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Old building battles midnight billboards

For the past year, the residents of Lindsay Mansions, on Lindsay Street, have been hounded by hoardings. Several complaints have been lodged with New Market police station and the cops have stepped in several times. But things have invariably gone back to square one each time, insist the aged tenants, living here since the Fifties.

Hannah Twena, who turns 80 this Christmas, recounts a recent incident when a portion of the concrete roof came tumbling down while a billboard was being put up. “We really thought that was the end of us,” she says.

Twena is not the only one who’s complaining. Other residents of Lindsay Mansions, the old building overlooking the New Market clock tower, say they do not have a problem with the billboards; but they do have a problem with the billboards being put up at night.

The billboard battle can be traced back to last October, when the first one was mounted on top of the age-old building. “We pleaded that the building would not be able to bear the burden of the gigantic billboard, but some people, who looked like contractors, told us to move out of the house if we had a problem,” alleged A. Stephens, a tenant on the second floor.

There was a brief lull before the signage staged a comeback. “We had the shock of our lives recently, when a huge chunk of concrete came crashing down. The labourers were working in the middle of the night, putting up a hoarding after sneaking into the place,” said Helen Baptiste. “I have a heart problem, which was aggravated by the incident.”

The police are looking for the owner of the building but are not sure who to address, as the property is under litigation. “A businessman called Arjun Kripalani claims to be the owner, but we are yet to verify this,” said deputy commissioner, central, Zulfiquar Hasan.

Kripalani could not be contacted on Thursday. But a representative of his firm said they had obtained permission from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and the police to carry out repairs in the building. “Nothing unauthorised is going on there,” he added.

Hasan has ordered an inquiry. “Work will not be allowed at night and we have asked the CMC to pull down the hoarding if the building appears unable to bear its weight,” he said.

CMC municipal secretary Sajal Bhowmik said he was “unaware” of any permission having been given to put up billboards on the old building. “If we find the billboards have been put up illegally, we will definitely pull them down,” he added.

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