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Law-breaker fair freezes

Calcutta, Jan. 19: A high court directive slammed the brakes on preparations for Book Fair 2007 on the Maidan today.

Over 100 labourers — drilling and digging the Maidan on a war footing — were forced to pause around 3.30 pm today as a Publishers and Booksellers Guild official, supervising the work on the greens, received a call on his cellphone.

The message: a division bench of Justices Bhaskar Bhattacharya and K.K. Prasad had ordered that the work be suspended.

“Under what authority have you started digging up the Maidan without obtaining permissions from police and others, whose services are needed for holding the fair'” asked the division bench, before issuing the stop-work order till January 25.

However, the court tempered the ruling and said that the guild could carry on with preparations for the fair — subject to approvals from the agencies concerned — but at its “own risk”.

“You can proceed with the work after getting all the permission. But keep it in mind that it will have to be done at your own risk. If the case result goes against you, you will have to restore the ground,” the court said.

The element of uncertainty will be at play till January 25, when the court will take up a petition challenging the army’s permission to hold the fair on the Maidan. The court passed the order while hearing the petition filed by advocate Sabyasachi Roy Chowdhury.

The directive triggered a flurry of activity, including a meeting between officials of the guild and the chief secretary at Writers’ Buildings.

“We have all the necessary permission from various agencies. The work has stopped temporarily due to the court order. But we will resume work tomorrow,” guild general secretary Tridib Chatterjee said later, stressing that the January 31 to February 11 schedule would not be altered.

The issue of permission from various agencies came up while Roy Chowdhury’s counsel was narrating how the state government pulled strings in Delhi.

Justice Bhattacharya asked whether the guild had the police’s permission. Advocate-general Balai Ray replied: “Not yet…. But the process is on.”

Several questions on permission — from the civic body, fire services department and the pollution control board — followed. But the advocate-general and the guild’s counsel could not show letters from these agencies. “Your client did not bother to follow the law. Is this not an autocratic attitude'” the judges asked the guild counsel.

The counsel then handed over a piece of paper to the bench. Justice Bhattacharya said: “But this is permission from the army…. Where are the other permissions'”

As a hush descended on the courtroom, the guild’s lawyer pleaded that there was hardly any time left for the event. The court then modified the order.

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