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Maidan under court's care

Calcutta, Jan. 20: The preservation and beautification of the Maidan, Calcutta's endangered lungs, will be directly overseen by Calcutta High Court.

Justices Asim Kumar Banerjee and Rajendra Nath Sinha said today the court would shortly frame guidelines for the implementation of the programme and oversee its execution to ensure that the current focus on the wellbeing of the Maidan did not fizzle out.

'We have noted that the condition of the Maidan has improved after the present case was initiated. But the improvement cannot be a basis for disposing of the petition after framing rules for its maintenance. Considering all aspects, we believe it will be in order to intensify the court's focus on the Maidan and guide the preservation programme to its logical culmination,' the judges said while hearing a petition filed in 2003 by environmentalist Subhas Dutta.

'If necessary, there will be orders from time to time on the planned preservation and beautification of the vast greens,' the judges added.

The court's observation came in the wake of Dutta's submission that central to the case was the need for an overall framework within which the planned beautification of the Maidan could take place, and not the issue of custodianship.

'As the petitioner of the supplementary affidavit, I have no view to offer on custodianship. In fact, it is of secondary interest (to me). To my mind, of paramount importance are guidelines for the implementation of the preservation and beautification programme,' Dutta said.

Another factor that prompted the court decision on assuming the role of an overseer was a submission of the army, the court-appointed custodian. The army said it had received Rs 7 crore from the Centre for executing the programme which merited a defined set of rules. 'My client has received the money, but it wishes to proceed in this respect only after getting a direction from the court,' said Uttam Majumdar, the army's counsel.

The judges also criticised the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government for its slow approach to making arrangements for an alternative fair ground.

Reaffirming its earlier position, the bench said the government would have to ensure that the alternative site is ready within 2005. 'It seems we will have to hear the case at regular intervals and pass the necessary orders,' it added.

When Robilal Moitra, the government pleader, said the Calcutta Book Fair would flop if moved to another site, the judges said the argument did not sound convincing. 'People will visit the Calcutta Book Fair regardless of the venue,' the bench said.

The judges said they would take up the case again for hearing on February 17 after ascertaining the state of the Maidan post-book fair. 'We will wait and see how the Maidan looks after the book fair.'

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