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Big rallies to mark end of mike ban

Political parties straining at the leash to pump up the volume have lined up six large poll rallies and over 60 smaller meetings across central and north Calcutta from the moment the microphone ban ends this weekend.

The last of the CBSE Class XII papers ends at 1.30pm on Friday and the district election offices in Calcutta North and South are already flooded with applications for permission to hold rallies with microphones.

Sources said police stations across the city were struggling to process applications from parties eager to grab the microphone after having to do without it for much of the campaign period.

The Election Commission has issued notices to all police stations, reminding them of the high court’s decibel restrictions that are applicable throughout the year, exam or no exam. The ban on microphones because of exams had taken effect on February 21, 72 hours ahead of Madhyamik.

In 1996, Justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee of Calcutta High Court had observed that nobody could be made a “captive listener” to noise. He later ordered a ban on the use of microphones in the open from three days before the start of any board exam.

In February 2013, the state pollution control board modified the reach of the ban to “residential areas or where educational institutions are situated”. It effectively meant a blanket ban on microphones in the open since there are few areas in the city that aren’t residential.

In the event of any violation, the Election Commission or the police can draw up an FIR against a candidate. “The commission can also initiate steps against the police officer concerned if it transpires that there was deliberate omission on his or her part,” an official said.

Teams of officials from the Election Commission will be assigned to each meeting to keep tabs on expenditure and adherence to the model code of conduct. All processions will be “covered” by the police, sources said.

Permission to hold a rally or meeting can be sought a week before the event. The authorities are required to convey their consent or otherwise within 36 hours of receiving an application.

“To avert law and order problems, it has been decided that if two political parties are holding meetings close to each other, the minimum distance between two microphones has to be 200 metres,” an officer at Amherst Street police station said. “A gap of two hours is required for meetings at the same venue.”

Political leaders on the campaign trail can’t wait to get going. “We can make ourselves heard louder now,” said CPM leader Manab Mukherjee, breaking into laughter. “All this time, our focus was on connecting with voters through door-to-door visits. Now we will play big.”

Sources said the first big Left rally in Calcutta this election season will be on April 28 with Sitaram Yechury taking the stage — and the microphone — at Burrabazar. The ruling Trinamul Congress, BJP and the Congress too are drawing up plans to campaign all microphones blaring.

“We will start our campaign with microphones in a big way on Friday itself. Our first meeting of the evening is scheduled to be held at Santosh Mitra Square in north Calcutta,” Congress leader Nirbed Roy said.