Durga Pujo – The Mega economic event every year

Durga Pujo. Ask any Bengali or a Kolkatan and she will turn misty eyed. Enquire after anyone living in Bengal or perhaps the eastern part of the country and she will be busy either making (selling) or buying in the days and weeks leading up to the pujo. There is hectic activity all around and a buzz about the place and in the people which is definitely many times of normal. It is Durga Pujo season.

There is a lot of discussion amongst many people on what a colossal waste of time and money it all is and how the festivities should be curtailed. Really?

The actual Durga pujo spans just five days but it lasts for nearly 3 months.  During the main days which actually is the last 5 days (starting 5 days prior) infuses a strange and surreal happiness and joy all around. The positivity is infectious and overwhelming. Young parents will move around town with the kids in their laps or walking alongside and at all hours of the day or night and feel like they own the world. They will sit down at any noodles shop roadside or pick up a bottle of cool drinks and happily spend their bonuses on anything and everything that provides instant gratification.

But is this the reason why I was hoping for the celebrations twice every year? Well not really. The real reason is economics. The festivities are a huge growth multiplier and a very consumption positive activity for the state as a whole and if some reports are to be believed, it adds nearly 3 per cent to the state GDP.

The macro numbers are there but let’s discuss them in some details. The immediate economic activities are on two heads. The first is on the associated activities and the second is on related consumption. It is claimed that there are 40,000 plus registered Pujos and another 20,000 unregistered or small scale or family Pujo happening and if we were to have even 5,000 with a budget above Rs. 10 lacs (and in today’s context this is a minor amount), that translated to five hundred crores. The rest cumulatively would account for at least another 25-30 thousand crores. Which actually is a mind boggling 30-35,000 crores or about 4 billion USD.

Now comes the consumer spend. The leading portals report close to 2000-3000 crores of sales just in West Bengal. Each!!!  And if we were to pile in all the shops and all the department stores and what not the figure is an easy 35000-40,000 crores. And this covers the entire gamut of shops and stores, from the high end to the local level friendly to the pop ups. And this is only on gifts, shoes, clothes and so on. Add to it the huge number of shops selling every imaginable thingy during the 5 main days and where every person who dares to go out from the house even once will not miss buying from. Then there are the autos, taxis, local tour guides organising tours, bus operators and event organisers who are booked way ahead of the main days. The caterers and the water bottle sellers. The make up artistes and their tribe who work on the face paints for people participating in the numerous cultural events surrounding most pujos. The stage decorators and the prop makers who come into play for these things and of course the various mainstream high falutin performers from the glitz world who make their global and national and local sojourns during this time. If we were to put a number to these, they will easily add up to another Rs. 1,000 crores.

And have we started on the numerous vacationers during this time who move out during this time as well as the large numbers who come from outside (the city Kolkata, the state and from out of the country) during this time and fill up flights, trains, buses and roads and of course not missing the hotels and restaurants. To give a perspective, the normal flight prices are 3X of normal times and yet it is difficult to find a seat. The restaurants and the home delivery people go berserk hoping to satisfy this surge of customers and although such spends are difficult to quantify, another couple of thousand crores is an easy guess.

Put all these economic activities together and a gross figure of Rs. 80,000-90,000 crores is not way of the mark. Essentially 10 billion plus USD. Of consumption driven spend. But the best part of it is the way it supports the smallest sellers and a huge gig economy of housewives, college graduates and that rare species – the out of work person. Supporting further consumption, savings and investments further down the year and creating further minor positive ripples in the economy.

The proof that it affects people across every income stratum, every religious group, every caste, creed and gender is the feeling of hollowness once the festivities come to an end. Across the land and even across the diaspora out of it. While the goddess departs her parental place, she leaves us all sad but happy in the thought that

Aasche Bochor Abar Hobey.

Loosely translated it means, we will await your return next year.  Joy Durga!!!!!

Prasunjit Mukherjee