Delhi's biggest Ramlila event - held annually at the iconic Red Fort, and attended by the Prime Minister and the President - will not take place this year for the first time in 80 years amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, the Arvind Kejriwal government had announced that Ramlila and Durga Puja festivities can be held in Delhi; however, government-mandated Covid protocols will have to be strictly followed.
Luv Kush Ramleela Committee that organises the event at the Red Fort said the ASI or Archaeological Survey of India (which comes under central government) has not given the permission for the event. With just 15 days left for the event, it will be "practically impossible to implement the kind of rules that have been laid down by Delhi government", the committee stressed.
Arjun Kumar, Head of Luv Kush Ramleela Committee, told NDTV, "The Ramlila at Red Fort ground has been happening for 80 years but it will not happen this year. Our Luv Kush Ramleela Committee, which organises the event is the biggest such committee in India. Nearly 600 total artists are involved. At least 100 of those come from Mumbai and 250 artists are dancers"
"We have to arrange the travel, accommodation and costumes for all these people. We were prepared to hold this event. But the ground comes under ASI. We used to get the clearance much earlier and every year a month before the event we would hold a 'Bhoomi-pujan' but this time we haven't been given the permission yet. It seems like the government's intent is that the event should not take place," he said.
He also pointed out the problems with the protocols that have been announced by Delhi government. "Firstly the rules have come at such a short notice. Secondly, rules say people should be constantly seated on chairs. If they stand or sit on the ground, permission will be withdrawn. Ramlila pandal is not like a cinema hall that people will remain seated for three hours constantly. It is a religious event and a dynamic situation. If situation improves in next 10 days, we may just hold a small scale one-day ceremony where effigies are burnt, but there will be no Ramlila function," Arjun Kumar added.
He added that it is also important to take care of everybody's health and no religious event should become the reason for spreading the infection.
Delhi holds nearly 800 Ramlila events but most Ramlila events are unlikely to happen this year, Mr Kumar emphasised.
Delhi has logged over 3 lakh coronavirus cases so far. Across India, the tally has crossed 71 lakh. Union Health Minster Harsh Vardhan emphasised on Sunday that large gatherings should be avoided during the festival season.