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WRONG WAY DOWN THE ROAD

An unlikely cause has united them all. From city mayor to Congress leader to Bharatiya Janata Party and Trinamool Congress leaders to Communist Party of India (Marxist) member of the legislative assembly, all are unanimous — and defiant — about puja pandals blocking public thoroughfares. The revelation is rather shocking. Calcutta had seemed to be growing towards a basic civic awareness in recent times. Last year’s Durga Puja had been very well managed, even if not quite to perfection, in matters of crowd discipline, traffic movement and waste disposal. There was some discussion about turning the four-day festival into a tourist attraction. That would have meant far better organization and planning, greater discipline and cooperation, and strict implementation of laws. But the administration’s impressive handling of the mass festivities had made all this seem possible.

Therefore, it is quite shocking to find that in spite of appearances, the mindset of the patrons — themselves political leaders — has remained unchanged. It is quite a painful experience to hear their reasons. The general theme is common: when most people are having fun why bother about a few spoilsports' One gentleman termed these spoilsports “nags”. The other common theme is more alarming: the law can be flouted — one party leader euphemistically called it “bent” — for the sake of “people” having “fun”. These are the lawmakers and law-keepers speaking. The mayor has allowed the cutting down of trees to make space for the pandal he patronizes, the Congress leader does not think that microphones within the silence zone of a major hospital are something to worry about, the BJP leader thinks that anyone disturbed by blocked roads or loud noise during the puja should head for the jungle — a very revealing association, the Trinamool Congress member feels that people objecting to loud music and detours during festival time are concerned only about themselves. It is all a “little” inconvenience, caused by a “slight” breaking of the law, which only “a few” people feel, for “only” four days — although the largest pandals take time to build and dismantle.

Yet all this is so unnecessary. Leaders would not be any the less “popular” and people enjoy themselves any the less if pandals did not encroach on the roads. Chaos is not a condition of enjoyment, it is a spoiler. And where crowds are large, it can also be dangerous. The law is not conditional or partial either, it is not made to be broken by those who are responsible for it. A civilized consideration for everyone’s convenience, a lawful approach to organization, environment-friendly arrangements are all essential for a successful festive season. The most curious twist to this unhappy tale is that the government has remained passive. The CPI(M) evidently believes in complicity where a competition for popularity is concerned.

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