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Book fair bungles with unprepared early start

- Low footfall and shut stalls on first Sunday

The 37th Calcutta Book Fair cut a sorry figure on its first Sunday after opening three days in advance on Mamata Banerjee’s request.

Footfall was low through the day and many of the smaller stalls were far from ready till evening, belying expectations about better business for small publishers and little magazines by extending the fair from 12 to 16 days.

Sources said 86 out of the 572 stalls at the fairground weren’t ready for opening till Sunday evening. Several stalls that were ready didn’t open.

“There were few visitors yesterday and even today the crowd count is very low. There is no point opening the stall without customers around because we will only be adding to the expenditure on electricity and staff salaries,” said Bimal Halder of Halder Book Publishers.

The fair was originally scheduled to start on January 30 but the organisers had it inaugurated on Republic Day following a prod from the chief minister’s office.

According to data available with the Publishers and Booksellers’ Guild, which organises the fair, rent for a 10x10ft stall at the fairground is Rs 9,500 for 12 days. An extra four days means the rent for the same stall is now Rs 11,500.

Expenditure on electricity has gone up by Rs 500 on an average and the cost of insurance by 10 per cent.

The decision to turn the fair into a 16-day event was made in the first week of January and fair veterans blamed the poor show on Sunday mainly on lack of publicity, which is the guild’s responsibility.

“There has been almost no publicity about the change in dates,” said Snehasish Dutta, a chartered accountant and book fair regular for the past 20 years.

The official website for the fair still mentions that the event would be held from January 30 till February 10.

The lack of preparedness was also evident in the hurriedly opened underpass from Science City till Milan Mela. Without tiles or finished concrete flooring, the stairs and the base of the subway were so dusty that anybody who used it felt choked.

“On Sundays, a footfall of over 2 lakh is a given. This Sunday, I doubt if 70,000 people came,” said Kwality Book Company’s Mahesh Golani, a former guild vice-president.

But Tridib Chatterjee, the secretary of the book fair organising committee, said he was happy with Sunday’s show despite the thin crowd and the unfinished stalls.

“Publishers and sellers lose a day or two setting up their stalls every year. The additional four days will give them time to be ready and do good business,” he said.

All the stalls would open by Wednesday, Chatterjee promised.