The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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What army must know

The Maidan may not fall foul of a fair, after all.

The division bench of Justice B.B. Bhattacharya and Justice K.K. Prasad, in dismissing the Publishers and Booksellers Guild petition on Friday, made it clear that only when the environmental condition of the Maidan is raised would it intervene.

And on this count, the green lobby is busy stockpiling ammunition to counter any move by the Book Fair to return to the Maidan.

The foul facts lie in the figures. During Book Fair 2001, the West Bengal Pollution Control Board had measured air pollution levels at the Maidan site and recorded “alarmingly high concentration” of respirable particulate matter (RPM) in the ambient air. The average was 611 micrograms per cubic metre and the highest, 1,316 micrograms.

To put things in pollution perspective, the national RPM standard is 100 micrograms per cubic metre and by USEPA (United States Environment Protection Agency) standards, when RPM exceeds 500 micrograms per cubic metre, premature death of ill and elderly people is indicated.

Ambient air alarm apart, the Maidan is mauled by the digging, cutting, cooking, parking of cars, spreading of chemicals... “The entire stretch has turned grey from green and any more fairs would sound the death knell for the Maidan,” warned environmentalist S.M. Ghosh.

Friday evening saw the green lobby, led by Subhas Dutta — the activist whose petition had started it all in 2002 — busy drafting a letter to be sent to the Eastern Command, spelling out the damage that a fair can cause to the greens.

“The idea is to forewarn the army about the consequences of holding the fair on the Maidan. Considerable damage has been done and it’s time we drew the line,” said Dutta. “If the army still gives permission, I will move court with other aggrieved parties.”

By aggrieved parties, Dutta was referring to all those denied permission to hold fairs on the Maidan on grounds of environmental damage.

“The rule should be applicable to all, unilaterally,” said a senior member of Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, forced to move the city’s oldest trade fair from the Maidan to the Salt Lake stadium compound this winter.

A senior officer of the Eastern Command told Metro late on Friday that the court order had not been studied or discussed yet but as “the custodian of the Maidan”, the army “stands against its environmental degradation”.

That would signal a red light for the fair and a green light for the save-Maidan brigade.

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