Economy slump hits sponsors, steals Durga puja thunder

Family members decorate a statue of Hindu goddess Durga ahead of the "Durga Puja" festival inside their house in Kolkata on October 4, 2019. (AFP Photo)

The economic slowdown has dimmed the lights of Bengal's biggest festival this time, forcing Durga puja organizers to scale down celebrations due to shrinking sponsorship.

Not just small-budget pujas, big-ticket ones have also curtailed their budget by nearly 15% to 30%, mostly compromising on marquee decoration, according to organisers.

On an average, setting up a theme-based marquee for the five-day fiesta, replete with safety arrangements and basic amenities, costs anything between Rs 12 lakh and Rs 30 crore in Bengal.

"Owing to economic slowdown, we failed to achieve our target of Rs 65 lakh. We are running short of Rs 20 lakh. Most sponsors, this time, either declined to make a contribution or paid less than what they do," Sudipto Kumar, an official of Deshapriya Park community Puja in south Kolkata, said.

Corporate firms are not willing to spend on advertisements, he claimed.

"Every year, huge advertisement hoardings and posters greet revelers outside the puja pandals, but this time, the numbers have shrunk considerably," he added.

Echoing similar sentiments, Ekdalia Evergreen Club said several sponsors have gone back on their promise, citing the ailing economy.

"Some sponsors, who had signed a contract with us, have also backed out. In 2008-2009 (during global recession), we had faced a similar situation," club secretary Gautam Mukherjee said.

Organizers have made several modifications this year, mostly cutting down on promotional activities.

Kajal Sarkar, the president of Forum for Durgotsab, said sponsorship has fallen by 30-50 per cent.

"Donations, subscriptions and retail advertisements cover about 30 per cent of the expenses, the rest is usually taken care of by corporate funding," Sarkar said.

The situation has gone worse for small-budget Durga pujas committees, with some of the organizers opting for a marquee without any distinct theme.

"We had decided to adorn our pandal with glass structures, but lack of funds forced us to find an alternative in plaster of paris," said Ashok Deb, an official of a Durga Puja committee in North 24 Parganas district.

According to advertising agencies, weak consumer sentiment is also one of the reasons for lack of sponsorship.

"Most advertisers in India try to leverage the festive season. In the current year, advertising spends across multiple sectors have taken a hit due to weak consumer sentiment.

"Nevertheless, the government is taking active measures to tackle the scenario by providing relief in corporate tax rates," Anand Bhadkamkar, the CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network India, stated.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) leadership, however, blamed its arch rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the economic slowdown in the country.

It also slammed the BJP-led government at the Centre for allegedly issuing income tax notices to several Durga Puja committees here, contending that festivals should be exempt from levies.

The Central Board of Direct Taxes had, however, denied sending any notice to the organizers, ahead of the puja.

"Durga puja is usually organised with the help of subscriptions and sponsorships. But harassment by the I-T department and the economic slowdown have hit the celebration hard this year," a senior TMC leader maintained.

Denying the TMC allegation, a BJP leader said the crackdown on chit fund firms have left the state high and dry.

"The TMC allegations are baseless and bereft of truth. Funds for Durga puja have dried up due to crackdown on chit funds companies," he added.

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