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Maidan lost, govt goes by the book
Road map
Permanent fairground plans
All fairs to be shifted to Milon Mela by next year
Milon Mela Phase I to be ready by next winter
Government negotiating with Crafts Village and CSE to acquire land for Phase II

Calcutta, Jan. 30: Wisdom has dawned after the verdict.

“All fairs” will be shifted to a permanent venue away from the heart of the city, the Bengal government has announced a day after Calcutta High Court banished the Book Fair from the Maidan.

“The plan is to shift all fairs to the official fairground, Milon Mela. Construction is on there and the first phase of Milon Mela will be ready by next fair season,” industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen said today.

The venue, off EM Bypass and near ITC Sonar Bangla Hotel, may not be able to accommodate next year’s Book Fair but this is the first time since the latest round of controversy broke that the government is saying it wants “all fairs” to be held there.

In the run-up to this year’s legal battle over the Book Fair, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had said the Maidan would be the permanent site for the “cultural event”.

The plan to build an alternative site was dusted once in a while but it was never stated unequivocally that the Book Fair would also be shifted to the new site.

Today, Sen said: “Most of the Calcutta fairs can be accommodated in Phase I. But we need bigger space for Book Fair and the Trade Fair, organised by the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. So we are trying to arrange for more space.”

The Publishers and Booksellers Guild is also hunting for space to accommodate an immediate concern: Book Fair 2007. Salt Lake Stadium, Jadavpur Stadium, Park Circus Maidan and Marcus Square on College Street are some options on the guild’s table.

However, if a suitable site cannot be found, a decision whether to hold the fair this year at all will be taken.

Such an eventuality — and the desperate search for space — could have been avoided had the government taken up the Milon Mela project with more alacrity.

“Milon Mela is still not ready and so we didn’t discuss the venue,” said Sudhangshu Dey, the ground convener of the guild.

Most big cities have exclusive zones — such as Delhi’s Pragati Maidan — to hold fairs without either harming the environment or disrupting daily life.

Ahluwalia Contracts is now developing Milon Mela’s Phase I — spread over 1,50,000 sq ft with two air-conditioned and two non-AC halls — at a cost of Rs 43.5 crore.

“Phase II involves integrating Crafts Village, which has around 6 acres, and acquiring a part of the land allotted to the Calcutta Stock Exchange. This will help create a sufficiently large fairground,” Sen said.

He, however, declined to set a deadline for Phase II before getting formal approvals from the Crafts Village and the stock exchange.

Although development of Phase I by next winter has become a priority for the government, the construction is confined to one part of the 1.5-lakh-sq.ft. land. The main obstacle is encroachment on Phase I land.

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