Calcutta/ New Delhi, Jan. 15: The Bengal government today launched a second offensive in as many months to force the army to allow Book Fair 2007 on the Maidan, ignoring a court ruling that said the organisers have nothing to do with “public interest”.
“We have written to the defence ministry seeking permission for holding the Book Fair on the Maidan. We’re hopeful that the fair will be held on the Maidan this year also,” said home secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy.
Earlier in the morning, chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb spoke to the defence secretary.
Till late this evening, no decision had been communicated to the state government, probably because former defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, who last November took the decision to allow the fair on the Maidan, had returned late from Pakistan.
However, defence minister A.K. Antony was meeting his predecessor on the sidelines of talks on the proposed merger of national carriers Indian and Air-India.
The government has been forced to seek the defence ministry’s clearance after Calcutta High Court last week dismissed a petition moved by the Publishers and Booksellers Guild and tossed the ball back to the army, the Maidan’s custodian.
The court said the guild’s petition was not in public interest and it didn't want to interfere in a dispute between the army and a private body.
“The chief minister has assured us that he will do everything in his capacity to ensure that the fair is held on the Maidan,” the guild’s general secretary, Tridib Chatterjee, said this evening.
Guild officials met Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee around 1 pm with a copy of the court order and spent the rest of the day huddled inside the chief minister’s office.
Chatterjee said the Guild would tomorrow file a petition to the authorities at Fort William, the headquarters of the Eastern Command, seeking permission to use the Maidan. “We have barely over 10 days left for the fair. International delegates will begin to arrive by next week.”
In Delhi, top sources in the army said they did not want the fair to be held on the Maidan and stood by the view of their chief, General J.J. Singh, that Calcutta should have a permanent fair venue away from the city centre and spare its lungs.
A senior army source, however, said a message had been sent that “the Calcutta Book Fair is an international event that is the largest of its kind and nothing should be done that would portray the army as being against the literary and cultural heritage of the city”.
But even if a political decision is taken to allow the fair on the Maidan, the army would need to move the high court for a review of a January 2006 order. The court had then allowed the fair “one last time” on the greens on the basis of a government assurance.
The day also saw environment activist Subhas Dutta and representatives of G.S. Marketing, organisers of the Industrial Mega Trade Fair, place a joint representation before GOC (Bengal area) Major General Deepak Raj.
Dutta has threatened that if the army allows the fair on the Maidan, it will have to face further litigation from the environment lobby.