Why Durga Puja in Bengal isn't just a festival, but a grand economic affair
The grandeur around the festival involves transactions of not less than Rs40,000 cr and provides employment to at least two-three lakh people across the State
The five-day festival involves people from different sectors - those building the pandals, making the idols, electricians, security guards, priests, dhakis, labourers associated with idol transportation, and those linked with the arrangement of 'bhog' and catering
Not just fun and frolic, Durga Puja in West Bengal is a grand economic affair involving transactions of at least Rs 40,000 crore, creating employment opportunities for around three lakh people, stakeholders said on Monday. With more than 40,000 community pujas across the state, including 3,000 in Kolkata, the festival creates a scurry of economic activities for three-four months every year, they said.
"The grandeur around the festival involves transactions of not less than Rs 40,000 crore and provides employment to at least two-three lakh people across the state as the activities for the festivities begin three-four months ahead," said Partho Ghosh, the chairman of Forum For Durgatsab (FFD), an umbrella organisation of 400 community pujas. The puja committees act as facilitators of micro-economy, said Ghosh, who has been associated with community puja for 52 years and is an organiser of Shib Mandir Sarbajanin Durga Puja in south Kolkata.
The five-day festival involves people from different sectors - those building the pandals, making the idols, electricians, security guards, priests, dhakis, labourers associated with idol transportation, and those linked with the arrangement of 'bhog' and catering, he said. "We undertake this monumental task for the sake of the general populace and to preserve our culture," Ghosh said. Not only the core Durga puja activities, but also fashion, textiles, footwear, cosmetics and retail sectors get a boost by the buying-spree of people, while literature and publishing, tour, travel, hotel and restaurant and film and entertainment businesses enjoy a sudden bump in sales during the five-day festival, FFD president Kajal Sarkar said.
"Our guesstimation is that transactions around the festival could be up to Rs 50,000 crore this year," he said. "After two years of the pandemic, revellers, this time, have been taking to pandal hopping with renewed fervour, while the corporates are also liberal this time for sponsorship, and their spending is at least Rs 500 crore. The enthusiasm among people around the festival is the unique selling proposition," said Sarkar, who is involved with Bosepukur Sitala Mandir puja committee.
They also see the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage tag accorded to Durga Puja as a "collective achievement" and hope that the recognition will help prosper the festival in the coming years. Amid the political slugfest over the Rs 60,000 grant to each of 40,000 pujas by the "financially-crunched" West Bengal government, they believe that the aid is "helpful to baroari (community) pujas" to sustain the state's culture and traditions. Economist Debnarayan Sarkar said Durga Puja is a consumption-led activity and has a multiplier effect on the state's gross domestic product. "An Assocham study in 2013 showed the size of the Durga Puja industry was Rs 25,000 crore and estimated that it was growing by around 35 per cent. If we consider this, the puja industry now should touch around Rs 70,000 crore. We need a proper study to assess the value of the puja economy," he said.
"Compared to the length and breadth of Durga Pujas, we are sure that its contribution to the state economy is either at par or bigger than the contribution of Rio de Janeiro carnival to the Brazilian city's economy, and the cherry blossom festival in Japan," Sarkar, a former professor at Presidency University, said. The British Council conducted a study, mapping the creative economy around Durga Puja 2019, which showed that Durga Puja accounts for 2.58 per cent of the state GDP. "We commissioned the research for the West Bengal government that estimated the total value of creative industries around Durga Puja in the state in 2019 at around Rs 33,000 crore ($4.5 billion). It established two things - a baseline value for similar research in the future and a methodology for carrying out similar research for other festivals or indeed, the whole of creative economy of West Bengal, and in other states too," British Council, East and Northeast India, director Debanjan Chakrabarti said.
After the pandemic, the speculation is that the size of the puja economy this year is "much more" than what the British Council estimated some years back, West Bengal's Industry Minister Shashi Panja said. Asked about the puja economy estimation by the Forum For Durgatsab members, she said, "The economic assessment of the British Council is based on research. The basic fact is that so much employment is generated out of it and the festival involves an array of economic activities."
The need for a subsequent, post-pandemic valuation of the state's festival economy was discussed at the second creative roundtable convened by West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation on September 23 in which the British Council was a partner along with FICCI and EY, Chakrabarti said. "We will be very happy to be part of any such subsequent research, here in West Bengal or other states in India. Research and insights of the creative economy are an important part of our work in arts and culture, and are a major strength of the UK which we want to share generously," he added.