Mayorgate is a monstrosity — not just in what it stands for, but also where it could stand.
Calcutta Gateway, if mayor Subrata Mukherjee is allowed to have his way, will tower over Parama Island, at the intersection of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass and the Park Circus connector.
But two legs to support the giant structure — more than 300 feet tall — will extend well into the greens opposite the ITC Sonar Bangla hotel. As will some of the entertainment centres and theme parks planned to make the mayor’s monument a money-spinner.
And this, mayor, sir, point out environmentalists, is “illegal”. For, the stretch to the left of the Bypass — from Chingrihata to near Ambedkar Bridge south of Science City — earlier designated the no-development wastewater recycling region (WRR), has now also found a place in the Ramsar listing of international wetlands.
Ask Bonani Kakkar of People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC), who had obtained a favourable court verdict declaring the WRR a no-development zone, about the location of Mayorgate, and she snaps: “I don’t know the details of the plan, but any development opposite the ITC hotel must be termed illegal, as per the standing judicial verdict. If the mayor picks any location within the WRR, we will definitely move court in anticipation.”
The Silver Spring episode has left the green lobby wary of VVIP inauguration of projects in the environmentally-sensitive zone.
Earlier this month, former chief minister Jyoti Basu stepped in to salvage the mega housing joint venture, beside the ITC hotel, between a private promoter and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), days after he had flagged it off and hours after the environment ministry had slammed the brakes on it.
“Obtaining environmental and other clearances, it seems, is not necessary any more, as long as you can get a VVIP to inaugurate the project,” says legal activist Subhash Dutta.
So, for the green brigade, July 6 could be D-Day. For, as per the wishes of the mayor, if deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani does lay the foundation for Calcutta Gateway, the battle to preserve the wetlands could suffer a colossal setback.
“Which officer can raise an objection or stall a project, once it is inaugurated by a political heavyweight'” asks Dutta.
In Writers’ Buildings, too, the opposition to Mayorgate is swinging between the principle (“how can so much money be spent on something so completely unnecessary and wasteful”) to the place (“How can a high-profile foundation stone-laying function be announced without making any attempt to obtain environment and other clearances'”).
Municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya — who, members of the green lobby seem confident will “do his best not to allow such a project to pass” — expressed concern on both counts.
“I disagree with this idea. Building the so-called Calcutta Gateway cannot possibly be a priority for the Corporation. Are they in a position to provide all the basic services to the citizens that they can afford to think about spending so much of the tax-payers’ money on such a frivolous exercise'” he asked.
“And as far as icons are concerned, the city already has several, with Vidyasagar Setu being the latest. Why does Subratababu need another icon'”
The minister is also mystified by the choice of location. “How many people come into the city from that direction' And how can the project be announced without the environment clearance in such a strategic part of the city'”