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Maulers draw first blood
- Holes drilled into city lungs as cricketers, evening walkers watch and wince

The intruders have arrived on the Maidan, reducing its rightful occupants to mute spectators.

A day after the ministry of defence gave the green signal to Book Fair 2007 on the Maidan, organisers of what the chief minister insists is the city’s “biggest cultural event” drew first blood, drilling holes into the city’s lungs.

Labourers took up pole position and trucks forayed into the fair site. With the marauders of the Maidan in action, the worst-hit at this time of the year are cricketers, young and not-so-young, who flock to the Maidan.

“We come to the Maidan from Ripon Street to play because there is no ground near our locality. But like every year, we will lose out on a good 20 days of cricket because of the Book Fair. By the time the fair ends and the mess on the Maidan is cleared, it will be too warm for a game,” said 19-year-old Talha Ijaz, bat in hand and sights set on their pitch that must make way for a stall.

It will be all work and no play for the students of Seventh Day Adventist School, on Park Street, for the next three weeks. “We always come here to play after school. After today, we will have to wait for weeks before we can return to the Maidan, just because of the Book Fair,” rued a student, wincing as a labourer drilled their playground to drive in the first bamboo pole.

Joining the cricketers and the schoolchildren in lamenting the loss of the Maidan were some evening walkers on Thursday. “The cars, the crowds, the noise and the pollution keep us away for weeks when the weather is just right for an evening walk. Every year, we are told this is the last Book Fair... It’s such a pity that Calcutta just does not care for the damage done to the Maidan by the Book Fair, while stopping all other fairs here,” shrugged 72-year-old Shiv Chopra, resident of Chowringhee.

The government’s foul play in its fair policy is now out in the open. Take the Industrial India Trade Fair, hosted on the Maidan by the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, shifted out to the Salt Lake stadium grounds.

The space for the oldest industrial fair in the city has been sliced “from 8,000 sq m to 3,300 sq m”. As a result, many exhibitors have not been accommodated. The number of participants at the fair, starting January 22, has dropped by 150. Countries like Nepal and Vietnam have opted out as they could not adjust to the shift in the schedule from December to January, forced by the Maidan being made off-limits and the alternative venue not being free.

“The shifting of the trade fair is a matter of debate and discussion but, at the end of the day, industrial fairs can be held anywhere. The Book Fair has public sentiment attached,” argued chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb.

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