Peaceful start to Chhath Puja in Mumbai amid heavy security


Mumbai : Police, paramilitary forces and CCTVs kept a close watch over scores of Chhath Puja venues here Tuesday despite Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray’s assurance about not disrupting celebrations.

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There are 19 main locations around various beach fronts in the city, including the oldest and most popular venue, Juhu beach, where nearly half a million devotees are expected in the evening. The festival is primarily celebrated by people from Bihar.

Chhath Puja will also be held at the historic Banganga Tank, Navy Nagar, Gorai Creek, Bhayander Creek, Thane Creek, Marve Beach, Manori Beach, Madh Island, the beach front in Navi Mumbai and Thane, and the Ulhas river in Thane district.

In an unprecedented step by the state government, Mumbai Police will be aided by the Rapid Action Force and State Reserve Police Force to monitor the law and order situation during celebrations.

Security has been beefed up in view of recent attacks on non-Maharashtrians, particularly those from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, by the MNS. Under fire for the violence, Thackerary has said he is not opposed to Chhath Puja as long as it is not politicised.

But police are taking no chances.

Additional Police Commissioner (West Region) Archana Tyagi said apart from the 19 main venues in the city and suburbs, police will also be present in strength at all the approach roads.

When asked about possible disruptions, Tyagi said: “We are fully geared for any kind of eventuality and will take appropriate action as warranted by the situation.”

Similarly, in Ulhasnagar in neighbouring Thane district, the town’s legislator Suresh Pappu Kalani has deployed 1,000 activists of his Republican Party of India (RPI) to keep a watch on celebrations at the main venue on the banks of Ulhas river, and in the nearby Kalyan-Dombivli towns.

He said his party activists would ensure that north Indians get an opportunity to perform their traditional festival peacefully.

Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam, who initiated public Chhath Puja celebrations in Mumbai in 1998, said the response among people was “tremendous and enthusiastic”.

“We do not foresee any disturbances for a purely religious gathering and we are sure that with police out in large numbers, the celebrations will pass off as usual,” Nirupam said, while supervising the last minute arrangements at Juhu beach.

Incidentally, he started Chhat Puja celebrations here in a big way when he was a two-term Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha member, and it was seen as an attempt to woo the north Indian community.

The city administration has advised organisers to play devotional songs instead of blaring out Bollywood numbers during celebrations. They have restricted political parties’ logos or slogans on banners and hoardings at prayer venues.