March 17: Trinamul Congress workers preparing the ground for a meeting of the chief minister were taken aback last week when they were told of an order issued by the district magistrate of North 24-Parganas.
Couched in four paragraphs, the directive made it plain that no meeting with microphones or loudspeakers could be held at any temporary structure, no matter whether it was covered or not, until the school board examinations were over.
The chief minister’s address to workers is scheduled on March 21 on a ground near a college in Madhyamgram in North 24-Parganas. The restrictions on sound amplifiers are in place till April 25, when the CBSE Class XII examinations get over.
The district magistrate’s order was so specific that it covered most of the perceived loopholes that parties take advantage of to get around the restrictions. A favourite ploy is to make a show of covering the sides of the venue with screens and then claiming that the meetings are being held in a covered structure.
While the local Trinamul leadership was scratching their heads over the unambiguous order, another memo was issued in 72 hours on March 15.
The new memo withdrew the earlier one and said microphones or loudspeakers could be used if orders issued by the courts and the government departments concerned were adhered to.
If the memo of March 12 was explicit, the one issued three days later was a testimony to the power of bureaucratic ability to leave room for manoeuvre when officials wished so.
Those who drafted the new order cannot be accused of asking parties to flout rules. In fact, it does the opposite by asking parties to abide by the orders of the court and the government. In the process, it has also steered clear of specifics — which suggests the Trinamul rally will most probably be unaffected.
The first order was a specific one that asserted sound amplifiers could not be used in makeshift structures, no matter whether it is covered or not, till the examination season is over. A makeshift dais is set to be put in place on the Madhyamgram ground that is earmarked for the chief minister’s proposed meeting.
Asked what prompted the dramatic change in 72 hours, Sanjay Bansal, the North 24-Parganas district magistrate in whose name both the memos were issued, said: “The high court has made it clear where sound amplifiers can be used during the examinations and as I can not interpret the high court’s order, the order was withdrawn.”
Asked why the detailed order was issued on March 12, Bansal said: “I was misguided by a note presented before me.”
According to a senior government official, the earlier order would have made it easier for the police to act if rules are flouted.
“For law-enforcing agencies, the first order was ideal as it was specific. But as the second order has ambiguity, I doubt whether the law-enforcing agencies can initiate steps if the high court order is violated,” the official said.
Copies of both memos have been circulated among top police officers and all police stations in the district. It remains to be seen if the officers will take upon themselves the task of familiarising themselves with the earlier court order and will act on the basis of the second order that cancels the unambiguous memo issued on March 12.
Not that action cannot be taken — the legal provisions are clear, according to lawyers. The use of microphones in open spaces is banned 15 days before the examinations start and the restriction continues until they are over.
“The high court order is very clear. Sound amplifiers have to be used within an auditorium or a hall. If mikes and boxes are used in makeshift structures during the examinations, it is violation of the order,” said Gitanath Ganguli, a senior advocate of Calcutta High Court.
Till the March 17 order, the North 24-Parganas district administration was acting with zeal to uphold the rules. The administration had denied permission to the Forward Bloc to hold a party meeting on an open ground in Barasat on March 23.
“We had sought permission to hold a meeting on Settpukur ground (at Barasat in North 24-Parganas) on March 23…. The administration denied the permission, showing the order issued on March 12,” said Sanjib Chatterjee, a district Forward Bloc leader.
The denial of permission forced the Left Front partner to shift the meeting to Rabindra Bhavan in Barasat, which can accommodate between 1,200 and 1,400 people. The Bloc is now trying to scale down the meeting.
But Trinamul has not yet considered such options. “No way can we organise this meeting indoors. Didi will address our party workers across the district and we are expecting a turnout between 30,000 and 50,000,” said Jyotipriya Mullick, the state food minister and Trinamul observer for North 24-Parganas.
“The venue has a boundary wall and we will put up a makeshift dais for Didi,” Mullick added.