All places of worship in Bengal will open from June 1, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declared today, two days before lockdown4 is due to end. Not more than 10 people will be allowed when religious places reopen, she declared, adding that congregations or functions would not be allowed.
"Temples, mosques, gurdwaras, churches, all will open, but not more than 10 people will be allowed, there will be no assembly at religious places. This will be implemented from 1st June," the Chief Minister said in an online press conference.
The Chief Minister prefaced her announcement with a sharp attack on the central government for running migrant special trains.
"They are stuffing the Shramik trains full of people, there is no social distancing, no food, no water, nothing," she said. "What are they trying to do? Are they running Shramik trains or are they trying to run Corona Express?"
Ms Banerjee said the railway ministry could easily increase the number of coaches in the trains to prevent crowding. "I was rail minister. I know we have enough rakes. They can easily make the trains longer and stop crowding the trains full of people for 48 hours with no water and no food."
If such trains could run in the lockdown, religious places that had been shut and neglected for two months could open too, she said.
"West Bengal was successful in controlling the COVID-19 spread in the last two months. Cases are increasing now as people are coming from outside," said the Chief Minister.
The tea and jute industry will also open from June 1 with 100 per cent workers, Mamata Banerjee said. All government and private offices will open with full strength.
Religious places across the country have been closed since March 25, when India went into total lockdown to break the chain of transmission of the highly contagious coronavirus.
They have remained shut through three extensions of the lockdown, even as there were incremental relaxations like reopening of shops and public transport.
Religious places, which draw crowds of devotees, are a huge challenge to physical distancing rules that are critical to avoid the rapid spread of the infection.
Karnataka's BJP government has also asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for permission to reopen religious places from Monday.
The central government is likely to declare tomorrow a decision on whether to extend the lockdown and the way forward.
Yesterday, Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Chief Ministers and asked for feedback on the lockdown and how best to move ahead, given the need to restart an economy devastated by weeks of shutdown.
PM Modi met Amit Shah and top officials today for discussions ahead of the centre's decision on virus restrictions. Sources say any decision on allowing religious places to reopen will be a political one, and the government is considering requests from various states.