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Buddha parades steps to discipline rallies

Calcutta, Oct. 26: Rattled by last month’s Calcutta High Court order, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today took the first step towards evolving a political consensus on disciplining Calcutta’s disruptive rally raj.

Ahead of October 29’s all-party meeting called to define a rally code, Bhattacharjee unveiled a draft that seeks to regulate the time and place for rallies, processions and meetings in a more than hour-long session with constituents of the Left Front.

“We have to evolve an approach to the issue,” Bhattacharjee is learnt to have informed the meeting.

“Please try and not hold processions and rallies on weekdays on Park Street, C.R. Avenue and Shakespeare Sarani. Try organising the smaller meetings at Deshabandhu Park and Deshapriya Park so that processions don’t have to pass the central business district.”

From the initial reaction, the chief minister will have a hard time getting the Opposition to agree to his proposals. Both the Trinamul Congress and the Congress described nearly all his proposals in one word, “unworkable”. ( )

Even some front partners agreed with this view, though no one raised objections at the meeting as the CPM had already bilaterally discussed the proposals with them.

In at least one aspect, Bhattacharjee’s draft proposal (see chart) goes beyond Justice Amitava Lala’s September 29 order in which he said rallies cannot be held on weekdays between 8 am and 8 pm at the city centre.

The chief minister is suggesting keeping the central business district free from possible disruption at all times on weekdays.

Bhattacharjee in the meeting and Left Front chairman Biman Bose at a news conference said the government’s exercise was independent of Justice Lala’s.

Observers will find that claim difficult to digest because the government had done little in two years since Calcutta High Court first asked it to discipline rallies.

“We had started an exercise to ensure smooth flow of traffic in the city since 2001. This has got nothing to do with any order passed in 2003,” said Bose.

Bhattacharjee told the front meeting that certain restrictions on processions and rallies would have to be imposed so that traffic flow was not hindered.

Explaining the travails commuters have to suffer, he said it takes an hour and a half for a big rally to cross a major intersection.

“It is very normal for someone to get stuck in a rally for long hours. I may also get stuck in such processions one of these days,” he told the meeting.

Underlining the need to discipline Left-sponsored rallies, he wanted top party leaders to act as volunteers to ensure that no ailing person on way to hospital got stuck.

“Volunteers with prominently displayed badges should immediately intervene and make smooth passage for the ailing, the disabled, the old and any other person in an emergency situation,” he said.

According to Bhattacharjee, sometimes the chain of a big procession will have to be broken at an intersection to let vehicles pass. “I hope that front leaders will not differ from me and the entire exercise involves public interest,” he said.

Front chairman Bose said the government had taken an initiative two years ago and stopped rallies at Esplanade East.

“Today’s meeting is just an extension of what we had discussed earlier. However, we will have to further discuss how to go about rallies during election time,” Bose said.

In contrast to his tone when he launched a bitter attack on Justice Lala’s order, he said: “We have also taken into account the volume of increase in population and number of vehicles in the city over the past few years. Between January and June this year, there has been a huge increase in the number of buses and other vehicles. So we must find a way out.”

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