Thursday’s attack on jawans, on a “routine drive” against unauthorised commercial establishments near the Esplanade long-distance bus terminus, has re-focussed attention on the mess in the Maidan area. Army officials, during an inspection of the area last Monday, noticed that three new unauthorised shops had sprung up near the Esplanade terminus. A verbal warning was issued to the shopkeepers, which was repeated on Tuesday and Wednesday, asking them to move out.
On Thursday, a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and two Military Police personnel returned to the spot to draw up a list of all unauthorised commercial establishments. They were interrupted by a group of men who identified themselves as “local people”. When the armymen protested, they were beaten up with bamboo sticks. Defence ministry officials said on Friday that the attack was led by Mohammad Nayeem. Though the group of around 100 men comprised shopkeepers and their employees, it was joined by anti-social elements from the neighbouring areas. The assault led to the three armymen being admitted to hospital.
After lodging a complaint with Maidan police station, Fort William officials have decided to take the help of Calcutta Police to “clean up the mess” on the Maidan. A survey has been completed in the “blue zone” — the large stretch of the Maidan that belongs to the Army — to identify the illegal commercial establishments, hoardings and other constructions on the land.
Army officials say they are not looking at the “problem” from the security point of view only, though that remains the most important consideration. “We are also looking at the encroachments as detracting from the beauty of the Maidan,” an army officer said. “Despite being the owners of the land, we have not constructed a single establishment on it. How can we possibly allow others to do so'”
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, meanwhile, has promised “every help” in Operation Maidan Clean-up. “Though the Calcutta Municipal Corporation does not have any jurisdiction over the area, we are ready to provide all logistical support to the drive,” Mukherjee said. The police, too, extended a helping hand. “We are ready to cooperate with the army,” deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) K.L. Tamta said.