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Whose Maidan is it anyway'

Calcutta, Jan. 15: The citizen says its the people's Maidan. The army asserts its territorial authority on the greens. The state administration wants to have its say, with cops playing part custodians. The judiciary does its bit to play protecter, but in fits and starts. The green lobby chips in with its claim, once in a blue moon'

So, whose Maidan is it anyway' As open-pit toilets are dug, pipelines are laid and giant stalls erected to host another round of mega fairs, the answer is clear ' it is, in fact, nobody's Maidan.

So, who are the guardians of the green and what is their role in its preservation, or the lack of it'

Control conflict

With little co-ordination between the army and police, no concrete steps have been initiated to protect or maintain the Maidan. 'The high court had ordered that not even a bamboo structure could be erected on the ground without the army's permission but the state authorities are allowing different organisations to dig up the greens. All that the army can do is lodge a complaint in court,' admits lawyer Uttam Majumdar, representing the army.

There is that army vs police angle to the Maidan muddle, too. Prasun Mukherjee, commissioner of police, however, played down the differences. 'When I met Major General Z.U. Shah on Friday to discuss the Maidan's maintenance, it was a meeting of minds and we agreed that the greenery must be preserved,' said Mukherjee. He, however, admitted to limitations ' like parking of vehicles during a cricket match ' coming in the way of an amicable sharing of rights over the Maidan.

The army brass, on their part, admitted to the confusion over fairs fouling up the Maidan.

Brigadier Manohar Khajuria, deputy general officer commanding, Bengal area, says: 'Unless the legal issues on the Maidan are solved in court quickly, there is bound to be confusion. We hope this will be the last year Maidan land is dug up, and the state government will keep its promise of shifting the fairs elsewhere. That is the only way to save the Maidan from such indiscriminate digging. We have to save the greens. The sooner everyone understand this the better it is for the people of Calcutta.'

Courting trouble

Environmentalist Subhas Dutta had filed two separate cases to maintain an environmental balance around Victoria Memorial and the entire Maidan area. The court had first sought affidavits from the stakeholders like the army, the state public works department and Calcutta police and then formed a watchdog committee with representations from all agencies. Though the court had asked the committee to undertake regular monitoring of the area and suggest remedial measures, precious little has been done so far.

As for the Maidan playing host to the fairs, the government had promised the high court that fairs would be shifted to a permanent fair ground, off the Park Circus connector, by early 2006. So this January's Book Fair was to be the last on the Maidan. That alternative venue remains a distant dream and there's no respite in sight for the greens.

Lobby-less

What is the green brigade doing' The state environment department and the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) have limited their role to Maidan musings.

'We have a limited role,' admits Shyamal Sarkar, member secretary, WBPCB. The board's activism has been limited to requests to fair authorities to ban plastic carry bags.

The environment department has been missing in the Maidan action. 'It should have played a proactive role as a nodal agency,' rues environmentalist Dutta.

NGO presence has been poor. The rare effort, too, has come to naught. 'We took part in large-scale tree planting with help from the military and civil agencies. But the trees, around 4,000 of them, were uprooted to host a fair,' complains Lt Col. S.R. Banerjee, state director, WWF, India.

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