Home / Kolkata / Govt authorities feed hundreds of stray dogs, cows as pilgrims fail to turn up at Ganga Sagar
A ritual for a pilgrim on a visit to the Ganga Sagar island -- such as feeding stray dogs and cows on the beach and in and around the Kapil Muni temple after taking a holy dip at the confluence of the Ganges river and the Bay of Bengal -- has come to a standstill since March 25, when nationwide lockdown restrictions were enforced to contain the spread of the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
Not a single pilgrim or tourist has visited the island since March 25, according to the South 24 Parganas district authorities, which have taken upon themselves to feed the vagabond animals.
“Every day cooked food – mostly khichdi made of rice, dal, and potato – is being provided to around 250 dogs that live in and around the shrine complex and on the beach. They’d have starved had we not fed them. The animals have depended on pilgrims for years for their daily sustenance,” said Sudipta Mandal, block development officer (BDO), Sagar Island.
The Ganga Sagar mela, which is held on the island every year in mid-January, is the second-largest congregation of Hindu pilgrims in the country after the Kumbh Mela. Over 4.5 million pilgrims took the holy dip this year on Makar Sankranti.
Around 1,500 Hindu pilgrims from across the country used to visit the island daily. But that has stopped since the pandemic broke out in end-March.
Every day, at around 7.30am, the kitchen at the panchayat samity’s guesthouse on the island comes alive, as at least four persons are engaged in preparing food.
In pre-Covid-19 times, the guesthouse would cater to pilgrims and tourists, who thronged the island.
“Now, the kitchen is being used to prepare food for the days, who are fed twice a day – at around 10:30 and 7 pm. Unlike humans, who like their food to be served piping hot, dogs are used to cold food. So, we’ve to start our days early,” said Milan Das, one of the kitchen supervisors.
Around 4kg of rice, 2kg of dal, and an equal quantity of potato are cooked twice a day to feed the local stray population. The food is then loaded on e-rickshaws in large containers and taken to the beach, where the dogs are served on paper plates and later collected and disposed of.
“Initially, during the first week of the lockdown, the dogs were fed with dry food such as biscuits. Later, the district administration decided to serve cooked food to the dogs. The district authorities are bearing the cost to feed the stray animals,” said Mandal.
The Sagar Island was one of the worst-hit areas when cyclone Amphan hit the Bengal coast on May 20 with a wind speed gusting up to185 kilometres (km) per hour.