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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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TAKING RISKS

What the Calcutta police give with their right hand, they take away with their left. After a splendid performance in traffic management during Durga Puja and in controlling noise pollution during Kali Puja, the police faltered dangerously during the immersions following Kali Puja. For no explicable reason, the immersions were allowed to continue till Saturday. The powers that be in Lalbazar chose to ignore the fact that Friday was Eid, one of the few days in the year that the Muslims of the city celebrate. Immersions were allowed even on that day. As a result, noisy immersion processions went down streets where Muslims were celebrating. Some of these processions, complete with bands, even hurled small crackers from lorries. Revelry could have easily spilled over into violence. That it did not is no credit to the Calcutta police. Things went smoothly despite the appalling indifference of the authorities. Someone should be asked why immersions were allowed beyond the ritually appointed day, that is, Wednesday, the day after Kali Puja. Did the organizers of the pujas who took the images to the river after Wednesday take police permission' Why and on what basis was such permission granted' And why were immersions allowed on Eid' These are the questions that need to be asked of the commissioner of Calcutta police.

Apart from the simple fact that no one, without exception, should be allowed to immerse images beyond the appointed day, there are other questions involved. It cannot be the assumption of the custodians of law and order that the streets of Calcutta belong to one particular religious community which can take out immersion processions on any day and on any route it likes. The roads belong to everybody. If political parties are being disciplined for their abuse of road space and are being asked not to hinder movement when they demonstrate, why can't immersion processions and any other display of religious sentiment be made part of the same discipline' It is difficult to see why such a simple point is missed repeatedly by the government, the police and the municipality. Those who are in charge of the administration should be above vested interests, be they religious or political. If they fail to do so, they are liable to be charged with dereliction of duty. The Calcutta police came close to that by allowing immersions for four days following Kali Puja. Accountability is not a word that has entered West Bengal's corridors of power.

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