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Pous Mela cameras to track tipplers

Santiniketan, Dec. 11: Visva-Bharati has decided to install CCTV cameras inside tents of bauls during Pous Mela this year to verify if students are consuming drugs as alleged in some complaints.

Bauls from across Bengal perform every year at the three-day fair, which begins on December 23, attracting thousands of tourists.

A baul said smoking ganja was “no secret” but a “tradition” for the artistes.

Although the varsity had put up CCTV cameras at strategic points of the fair ground in the past two years, baul akharas (tents) had been kept out of their purview to protect the privacy of the singers.

But, sources said, the varsity has over the years received several complaints about students thronging the tents to consume liquor and smoke ganja.

Students The Telegraph spoke to admitted to visiting the tents for drink-and-drag sessions, adding that some bauls brought country and foreign liquor and ganja with them.

The decision to place the cameras in the bauls’ tents was taken at a meeting Visva-Bharati officials held with Birbhum police on Monday to discuss security arrangements at the fair.

“In the past few years, we have been getting complaints about a section of students frequenting the tents of the bauls. They smoke ganja and drink liquor there. Last year, many visitors and a few female singers had complained to us about this. So we have requested the police to install CCTV cameras inside the baul akharas,” said Sougata Samanta, the joint secretary of the Pous Mela Committee that organises the annual fair.

“If any untoward incident takes place inside the akharas, we will be held responsible as we are the organisers. I think the cameras inside the baul tents will prevent consumption of liquor, ganja and drugs,” he added.

The sources said many visitors had earlier complained of drunken behaviour by students at the fair.

According to the sources, the move to install CCTV cameras two years ago had helped curb the “menace” of students and visitors drinking at night at various corners of the ground.

Sources in the district police said raids were not conducted inside the bauls’ tents despite complaints as the cops wanted to avoid a “controversy”.

“If cameras are installed in the tents, students will not dare drink and smoke there,” said Prashanta Chowdhury, the Birbhum additional superintendent of police.

Bauls welcomed the move. “We have no problem if CCTV cameras are installed in our tents. We welcome the decision as it has been taken keeping the welfare of students in mind,” said Tarun Khyapa Baul, who has been performing at Pous Mela for the past six years.

Asked if bauls drank alcohol and smoked ganja, he said: “It is no secret. It’s a tradition.”