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Leash on ‘liar’ fair

Calcutta, Jan. 25: The high court today slammed the brakes on preparations for Book Fair 2007 on the Maidan, hauling up the organisers for their “blatant lie” to get the army’s nod and state agencies for colluding in the deception.

The matter will again come up for hearing on January 29, and the Publishers and Booksellers Guild hopes the court will allow it to get on with the work for the fair, scheduled to start the following day.

In an earlier order, too, Calcutta High Court had stopped work related to the fair but tempered the ruling by saying that the guild could carry on with the preparations — subject to approvals from the agencies concerned — but at its “own risk”.

Today, the court said: “The guild’s claim to the army (the Maidan’s custodian) that it had received permission from all relevant state government agencies before starting preparatory work in the Maidan was a blatant lie. The guild has deceived the army.”

In their interim order, Justices B. Bhattacharya and K.K. Prasad also expressed dissatisfaction with the way various state agencies had given clearance to the guild. “The state government agencies, while giving the guild the no-objection certificates, did not follow the norms by giving instant clearances,” they said.

For instance, fire inspectors issued clearance without visiting the site and police gave the go-ahead without clearance from the public works department.

The state pollution control board also came in for flak as the court said it had “failed” to perform its duty. “It should have monitored the atmospheric condition of the Maidan during the earlier book fairs.”

The judges asked the pollution board to file a report on records it had collected over the last few years on levels of fine dust particles (RPM) in the air in the fair area. The board will have to file the report on January 29.

Soon after the stop-work order came around 3.30 in the afternoon, guild officials rushed to Writers’ Buildings and briefed the chief minister.

“What advice could I give them'” Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee later said in the evening. “Let’s hope for the best.”

Guild ground secretary Sudhanshu Dey justified the “instant clearances” by saying: “Since we have to hold the fair from January 30 onwards, we were obviously rushed and tried to obtain all clearances as soon as possible.”

While work on the superstructure is 90 per cent complete, decorating the stalls hasn’t started yet and would take time, Dey added.

Guild officials refused comment on whether the fair would be deferred by a few days. They said they were “depending” on the January 29 ruling.

The judges said the guild had deceived the army to obtain a “no objection” from the force. “Hence, we are modifying the interim order passed earlier and are restraining the guild from setting up stalls there until further orders.”

The ruling came on a petition by advocate Sabyasachi Roy Chowdhury who had challenged the way the guild got instant clearance from the government agencies. State advocate-general Balai Ray and lawyers for the guild tried but failed to get a favourable order.

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