The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maidan Mockery
- Pushed by CM, defence bypasses army & clears fair

Calcutta/New Delhi, Jan. 16: The Bengal government today pulled strings — and a fast one — to bypass the army and get the defence ministry’s nod for Book Fair 2007 on the Maidan.

The army, the Maidan’s custodian that had publicly said it was opposed to any fair on the greens, was completely overriden to set the stage for another violation of Calcutta’s lungs.

A fax message from Jose Thomas, deputy secretary (land and cantonment) in the defence ministry, to Writers’ Building this evening said that permission for “temporary use of the Maidan for the 2007 Book Fair” was being granted. Army sources in Delhi said no request was forwarded to them.

The green signal flies in the face of a 2004 high court order that banned fairs on the Maidan as they caused environment pollution.

Last week, the court had armed the army with enough powers to decide if Book Fair can be allowed on the Maidan or not. But the might of the Indian Army was not sufficient to beat back political muscle.

The fair organiser, the Publishers and Booksellers Guild, found its pinch-hitter in chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, whose concern for the environment has not been touched by the poisonous air that countless Calcuttans breathe in.

Perhaps blinded by his love for books, Bhattacharjee also chose to overlook a pertinent observation by the court: the guild is a private body and its interest cannot be equated with that of the public.

The chief minister did not blanch at claiming credit for the Maidan coup. “I have spoken to the central ministers to ensure that Book Fair is held on the Maidan this time. I was also instrumental in bringing pressure on the Centre to give the go-ahead to the Book Fair on the Maidan.

“This is a big cultural event in the city where thousands of youths from across the state and outside pour in daily to browse through books of different interests. It helps them enrich their knowledge and culture.”

What the chief minister did not say was that a fair on the Maidan also makes both young and old “richer” by deadly dust. It wreaks havoc on the grass, a 250-year-old waterbody and 200-year-old trees, which no dose of “culture” can cure. The damage is irreparable, especially in a city where many children are vulnerable to bronchial disorders.

But the Maidan custodian’s political and bureaucratic masters seem to think that Rs 20,000 is all it takes to set a wrong right. The ministry has doubled the minimum security deposit to Rs 20,000. Like every year, the guild will have to pay a ground rent of Rs 250 per square foot.

The licensee (the guild) will have to ensure that no degradation, whether environmental or any other kind, would be allowed on the Maidan. In case of any damages, the licensee will have to restore the grounds to its original condition.

Assured by the chief minister that the clearance is on its way, the guild had started making arrangements for the fair even before the formal order landed. “We’ll begin the groundwork from 10 am on Wednesday. We promise to make the Maidan greener before handing it back to the army,” its secretary Tridib Chatterjee said.

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