The ongoing slowdown has cast its shadow on this year’s Durga Puja – the biggest annual festivity in West Bengal – as sponsorship for most of the larger puja committees is down between 20-50 per cent while the smaller clubs are forced to curtail their budget and scale down the celebration.
This is despite the optimism around the tax sops announced by the Centre for corporate India recently.
“As of now, we haven’t seen any improvement in the muted response from sponsors even after the Centre announced several tax benefits and other measures to boost the economy,” Sajal Ghosh, general secretary of the renowned Santosh Mitra Square Puja Committee, said.
For instance, the SB Park puja committee in Thakurpukur, one of the most prominent attractions during the puja, has curtailed its three-day feast to a single day to keep costs under control.
“We used to hold feast for the entire neighbourhood but had to curtail it to make up for other expenses. Sponsorship has been hit by around 40 per cent for us this time,” Sanjay Majumder, president of the SB Park puja committee said.
According to Gautam Mukherjee of Ekdalia Evergreen Club, one of the largest crowd pullers in south Kolkata, not only regular sponsors backed out in the past few months citing the slowdown, new sponsors, when approached, are reluctant to spend. It is faced with a 50 per cent shortfall in its budget this year.
He said some of the larger mobile phone vendors as well as cosmetics companies have been the worst hit. Some of the other sectors unwilling to spend are automotive, banks, logistics, FMCG and some prominent local companies.
“As a measure, we will curtail our decorative lighting costs,” Mukherjee said.
The savings from such a move will help manage the overheads related to pandal making, pandal decoration & handicrafts and idol making.
Likewise, College Square Sarbojonin Durgotsab Committee, one of the most prominent attractions in the northern part of the city, has decided to trim down its budget for bishorjon (idol immersion programme on the last day of the festivity).
Usually, for the larger puja committees, pandal and decoration cost makes up for 40 per cent of the budget followed by decorative lights at 20 per cent. The cost of the idol is usually between 10-15 per cent and the rest comprises of logistics, bishorjon, food preparation and others.
However, despite the hit in sponsorships, the reputed puja committees are reluctant to scale down the puja celebrations.
“We just cannot curtail the budget. The deficit is being financed from the puja committees internal accumulated funds,” Bikash Mazumder of College Square Sarbojonin Durgotsab Committee said.
“The sponsors are not responding which is an extremely dire consequence for the large puja committees as they depend mostly on sponsorships rather than voluntary donations. But if they curtail the scale of celebration, people will be left disappointed,” he reasoned.
A majority of these large puja committees are of the view that this way, the clubs are extinguishing their accumulated funds which otherwise could have been used of other neighbourhood welfare activities like blood donation programme, ambulance services, helping the poor and others.
“However, Bengalis don’t want a Durga Puja which lack its sheen,” Majumder added.
The state government’s decision of not allowing VIP entry into the pandal has also affected the income of the larger committees. For instance, SB Park, last year had managed to earn Rs. 3 lakh by selling such VIP entry passes to various companies and individuals but this time, this revenue stream is closed for all the oranisers.
The situation is more ominous for the mid-low scale puja committees as neither they have alternate source of funds or accumulated reserves in the club.
Sandipan Banerjee, convener of Behala Natun Dal, a mid-budget puja committee, said that the bank merger has also costed loss in sponsorships this time. Usually, Kolkata based public sector banks spend some part of this advertising budget to sponsor some committees.
“This time, the banks are also unsure how the merger will work out and whether their individual names will be retained. Owing to this confusion, the banks aren’t also ready to opt for banners and hoardings,” Banerjee said.
A low budget puja committee, Tollygunge Deepak Sangha, on the other hand, has already curtailed its budget by 10 per cent and is considering to further downsize it by 10-15 per cent.
“None of the private firm sponsors we spoke to have reverted and a large part of the cost of celebration, it seems, has to be borne from donations and some government sector advertisements. If some private sponsor steps in at the last moment, it will be a saving grace,” Subrata Banerjee, secretary of Tollygunge Deepak Sangha said.