Why states should replicate Bengal’s burst of ‘Pujo’-related wealth creation

From tomorrow begins one of the biggest, phattest festivals: Durga pujo. You don’t have to be a Bengali, or even in West Bengal, to register its ten-armed impact on popular culture, never mind culture and heritage.

Over the last few decades, Durga pujo has grown in heft and scale. Last year, Covid-19 pretty much stopped it on its tracks. But like always, with Covid protocols in place -and hopefully maintained – the five-day celebrations will again provide livelihoods to lakhs of people. The complex creative economy that props up the festival includes sculptors, pandaal makers, electricians, printers and publishers, advertisers, the retail and entertainment industry, not to mention the informal F&B sector that is built around the thousands of pujo pandaal sites.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the visitor economy around Durga pujo in West Bengal witnessed a significant influx of international tourists. As a result, the state is now 5th, overtaking Rajasthan, for domestic and international tourists. Tourism in West Bengal now contributes 12.6% of the state’s GDP, compared to 4% of the GDP nationally.

The West Bengal Department of Tourism-British Council report, ‘Mapping the Creative Economy around Durga Puja 2019’ (bit.ly/3Deqjtb), estimated that in 2019, Durga pujo in the state was worth ₹32,377 crore, accounting for 2.58% of the state’s GDP.

A creative economy approach to festivals is important. The creative industries fuse creativity, culture, economics and technology, creating more jobs, distributing surpluses more widely and boost export earnings. At the same time, they contribute to social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development, whether during Durga pujo, Diwali or Christmas. These are the key drivers behind the UN declaring 2022 the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.

The report on Durga pujo maps out 10 creative industry verticals. These include installation art, idol-making, lighting and illumination, literature and publishing, films and entertainment, retail, sponsorships, food and beverages, and advertisements. While the idols, the pandaals and the illumination captures our imagination, it is the retail industry that generates the highest turnover in West Bengal at over ₹27,000 crore, followed by F&B at almost ₹3,000 crore. Retail witnesses a whopping 100% hike in September-October, buoyed by bonuses that employees receive across the formal and informal sectors.

Among the 240 respondents to the 2019 survey conducted by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur with Durga pujo organisers across the state, 35% of artisans reported that they earned over 80% of their annual income from the festival month. Such spikes and flares are detected in virtually every sector surveyed.

Over 2 lakh travellers arrived at Kolkata airport during the five days of the festival in 2019 – an increase of nearly 10,000 compared to regular days – while nearly 10 lakh travellers arrived by train. There is a significant spike in power consumption. From about 8,000 MW, the average daily demand surges to 8,700 MW between the day before ‘Pujo’ commences (ponchomi) and the last day (doshomi). Publishing houses do brisk business, too, with their festival annuals (pujo barshikis) raking in about ₹270 crore in 2019.

The Durga pujo report puts forward a number of policy recommendations for all stakeholders. These are around measuring the environmental impact of the festival, incentivising more ecologically sustainable materials that eliminate all pollutants, strengthening inclusion and diversity and easing access to the pandaals.

More data is required on remittances into and out of West Bengal, both domestic and international. Backward and forward linkages of the mega Durga pujo in Kolkata to the state’s towns and villages could strengthen rural tourism and drive up employment while stemming urban migration. Creation of tourist trails – from the Sunderbans to the Himalayas in north Bengal – and training guides to engage with tourists from both other parts of India and the world could boost the tourist experience of the bounty of creativity that ‘Pujo’ offers.

And what makes the 2019 report most valuable is that, with its transparent methodology, it could be replicated across other states and festivals across India. Let the feasting, Covid-careful frolicking begin!


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