a police spokesperson.
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