Bigger won’t be better for political parties when it comes to Brigade numbers if a public interest petition filed in Calcutta High Court on Tuesday changes the rules of the rally game.
Green activist Subhas Dutta’s petition seeks a ban on rallies at the Brigade Parade Ground or a fixed compensation of Re 1 for every person at such a gathering as a deterrent to environmental damage.
“The number of people urinating on the ground or its periphery is harmful to hygiene and the dust rising from the ground on a rally day spoils all the steps taken round the year to protect the nearby Victoria Memorial,” the petitioner said.
A division bench headed by Chief Justice Arun K. Mishra is likely to decide on Friday whether to admit the petition, one of several by activist Dutta over the years to protect the Maidan and its vicinity.
Three rallies in 11 days at the Brigade Parade Ground between January 30 and February 9 had seen the parties involved claim big numbers.
Mamata Banerjee had posted on Facebook after Trinamul’s January 30 rally that between 20 and 25 lakh supporters attended her pre-election show of strength, breaking “all previous records”. The BJP pegged the turnout at Narendra Modi’s rally on February 5 at 1.7 lakh while the CPM boasted a 5-lakh gathering four days later.
The petition filed on Tuesday states that a large turnout at any rally causes irreparable damage to the environment, which only a blanket ban on gatherings at the Brigade Parade Ground and its vicinity can prevent. The alternative is compensation based on the turnout, something that all parties are prone to inflating.
The petition includes the particulate matter count in the area on the three days when Trinamul, the BJP and the Left held rallies.
It suggests that a permanent venue for rallies be identified soon, just as Milan Mela on the Bypass has been made the city’s permanent fairground. Till such time, rallies at the Brigade Parade Ground should be governed by strict rules to minimise the impact of mammoth crowds.
The recommended rules include a ban on plastic, smoking and parking rally vehicles within 5km of Victoria Memorial.
“The court has fixed several measures to protect Victoria Memorial. But the pollution caused by a rally is so high that it negates all other measures followed throughout the year,” activist Dutta said.
Parking on the roads surrounding Victoria Memorial is already banned. The high court has directed the government to shift the Esplanade bus terminus elsewhere and asked the police to synchronise traffic signals in the vicinity of the monument.
The argument is that if vehicles don’t have to wait at signals, the emission level in the immediate surroundings of Victoria Memorial will automatically decrease.
● Trinamul (Jan. 30): 14 lakh
Mamata Banerjee claimed
20-25 lakh had turned up
● Left Front (Feb. 9): 4-5 lakh
● BJP (Feb. 5): 1 lakh