Calcutta, Nov. 2: After promising in 2003 to move all exhibitions out of the Maidan to a new complex and extracting a permission from the court to hold the Book Fair there for one last time in the winter of 2006, the chief minister today staged a somersault.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said his government wanted the Maidan to be the permanent venue for hosting the book fair, though Calcutta High Court had allowed it to be held for the last time on the green patch known as the city’s “lungs” on the government’s specific assurance that it would be moved in 2007.
Although The Telegraph had reported earlier that the government had decided to again seek the court’s permission to hold the book fair on the Maidan, today the chief minister publicly expressed that intention. He said the fair was “an important cultural event and an internationally recognised one”, adding that the government would petition the court.
Would this be “the last time” such a request would be made' No. He wanted the fair for ever on the Maidan. “For the sake of the city, hopefully the court will agree.”
There are some, including high court judges, not to speak of environmentalists, who feel that “for the sake of the city” all fairs should be moved away to save the Maidan.
Yesterday, the army, the custodian of the grounds, declined permission to hold the fair, prompting the government to approach the court. Bhattacharjee has also started pulling political strings in Delhi to get the army’s “No” turned into a “Yes”.
“I just spoke to Pranabbabu (former defence minister and now foreign minister). In the past also I’ve sought his cooperation for the fair. We had wanted to move a petition before the high court jointly with the army. It would have worked if all parties had cooperated and moved a joint petition,” Bhattacharjee said.
He requested Mukherjee to plead the fair’s case with new defence minister A.K. Antony.
Last evening, Deepak Raj, the GOC Bengal, had walked out of a meeting with the government at Writers’ Buildings, saying that the army would not allow the fair.
“The high court has said there should be no fairs on the Maidan. Our stand remains the same. We won’t issue a no-objection certificate,” Raj had said.
In the past, however, the army has been forced to back off under political pressure.
Environment activist Subhas Dutta, who had filed a number of PILs over the Maidan’s abuse, said he would submit a petition opposing the government’s move.
Bhattacharjee sought to appease the green lobby. He said: “We will tell the court that the fair will not disturb the ecology.”
There was no mention of the promise to build a permanent complex to host all fairs. That’s how fairs are held in other cities.