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Graffiti bill flouts rights

Calcutta, Nov. 17: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee avoided comment on a bill his government is set to bring to rob citizens of their right to protest against graffiti on walls, but he might not be able to escape a legal challenge.

The Telegraph reported today that the government is planning to scrap the anti-defacement act, under which defiling a wall is a cognisable offence, and replace it with a toothless legislation that legalises political graffiti.

Bhattacharjee refused comment, saying the “matter concerns a bill that will be tabled in this session of the Assembly”.

But lawyers said the West Bengal Municipal Bill 2006 — a draft of which is being studied by the law department — violates the constitutional rights of an individual.

Advocate Alok Ghosh, an expert on civil law, said dropping the provision for penal action (the present law provides for a Rs 1,000 fine or six months’ imprisonment or both) is “tantamount to robbing a house owner of his constitutional right”. “Right to property is a fundamental right and anyone impinging on an individual’s fundamental right would have to be penalised, according to the Constitution.”

Lawyer Gitanath Ganguli agreed: “I have seen the draft of the bill and in its current form it can easily be challenged in a court of law.”

West Bengal State Bar Council vice-chairman Uttam Majumdar said the council would discuss the bill. “If we find that the bill is being passed in its current form, we’ll launch an agitation across the state, as we did with the shalishi bill.”

Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya also wants amendments, but only to ensure he doesn’t have to clean up the walls his party dirties. Under the bill, it is up to municipal authorities to “erase/remove/ dismantle the writings and posters” if a citizen complains.

“We do not have the resources for it,” Bhattacharya, a CPM member, declared.

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